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October 2, 2014 / 8 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘volunteers’

Helping The Jews Of Marine Park

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

During the day, Shea Rubenstein works in real estate development. In the evenings he helps run the Jewish Community Council of Marine Park, an organization he helped establish, to meet the needs of the local community, as its executive vice president.

 

The Jewish Press: How long ago did you start this organization?

 

Shea Rubinstein: This organization started about two years ago. Over time, we have focused more on understanding the needs of our community and have developed different programs. I would say that Marine Park is the fastest-growing Jewish community in the world. Seven years ago, there were 50 families in Marine Park; now, we have over 1,000 frum, Shomer Shabbos families, almost all between the ages of 25 and 35. We have 14 shuls and three yeshivos within the district, ken yirbu.

 

      We saw an opportunity to create achdus; it’s a small community, outside Flatbush and Midwood, with a younger crowd with similar mindsets. Baruch Hashem, other organizations have been extremely helpful to us in the past. They are dealing with a big workload by representing their own communities. I figured, let’s use the same model.

 

That’s how a few individuals – Shua Gelbstein, Jeff Leb, Yossi Sharf and myself – decided to create this JCC of Marine Park. Each of us has our own area of expertise. Shua Gelbstein, who’s a practicing attorney, is our legal mind, Yossi Sharf our financial whiz who serves as our treasurer, and Jeff Leb is our political strategist who knows local, City, State and Federal Government like the back of his hand. We all brought different ideas to the table and the JCC of Marine Park was formed.

 

Of course, we went to the rabbanim. Here we have 14 rabbanim, a Vaad HaRabbanim of Marine Park, and we work closely with them through that vehicle. We come up with ideas, and they give us their da’as Torah. They guide us on how to create achdus, and have our community prioritize issues, rather than relying on neighboring communities.

 

Where is Marine Park?

 

Marine Park begins after Midwood, at Nostrand Avenue, and continues until Flatbush Avenue, and from Kings Highway until Ave U. Mill Basin, Gravesend and   Flatlands are a few different neighborhoods that border us. Even though we call ourselves JCC of Marine Park, we represent a lot of people in the 20′s and 30′s.

 

Tells us how you operate.

 

            We have about 25 volunteers and a call center. People call with any issue, social services, or in need of some of the other projects we’ve developed. Volunteers take those phone calls and either they answer the questions, send them the paperwork or set up appointments for them with caseworkers or local organizations, when necessary.

 

Do the volunteers work home?

 

We have an office on Flatbush Ave and volunteers who get together at night, and work from their homes or offices. You phone the call center and tell them, for instance, “I need health insurance.” They’ll put you on hold and connect your call through to a woman who helps people with health insurance, HEAP, Medicaid and food stamps. She’s a volunteer.

 

Let’s say you need a job; they’ll refer you to someone like me. Some people will call because they’re in too high a bracket to qualify for Medicaid or food stamps, but they need money; they cannot sustain themselves. The rabbanim take care of qualifying a person for a project we came up with, called Project Mazon.

 

What is Project Mazon?

 

Tomchei Shabbos is an amazing organization that does fantastic things. Some people, though, might not be utilizing this wonderful organization. Many of the families in our community suffer in silence – they would rather starve than get a food delivery to their door. Their needs are different in that they have young families. They also need formula and diapers. For these reasons, we began Project Mazon.

 

            We try to get everybody in the community to sign up, to donate five dollars a week via their credit card. They either go to ProjectMazon.org, on the web, or they’ll call our office and give their information. We charge their credit card  $5 or $10 a week, but the minimum is $5 a week, which is equivalent to a sandwich and a coffee. The money goes into one pot, one bank account.

 

Then, in order to qualify, any rav in the community has the ability to sign somebody up. So if somebody feels they need it, or if a rav feels that somebody in his shul needs help, he calls one central person. He gives him only the person’s phone number and the grocery where they shop. From that week on, every Thursday morning, there’s a $50 credit in that person’s account, so they can purchase without anyone knowing. They prioritize their own shopping list and buy things that they really need for their family.  It’s all done anonymously so that people feel comfortable about accepting help. No one in the JCC knows who the recipients are; only the rabbanim know. Obviously, we all trust the rabbanim to qualify the people.

