Close your eyes, breathe in deeply, now exhale slowly… That was easy, wasn’t it? Not for everyone…
38 Matzeivos Erected
On Thursday, November 29, emotions ran high among the dozens of men present in the Jewish cemetery in Liberty, New York. Chesed shel Emes, the organization dedicated to proper burial of Jews, erected thirty-eight matzeivos (tombstones) for those recently buried in its cemetery. This followed, by just a few days, the burial of tens of thousands of sefarim damaged by Hurricane Sandy. Estimates are that more than eighty tons of damaged sefarimwere buried.
Chesed shel Emes strives to provide every Jew with a proper burial. Sadly, a Jew might be neglected because he or she had no family or friends and burial would therefore be left to a secular governmental agency, with internment in a public potters field. This is known in halacha as a meis mitzvah, to which Jewish tradition is enormously sensitive. The Torah directs anyone, even a Kohen Gadol on his way to the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur who finds a deceased Jew without any attendants, to stop and bury the deceased (Nazir 47a). The burial of a meis mitzvah is considered the supreme mitzvah of gemilas chassadim (acts of loving kindness).
In May 2011, Chesed shel Emes buried the 100th meis mitzvah since its acquisition of the cemetery field. The organization has dedicated Tisha B’Av as the day in which matzeivos are erected for all the meis mitzvah buried in the preceding year. However, the number of meis mitzvah buried to date this year exceeds the capacity of matzeivos that could be erected on one day. The administrators, recognizing the increase of the meis mitzvah buried since Tisha B’Av, decided that matzeivos should be erected as soon as possible.
Chesed shel Emes maintains the Jewish cemetery in Liberty for meis mitzvah. In addition to the matzeivos, a damaged sefer Torah from a Williamsburg shul, rendered irreparable by flooding from Hurricane Sandy, was buried.
The event was simultaneously sad and happy. Sad because thirty-eight Jews had died without anyone to attend to their burial; happy because those thirty-eight Jews were buried in full accordance with Jewish law, tradition, and sensitivity. Though the cemetery was acquired recently, the Chesed shel Emes organization is more than 26 years old and has hundreds of chassidishe members, men and women, who actively serve in its chevra kadisha.
The Jewish cemetery in Liberty dates back to the early 1900s when the nearby synagogue of Swan Lake boasted a year-round observant community. The congregation established the cemetery to serve its then-vibrant membership. Sadly, the year-round observant community of Swan Lake faded away and years passed without any activity in the cemetery.
In 2007, when empty burial plots in the other five cemeteries owned by Chesed shel Emes were decreasing in number, the organization acquired the Liberty cemetery. On Wednesday, August 22, within a week of assuming administration of the Liberty cemetery, Chesed shel Emes was called to a nearby Liberty apartment where a longtime elderly resident was found to have expired unattended.
The deceased, who had no family, had died several days earlier. Chesed shel Emes negotiated extensively with local governmental agencies that sought to perform an autopsy and to have interment in anon-denominational venue. After much effort, no autopsy was performed and the deceased was brought to rest in Chesed shel Emes’s new Jewish cemetery. In the past five years, 138 lost souls were united with other Jews in eternal rest in Liberty.
On Pesach 2011, Chesed shel Emes received a call from a secular nursing home regarding Gitel bas Yaakov a”h, a Jewish patient who died without any relatives. Chesed shel Emes was allowed to provide Jewish burial (the nursing home otherwise would have contributed the body for medical research). She was the 100th meis mitzvah to be buried. Thirty-eight others have been brought to eternal rest in Liberty since then. At the same time, several other meis mitzvah were buried in the organization’s five other cemeteries.
In addition to burial, Chesed shel Emes saves Jews from cremation and arranges for a monument to be fully inscribed and placed on the gravesite. Further, the organization has Mishnah study groups that dedicate their learning to each meis mitzvah for the first year as well as for each subsequent yahrzeit.
The matzeivosevent honors the dozens of volunteers who reside in Kiamesha Lake (Vishnitz), Kiryas Yoel (Satmar), Monsey, New Square, and South Fallsburg (Yeshiva Zichron Moshe). In addition, the Hon. B. Elton J. Harris, Sullivan County coroner and licensed funeral director, has to be commended. By law, every interment must be personally overseen by a fully licensed funeral director. Elton Harris attended every single burial by Chesed shel Emes in Liberty. Late into the night, on legal holidays, in severely inclement weather, he unfailingly responds immediately and unhesitatingly whenever called.