 

           We worked it out with the kosher groceries in Marine Park, and in the high 20′s and 30′s for now. It takes 10 people giving $5 a week to help one family. So if we opened it up to the entire public, the system would be overwhelmed. I spoke about this recently at the Agudah Convention, and encouraged other communities to each start its own “Project Mazon” to support those who are struggling in their own communities. We have a standing offer to assist any organization that would like to start a similar program in its community with organizational support.

 

You have two big events coming up for Project Mazon. Can you tell us about those?

 

Yes, We do have two big events coming up for Project Mazon. The first event is coming up in less than two weeks. On July 21, 2010 – the day after Tisha B’Av is our Second Annual Project Mazon – Glatt Mart Barbeque. It starts at 7:00 p.m. and will be in a large tent at the playground of PS 240 – at 2500 Nostrand Avenue, between Avenues K and L, and it features the delicious meats of Glatt Mart and the wonderful talents of the renowned mentalist Shimi Illuzini. It is the only fundraising event of the year for Project Mazon and we encourage everyone to attend and help support your friends and neighbors who are in need of assistance.

 

The second event that we are running concurrently is our Project Mazon Raffle where you can win a free two-year car lease for a new Honda Insight! This is sponsored by Plaza Auto Mall car leasing. We are having the raffle is September, IY”H. One ticket is $36 and 4 tickets are $100.

 

You can find out more about the Barbeque and the Car Raffle at www.ProjectMazon.org, www.KosherQ.org, or email info@jccmp.org.

A Mitzvah In 30 Minutes

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

Founded in 1977, Tomchei Shabbos of L.A. has been providing essential Shabbos food packages to thousands of needy Jewish families in the Los Angeles community. Tomchei Shabbos currently has two warehouses. The La Brea warehouse, which services the “city,” moved about a month ago from another location further south on La Brea because the building they occupied was going to be demolished. As rumors indicate that their present location is also set to be demolished, they are already on the lookout for a new location. Moving isn’t a simple feat, as every time they move they need to pack up the food packages and move their walk-in freezer and refrigerator.

Their second location services the “Valley,” situated in the basement and garage of a shul in Valley Village.

I recently volunteered on a Thursday night to help pack at the La Brea area warehouse. My friend and I arrived at 5:45 p.m. and found only Steve Berger, the warehouse manager, his wife Rivkie Berger, and a few volunteers who organize the foodstuffs. But 15 minutes later, the place was teeming with pre-teens, teens, singles, couples, mothers with kids, and fathers with kids. Everyone teamed up with at least one partner to do a specific route, with the food set up on tables surrounding a middle aisle of food products. Volunteers received a list of the items required for the boxes, labeled in code for specific families on their route. You consulted your list, went to the middle aisle to find the food, and selected the amounts you needed. You then rushed back to your table and filled your boxes, making sure that the amounts were correct because couples or families with one or two small children receive different amounts of foodstuffs than larger families.

The scene was reminiscent of a relay race. This specific Thursday night’s boxes had to cover the coming Shabbos, Shavuos, and the Shabbos after Shavuos. This was three times the normal amount of food going out to each family. We filled our boxes with challah, candles, wine, chicken, eggs, milk, fruits, vegetables, salad dressing, blintzes, pasta, pasta sauce, cream cheese, mozzarella cheese, and everything else a family needs to make two Shabbasos and Yom Tov in between. It was surprising that our “job” took only half an hour! The boxes were then placed on dollies, delivered to the loading dock, and put in the cars or vans of the volunteer deliverers from L.A.-area shuls. They deliver their boxes of food with the utmost discretion and care in order to preserve the privacy of the recipient.

Recently, Tomchei Shabbos incorporated several gemachs into their warehouse set up. While one must still call the individual in charge of the gemach for an appointment, now the kallah gowns, simcha floral d?cor and furniture gemachs are all in the Tomchei Shabbos warehouse. In addition, there is a room devoted to new clothing (with the tags still on) for men, women and children. For those in need, men’s wool suits and women’s suits can be purchased for as little as $20 and $ 10, respectively. Prices are even lower for children’s clothing.

There is also a disposable diaper program, with those in need being allowed two boxes per month at $5 per box for diapers that normally sell for $30 a box. Strict records are kept to ensure that the rules are followed.

Tomchei Shabbos has a yearly budget of $2 million. All those who work for Tomchei Shabbos, whether an organizer, administrator, buyer, packer or driver, are volunteers. The organization is entirely supported via the compassion and generosity (i.e. time and financial support) of the Los Angeles Jewish community.

A Mitzvah In 30 Minutes

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

Founded in 1977, Tomchei Shabbos of L.A. has been providing essential Shabbos food packages to thousands of needy Jewish families in the Los Angeles community. Tomchei Shabbos currently has two warehouses. The La Brea warehouse, which services the “city,” moved about a month ago from another location further south on La Brea because the building they occupied was going to be demolished. As rumors indicate that their present location is also set to be demolished, they are already on the lookout for a new location. Moving isn’t a simple feat, as every time they move they need to pack up the food packages and move their walk-in freezer and refrigerator.


Their second location services the “Valley,” situated in the basement and garage of a shul in Valley Village.


I recently volunteered on a Thursday night to help pack at the La Brea area warehouse. My friend and I arrived at 5:45 p.m. and found only Steve Berger, the warehouse manager, his wife Rivkie Berger, and a few volunteers who organize the foodstuffs. But 15 minutes later, the place was teeming with pre-teens, teens, singles, couples, mothers with kids, and fathers with kids. Everyone teamed up with at least one partner to do a specific route, with the food set up on tables surrounding a middle aisle of food products. Volunteers received a list of the items required for the boxes, labeled in code for specific families on their route. You consulted your list, went to the middle aisle to find the food, and selected the amounts you needed. You then rushed back to your table and filled your boxes, making sure that the amounts were correct because couples or families with one or two small children receive different amounts of foodstuffs than larger families.


The scene was reminiscent of a relay race. This specific Thursday night’s boxes had to cover the coming Shabbos, Shavuos, and the Shabbos after Shavuos. This was three times the normal amount of food going out to each family. We filled our boxes with challah, candles, wine, chicken, eggs, milk, fruits, vegetables, salad dressing, blintzes, pasta, pasta sauce, cream cheese, mozzarella cheese, and everything else a family needs to make two Shabbasos and Yom Tov in between. It was surprising that our “job” took only half an hour! The boxes were then placed on dollies, delivered to the loading dock, and put in the cars or vans of the volunteer deliverers from L.A.-area shuls. They deliver their boxes of food with the utmost discretion and care in order to preserve the privacy of the recipient.


Recently, Tomchei Shabbos incorporated several gemachs into their warehouse set up. While one must still call the individual in charge of the gemach for an appointment, now the kallah gowns, simcha floral décor and furniture gemachs are all in the Tomchei Shabbos warehouse. In addition, there is a room devoted to new clothing (with the tags still on) for men, women and children. For those in need, men’s wool suits and women’s suits can be purchased for as little as $20 and $ 10, respectively. Prices are even lower for children’s clothing.


There is also a disposable diaper program, with those in need being allowed two boxes per month at $5 per box for diapers that normally sell for $30 a box. Strict records are kept to ensure that the rules are followed.


Tomchei Shabbos has a yearly budget of $2 million. All those who work for Tomchei Shabbos, whether an organizer, administrator, buyer, packer or driver, are volunteers. The organization is entirely supported via the compassion and generosity (i.e. time and financial support) of the Los Angeles Jewish community.

Quick Takes: News You May Have Missed

Monday, March 29th, 2010

   The executive director of an activist organization modeled after Marxist community organizer Saul Alinsky was part of the team that developed a volunteers camp for President Obama’s 2008 campaign, this column has learned.
 
   Jackie Kendall, executive director of the Midwest Academy, was on the team that organized the first Camp Obama training for volunteers aiding Obama’s campaign through the 2008 Iowa Caucuses. Camp Obama was a two-to-four day intensive course, run in conjunction with Obama’s campaign, aimed at training volunteers to become activists to help Obama win the presidential election.
 

   Camp Obama served as an integral part of the president’s campaign volunteer staff.

   Last week, this column reported that a Chicago nonprofit on which Obama served as director provided startup capital and later funding to Midwest Academy, which describes itself as dedicated to teaching the tactics of Alinsky.
 
   Former 1960s radical and FrontPageMagazine Editor David Horowitz describes Alinsky as the “communist/Marxist fellow-traveler who helped establish the dual political tactics of confrontation and infiltration that characterized the 1960s and have remained central to all subsequent revolutionary movements in the United States.”
 

   Horowitz writes that Alinsky’s “strategy of working within the system until you can accumulate enough power to destroy it was what sixties radicals called ‘boring from within.’ … Like termites, they set about to eat away at the foundations of the building in expectation that one day they could cause it to collapse.”