Recognition also must be paid to Perry Meltzer, town justice of the Thompson Town Court, Monticello, who selflessly assists and guides Chesed shel Emes in innumerable ways.
The gemilas chassadim of Chesed shel Emes is widely acknowledged by police officials, elected leaders and activists in the observant community stand. Much credit must be given to Rabbi Mendy Rosenberg, founder and chairman of Chesed shel Emes; Rabbi Shraga Feivish Hager, Kosover Rebbe, who serves as posek for Chesed shel Emes; and Rabbi Shimon Zev Meisels, dayan in Kiryas Yoel, who is intimately involved with the organization’s work.
Vishnitzer Rebbe’s Mikveh Unearthed
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Hager, zt”l (1820-1884), Vishnitzer Rebbe and author of Tzemach Tzaddik, was the fourth rebbe in the Kossov Vishnitz dynasty and the first Vishnitzer Rebbe; son of Rabbi Chaim Hager, zt”l (1795-1854), Kosover Rebbe and author of Toras Chaim; son of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Hager, zt”l (1768-1825), Kosover Rebbe and author of Ahavas Shalom; son of Rabbi Yaakov Koppel Chosid Kapiletis, zt”l (d. 1787), one of the foremost disciples of the Baal Shem Tov.
Rabbi Yaakov Koppel Chosid was recognized by the Baal Shem Tov as a devout servant of Heaven and was invested with the chassidic cultivation of the entire Marmarosh mountain region in Romania, which included more than 160 kehillas. Rabbi Yaakov Koppel Chosid served as the shaliach tzibbur for the Baal Shem Tov and his melodious nussach hatefilah is still used by all Vishnitzer descendants.
The Tzemach Tzaddik was the son-in-law of Rabbi Yisroel Friedman, zt”l (1796-1850), legendary Rihziner Rebbe and author of Oros Yisroel and Ner Yisroel. The Tzemach Tzaddik began his leadership as Vishnitzer Rebbe at the age of 24. At that young age, he drew thousands of followers. After the passing of his father, the Toras Chaim, the number of his chassidim multiplied manifold. The reign of the Tzemach Tzaddik is treasured as the golden era of Vishnitzer chassidus.
Succeeding the Tzemach Tzaddik was Rabbi Boruch Hager, zt”l (1845-1893), Vishnitzer Rebbe and author of Imrei Boruch; followed by Rabbi Yisroel Hager, zt”l (1860-1936), Vishnitzer Rebbe and author of Ahavas Yisroel; followed by Rabbi Chaim Meir Hager, zt”l (1887-1972), Vishnitzer Rebbe and author of Imrei Chaim.
After World War II, the Imrei Chaim lived in Bucharest where he served the many refugees who gravitated there. After his brother, Rabbi Eliezer, zt”l (1891-1946), author of Damesek Eliezer, passed away, Rabbi Chaim Meir moved to Palestine and established the Vishnitzer community in Bnei Brak.
In recent years, with the influx of visiting chassidim to the city of Vishnitz in today’s Ukraine, Vishnitzer chassidishe activists have undertaken the rebuilding of the communal kehilla buildings there, including the residence and beis medrash where the Vishnitzer rebbes served.
Avrohom Menachem Adler, organizer of trips to the Ukraine, and Pinchas Schein of Kiryat Vishnitz in Bnei Brak, noticed that the Rebbe’s old home had a sub-basement. The Ukrainian caretaker refused to open locked stairways. After protracted negotiations and a healthy exchange of various currencies, the doors swung open. Downstairs in the hidden sanctuary, a fully functioning, rainwater-filled mikveh was discovered. Upon investigation, the mikveh was found to meet the most stringent halachic threshold.
The Tzemach Tzaddik was known to immerse himself frequently in order to maintain an exalted state of purity. When he commissioned the writing of a sefer Torah, the sofer lived in the Rebbe’s home and immersed in the mikveh before writing any of the holy names.
In sefer Beis Shlomo 1:48, Rabbi Shlomo Drimmer, zt”l (d. 1872), Skula Rav, in response to Rabbi Yosef, Vishnitzer dayan, outlines the particulars of the most stringent mikveh and notes that the Tzemach Tzaddik is known to be passionately observant. Therefore, he suggests that the mikveh for the Tzemach Tzaddik should meet the strictest interpretations.
The activists intend to rebuild the home and beis medrash complex, including the mikveh housed in the lower level, so that visitors to Vishnitz will be comfortably welcomed and able to use the mikveh of the Tzemach Tzaddik.
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