 

Obama Friend: Socialism Has Future In U.S.
 
   A personal friend and recent adviser to President Obama addressed a socialist conference at which he declared “socialism has a future” while urging participants to help Obama.
 
   Cornel West, an extremist race-relations instructor at Princeton, addressed the 10th annual Young Democratic Socialists conference earlier this month. The three-day event took place at Norman Thomas High School in Manhattan, named after an American socialist activist.
 
   The meeting, entitled “Real change for a change,” described itself as a “snap shot of the current socialist movement in the United States.”
 

   During a lengthy address available on YouTube, West declared that “socialism has a future.”

   He stated, “We are at a very crucial historical moment. My dear friend Barack Obama, he needs help. He needs deep help. He needs pressure. Organized, mobilized pressure.”
 
   Obama named West, whom he has called a personal friend, to the Black Advisory Council of his presidential campaign. West was a key point man between Obama’s campaign and the black community.
 
   West served as an adviser on Louis Farrakhan’s Million Man March and is a self-described personal friend of the Nation of Islam leader. West authored two books on race with Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr, who was at the center of a recent controversy in which Obama criticized Gates’s treatment by police outside his home after a report of a burglary.
 
   It was West who introduced Obama at a 2007 Harlem fundraiser attended by about 1,500 people that served as Obama’s first foray into Harlem after announcing his Democratic presidential candidacy. West introduced Obama on stage at the fundraiser after first railing against the “racist” criminal-justice system of the “American empire.”
 

   Obama, upon taking the stage after West’s introduction, expressed his gratitude to West, calling him “not only a genius, a public intellectual, a preacher, an oracle … he’s also a loving person.”

 

Van Jones’s Radical Green Friends

 

   Van Jones, President Obama’s former “green jobs” czar and newly appointed Princeton lecturer, has teamed up with a coalition of extremists to push an environmental activist agenda to “transform the American economy” and bring about “social change.”
 
   The groups working with Jones have been described as using the tactics of guerrilla communication, agitation and disruption techniques. One organization working alongside Jones, the radical Earth First! environmentalist group, has a history of violence and sabotage.
 
   Green For All, an activist group founded and directed by Jones, joined the Energy Action Coalition, which is composed of a slew of extremist organizations, including the Ruckus Society, which states that it provides “hands-on direct action tactical skills and strategy at [its] training camps,” or will bring its training to your location.
 

   Also in the Coaliton is Earth First!, which, according to Discover the Networks is a “radical environmentalist group with a long history of violence and sabotage.” It “pioneered sabotage tactics like tree sitting and tree spiking to thwart logging and development.”

 

Two Up, Two Down For TSA Post

 

   President Obama’s pick to head the Transportation Security Administration withdrew his nomination late Friday night, making him the second of Obama’s nominees for the post to fail to win confirmation.
 
   Retired Gen. Robert Harding blamed “distractions caused by my work as a defense contractor” that would “not be good for this administration, nor for the Department of Homeland Security.”
 
   This reporter was first to break the storythat Harding serves on the board of a corporation that raised millions to do business with companies positioned in growing areas of the federal budget.
 
   Questions were also raised about a multimillion-dollar government contract Harding’s company was awarded in 2004 to provide private interrogators to Iraqi prisons for the Defense Intelligence Agency.
 
   That contract was terminated in 2005, triggering an audit that found that Harding’s company double-billed the government for more than $860,000. It ultimately reimbursed the government more than $2 million.
 
   Harding for his part said he withdrew his nomination “with deep regret.”
 
   Harding’s private contract dealings could have become a hot button of controversy as the Senate geared up to consider his bid for the TSA.
 
   Obama’s original pick for the TSA job, Erroll Southers, withdrew his name from considerationin January over Republican concern Southers would attempt to unionize TSA security agents.
 

   This journalist was also first to report that Southers had boasted to a major union that he looked forward to “joining” with them to add value to TSA security.

 

   Aaron Klein is Jerusalem bureau chief and senior reporter for Internet giant WorldNetDaily.com. He is also host of an investigative radio program on New York’s 77-WABC Radio, the largest talk radio station in the U.S., every Sunday between 2:00-4:00.

Family Celebrates Upsherin By Picking Potatoes For Israel

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009


   Twenty-five members of the extended Marks family from Woodmere, New York recently traveled to Israel to celebrate their son Moshe’s upsherin. However, this was no ordinary upsherin celebration.

 

   They dedicated one day of their visit to volunteering for Table to Table Israel’s Project Leket – a unique agricultural gleaning project that uses volunteers to pick produce that Israeli farmers would otherwise destroy or leave to rot in the field.

 

   Rather than let good food go to waste, the family joined Table to Table’s staff and volunteers at Kibbutz Shiller near Rechovot to pick potatoes that had gone unpicked at the end the of the harvest.

 

   In just a few hours under the hot sun, they picked over 600 kilos (approx. 1350 pounds) of potatoes that were loaded onto a Table to Table Israel truck and delivered directly to some of the 230 organizations across Israel that Table To Table provides food for.

 

   Parents Rachel and Jonathan Marks felt that volunteering with Table to Table Israel was important as they “wanted to commemorate the occasion by performing mitzvos in Israel.”

 

   The Marks family noted the important connection between their son’s upsherin and the mitzvah of orlah. They explained that just as a fruit tree cannot be picked for its produce in its first three years, so too, a young child under the age of three is not yet mature enough to learn and study Torah properly.

 

   At three, when the child’s understanding has developed, his parents can start teaching him Torah and he can start doing mitzvos. He finally gets to taste the sweet fruits from the Tree of Life that is the Torah.

 

   The event was particularly moving for Moshe’s great-grandmother, Perla Taubenfeld, a Holocaust survivor who experienced a sight that she once thought that she would never witness – her and her descendants enjoying a visit to the Jewish homeland.

 

   Table to Table Israel (or Mi’shulchan L’shulchan in Hebrew) is known as Israel’s Food Rescue Network. It was founded in 2003 by Joseph Gitler – an oleh and former attorney originally from the NY area.

 

   Today, the organization has a staff of 55 and engages with farmers, individuals, caterers, restaurants, bakeries and venues to rescue hundreds of tons of perishable food items.

 

   To learn more about Table to Table Israel or to volunteer on an upcoming trip to Israel, visit www.t2t.org.ilor call 201-331-0070.

Lamed Vavniks Who Aren’t Afraid to Get Their Hands Dirty

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

Rabbi Mendy Rosenberg, a Viznitzer chassid, stands outside his Williamsburg tire shop in rain, sun, sleet and snow, repairing flat tires and replacing old worn ones. Located in an area that was once an industrial area, the shop seems to be out of place on an island sandwiched between towering new building complexes, part of Williamsburg’s building boom to accommodate the ever growing Chassidic population.

 

Although Mendy is the president of a privately run organization Chesed Shel Emes, (literally, true kindness, a kindness expressed with no idea or hope of any reciprocity) which he founded to ensure every Jewish person has a proper Jewish burial, you won’t see Mendy wearing a suit during the work day. More often, Rosenberg’s work clothes are blackened with tire grease and he is jostling back and forth between customers and answering the ringing phones in a small wooden booth in the tire shop.  

 

Chesed Shel Emes began when Mendy, who regularly volunteers for chevra kadisha, repeatedly faced complex situations where there was no family to pay for proper burial according to Jewish law. In some cases it was an elderly person who was shomer shabbos their entire lives but now estranged from their assimilated or intermarried children, or someone without living relatives. Sometimes an estate executor wanted to choose the cheapest burial option, cremation, or sometimes the unfortunate lonely soul found his final place in Potter’s Field — the burial ground where unknown or indigent people are buried by the City of New York.  

 

Mendy Rosenberg’s brother and business partner, Shulem Rosenberg says, “We have rescued numerous bodies from the city dump and reburied them in one of the plots we bought in a Jewish cemetery.”  Another brother, Yitzchak Rosenberg who works at the tire shop too, says they just completed a purchase of a fourth cemetery for “meis mitzvah,” the term that refers to a deceased person with no family, thereupon falling to the Jewish community at large to assume responsibility for the requisite Jewish burial. To date the Rosenbergs have been responsible for burying close to eight hundred meis mitzvah.

 

Judaism has stringent laws regarding the handling of the deceased. The body is not to be left unguarded, autopsies are to be avoided or minimally invasive, and the deceased must be laid to rest quickly. Chesed Shel Emes ensures that orthodox Jewish standards aren’t compromised and do everything in their power so that every Jewish person will have a proper Jewish burial regardless of where they are located. Shulem explains, “Chesed Shel Emes is solely a volunteer operation, no one gets paid, there are no benefits, no tax deductions for the cars the volunteers regularly use, this is really about doing a chesed shel emes where there is no payback.”

 

They don’t run formal fundraisers but rather operate per diem, per case. Shulem explains, “When you have a ‘cassa,’[a fund] you suddenly have someone else telling you what to do, but we already know what needs to be done since we’ve been doing this for years.”  The average price for a burial is thirty-one hundred dollars, which the Rosenbergs put together once a call for a “meis mitzvah” comes in. Often they send the body to Israel which incurs an additional expense. “When people call and say they want to give us a donation, we tell them to hold onto their money and we will call them back when we need it.” Mendy says, “The only donations we accept in advance are actual cemetery plots, even if it’s only one plot,” and explains that sometimes families buy a number of plots but, for whatever reason, don’t use them all.  

 

Mendy also became accustomed to handling taharas of decomposing bodies that were discovered after a period of time has passed from event of death, or when seriously maimed in car accidents. In tragically unfortunate cases where the dead person suffered from a communicable disease like Hepatitis B or AIDS, many chevra kaddisha societies refuse to handle the tahara and Chesed Shel Emes is called. Shulem tells of “every now and then, an extended family member will walk in and ask about a particular case, want to know what the body looked like,” but absolute confidentiality and respect for the niftar (the deceased) reigns supreme including the identity of who performed the tahara, “I tell them, I don’t know, I wasn’t there.”

 

 

 

 

In a small no-frills office at the back of the tire shop, Shulem Rosenberg takes out the maps of the cemetery plots the organization has purchased. One is specifically designated “shomer shabbos.” Mendy walks into the office and asks Shulem if he saw the bikur cholim bill from the bakery and hands it to him. For in addition to kvuras (burials), they also fund the bikur cholim rooms at Lutheran Medical Center of Brooklyn, Long Island College Hospital, and in partnership with the Rivka Laufer Bikur Cholim the bikur cholim room at N.Y.U Medical Center in Manhattan. 

 

Doing chesed, extending selfless good deeds to your fellow Jew seems to run in the Rosenberg brothers’ genes. They are descendants of the 18th century Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, who was also known as the Kedushas Levi and is famed for always finding the good in every Jewish soul, no matter how distant they had fallen from religious practice and their identity as Jews. Their father, the esteemed Viznitzer chassid Yidel Aber Rosenberg has dedicated his life to funding Viznitzer mosdos and community projects. While not explicitly declared publicly, it is something they discuss privately among themselves; the Berditchiver model is one they feel obliged to live up to.

 

Mendy begins washing his hands with a grease solvent in preparation to go home and laughs as he tells the story of a woman who kept walking around the block looking for the Chesed Shel Emes office. Finally she stopped at the greasy tire shop and approached Mendy in the wooden booth surrounded by tires and nuts and bolts. She was bewildered that this was the addresss she had been given. Mendy asked her for all the necessary information and said, “Consider it done.”  She asked, “But where is the president of the organization?” He assured her he would pass along the message and all would be taken care of. And so it was.

 

Mendy explains, “I do everything with my cell phone, I know who to call, we have over three hundred volunteers for taharos.” Indeed his business card lists his cell phone number as the Chesed Shel Emes contact number. Newspaper and television reporters began calling when Chesed Shel Emes expedited the release of slain Professor Liviu Librescu from the Virginia medical examiner’s office after the Virginia Tech massacre and immediately arranged that the body be guarded, there be no autopsy other than removing the bullets, and the niftar be immediately brought to New York where a tahara was performed before sending the body to Israel for burial.

 

But Mendy shies away from all publicity and says, “I don’t have time to deal with the media. I don’t need it, I don’t want pictures, I don’t want to be recognized and have reporters badgering me, I just send everyone to my spokesman Meyer Berger who’s good at talking to them.” His brother Shulem motions with his hand that it is alright to take photos while Mendy scribbles down Berger’s cell phone number on the back of his business card. His only interest in speaking with The Jewish Press is so that word spreads and Chesed Shel Emes will be called when there is a meis mitzvah, regardless of where the deceased is. They are connected to chevra kadishas throughout the world.

 

Meyer Berger, spokesman for Chesed Shel Emes, runs a sewer cleaning company and has an office in Boro Park. He is a chassid who wears traditional chassidic clothing to work, including knickers and black knee socks known as “shvartzeh zucken.” He shows the notepad he carries with him with work notes on the front side, and Chesed Shel Emes notes on the back of each page. “I feel,” Berger explains, “the importance of the services that Chesed Shel Emes provides. Whether or not it is a “meis mitzvah,” we have volunteers on call who go to hospitals and ensure the proper handling of the niftar without delay from the moment of their death. A Jewish body should be handled and guarded by a Jew immediately, the hospitals will often let us disconnect the tubes and I.V. lines when we explain this.” Berger will advise a family on the various burial options available to them and discourage cremation, “We only step in to cover burial costs when there are no family funds for burial.”  

 

In the local New York City area Chesed Shel Emes has a network of volunteers for taharos and they are connected to chevra kaddishas throughout the world. Berger gives an example of a complex tahara case that Chesed Shel Emes volunteers were called on to perform, “There was a niftar who suffered from skin cancer and the entire body was full of tumors. Every time the chevra kaddisha washed one area, sores began oozing in another area and it was a very difficult situation.” Berger explains how they used certain substances to stop the oozing and had to cover the body with extra layers of tachrichim.

 

Chesed Shel Emes regularly deals with the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office, with the assistance of Rabbi Edgar Gluck. “We arrange there be no autopsy unless there was criminal activity, and they respect our religious requests such as keeping private body parts covered,” says Berger, “the medical examiners in the tri-state area usually call the Chesed Shel Emes office once they realize they are looking at a Jewish body.”  

 

Recently, a volunteer was in the Kings County Medical Examiner’s Office and saw a body with a nametag Sara Hazan and immediately called Mendy. Berger says, “We soon realized that according to the identification number, there was a mix-up and this body should have been in the Queens County Medical Examiners office.” Eventually Chesed Shel Emes learned the meis was a Jewish woman who died in a nursing home (owned by a shomer shabbos Jew) three years earlier and had been a subject in medical school anatomy laboratories ever since. Berger pulls up a photo on his computer with this woman’s tombstone, “We laid her peacefully to rest.”

 

Rabbi Edgar Gluck, vice president of Chesed Shel Emes and chaplain for the NY Medical Examiner’s Office, is particularly effective when dealing with out of state medical examiners, some of whom operate differently than in New York. Berger tells a story of a tragic accident involving New York vacationers out west. Dental records were immediately flown in from New York to identify the bodies, but problems arose because the medical examiner in the small western town didn’t have the technical expertise to identify bodies utilizing dental records. The bodies would have to be transported three hundred miles away to another medical examiner who would conduct x-ray examinations; however, since it was the weekend, all offices were closed. “Since Jewish law dictates that we bury the body as soon as possible, parshas Ki Seitzei says it is forbidden to leave a meis overnight, we were very troubled when we were told that these bodies would only be released in several days,” says Berger. 

 

Rabbi Gluck called on his personal friend, U.S. Senator John McCain, who was the neighboring state’s U.S. senator. While Arizona had the ability to identify bodies according to dental records, there was still a problem since dead bodies may not cross state lines before they are identified. McCain called his neighboring senator and the matter was immediately resolved, the bodies were released to the medical examiner in Arizona, identified, and then returned by private plane back to New York for burial the next day.

 

Each year Chesed Shel Emes makes a siyum mishnayos, as volunteers undertake to learn l’iluy nishmas a “meis mitzvah.” Shulem Rosenberg is humbled when he reflects on his communal work, “It’s a zchus, a real privilege, we just learned in Parshas Emor that even a kohen gadol is obligated to become tamei for a meis mitzvah.” Noting the similarities between the sewer cleaner and tire-repair men who immerse themselves in grimy work during the day but volunteer in the holiest work in their free time, Shulem Rosenberg says, “Laugh, but maybe this kind of work needs people who are ready to get their hands dirty, we aren’t college educated professionals working in fancy offices; When you have to salvage a decomposed body creeping with green worms, you don’t see lawyers showing up to clean up.”

 

The Chesed Shel Emes phone number is: (718)436-2121. The 24 hour hotline is: (917)559-8250.

Letters, Care Packages And Prayers: American Jews Encourage Israeli Soldiers

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

In many ways, the Israel Defense Forces has always been an army for all Jews. But in the war against Hamas that just ceased, American Jews were particularly engaged and aware of the soldiers’ plight. In addition to the many protest rallies and prayer sessions around the country and the world, Jewish organizations and individuals found several ways to send Israeli soldiers more direct forms of encouragement.

One very popular method was sending care packages to soldiers. A pioneer in the field has been A Package from Home, started in 2000 by Barbara Bloom Silverman, a 77-year-old immigrant from Chicago. Since then, the organization has sent over 150,000 packages containing dozens of items. They include towels, socks, T-shirts, wet wipes, toothpaste and toothbrushes, and lots of snacks – and in the winter, fleece jackets, blankets, gloves, neck warmers, and more.

During the 34 days of war with Lebanon in 2006, A Package from Home sent 22,000 packages, Bloom Silverman said. She estimated that they had sent more than 7,000 during this war.

 

 

Eliana Brody delivering a package to a group of soldiers.

 

“We’ve been working around the clock,” she said, “from 6:45 a.m. to midnight. At 3:00 we’re ready for a break, but that’s just when the rest of the world wakes up and begins sending letters.”

She added, “The only time we rest is on Shabbat, and by then we really need a rest.”Bloom Silverman is assisted by Shira Gilor, who is the only employee of the organization. They also receive help from many volunteers. “We never have a shortage of volunteers who want to help pack,” Bloom Silverman said. “We often have visitors from America also helping.”

The work is done out of Bloom Silverman’s two-bedroom apartment in Jerusalem, where one of the bedrooms has been turned into an office. They also use a storage room in her apartment building.

She said that many soldiers have attested to the “lift” they get when receiving the packages. “One said that the clean towels smelled like home,” she said.

Each package also contains letters of support written by Jews around the world. The letters are in Hebrew, English, Russian, and Amharic (the language of many Ethiopians). Thus all of the soldiers can read them. Since the beginning of this conflict, the organization has received more than 6,000 letters. The letter of one 6-year-old American girl featured a big red heart drawn in crayon with the words, “I send you my heart,” Bloom Silverman said.

Several other American groups have organized campaigns for letters of support, including the National Council of Young Israel (NCYI), which has asked American Jews to e-mail their messages of “chizuk and strength.”

 Another project of support that NCYI helped facilitate was Operation Tefillah, Torah & Troops, where Jews from around the world are paired with an Israeli soldier, and are responsible to pray, learn Torah, and do special acts of chesed on behalf of that solider.

 The project was started during the 2006 Second Lebanon War by Rabbi Simcha HaCohen Kook, the chief rabbi of Rechovot, Israel, and the Bostoner Rebbe, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Horowitz of Har Nof. The two rabbinic leaders continued the efforts this year. In the three weeks of war, some 100,000 people have signed up to pray for an Israeli soldier, according to Rabbi Pesach Lerner, executive vice president of NCYI.

 Rabbi Yanki Schneck, assistant to Chief Rabbi Kook, said that their office has received nearly 25,000 e-mails from people worldwide requesting names of soldiers. His office has seven phone lines that are constantly ringing, as thousands of calls pour in.

 Chaim Leibtag, chief operating officer of NCYI, spoke of a similar scene at his organization’s offices. “Our phones have been ringing every day from 8 a.m. until we leave.” He added that at one point, the requests arriving by e-mail to Rabbi Kook’s office got so large that they could not process them, and that Daniel Gordon, CEO of OutDash Development, agreed to help process the rest – free of charge.

  (Leibtag added that he is now looking for volunteers to help sift through all the videos and other material on the Web posted by Hamas and others, so that organizations like CAMERA, Honest Reporting, the David Project and StandWithUs can review and categorize them.)

 “The power of prayer should never be underestimated,” said Rabbi Lerner. “By raising our collective voice toward the heavens and asking for God’s help, we can provide the support and strength that our soldiers need as they carry out a mission that is vital to the future of the Jewish state.”

   Some American Jews who were in Israel for other reasons joined the support effort. A group of 35 Yeshiva University students, on a mission to “expose the students to cultural groups that have immigrated” to Israel, according to a press release, took time out to help pack care packages for soldiers.

   The Orthodox Union spearheaded efforts to send to IDF soldiers what the OU’s director of public relations, Stephen Steiner, called “spiritual ammunition”: tefillin, tzitzit and books of Tehillim.

   “Requests for religious items keep pouring in every day,” said Rabbi Avi Berman, director of OU Israel. “What are you going to tell a soldier on the battlefield – knowing he is about to confront a vicious enemy – when he asks to connect to God with tefillin, tzitzit and Tehillim?”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/community//2009/01/21/

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