The call came about two hours before Shabbos. Two counselors and a social worker, all from the Five Towns-Far Rockaway area, realized that if they didn’t intercede, the father of one of their campers at Chai Lifeline’s Camp Simcha would be cremated.
“It wasn’t about the mitzvah,” emphasized Binyamin Moss, of Cedarhurst, one of the counselors, “but it was because we cared about the husband. It was lishma –– we were doing it because it was the right thing for the husband, for his soul, for eternity.”
Halacha specifies burial in the ground as the only respectful way in which a Jew is laid to rest; cremation is vehemently proscribed.
Both Moss and Ari Dicker, of Bayswater, who cited sensitivity for the family in not wanting to be quoted for the article, met the camper and his family a few years ago. The original camper-counselor relationship grew into a sincere and warm friendship for both the camper and his family. That connection led the two to persuade the family to allow them to honor the man with a proper Jewish burial.
Observing their concern over the years for her son, and seeing how important kevuras yisrael (Jewish burial) was to the two counselors, the newly bereaved wife agreed.
The counselors’ connection to Chai Lifeline is Rabbi Mordechai Gobioff, Director of Client Services/National, who also works with an organization known as Misaskim, providing technical support for families and communities experiencing emergencies.
“We have a very wonderful relationship,” with Misaskim, Gobioff said. A Chai Lifeline division called Project Chai, led by Dr. Norman Blumenthal, is the “crisis and bereavement department,” for Misaskim. Its 200 volunteers “provide the emotional support to ...the work of Misaskim in crisis situations. Not only families with illness, but also sudden death and accidents.”
By Monday, a very respectable funeral was arranged with the help of Misaskim, to be held the following day. “There were stories about the niftar [deceased],” said Moss, who also spoke at the funeral. “There were a lot of hespedim [eulogies].”
Andy Lauber, LMSW, of Far Rockaway, heads i-Shine, an after school program of Chai Lifeline. “I spoke at the kevura [burial], helped them do kriah [rending a garment], say kaddish,” he said. “We did a shura [double line between which the mourners walk]. The counselors were there, we had a minyan there. It was beautiful, Boruch Hashem. The family turned to us and thanked us. She appreciated the simplicity and said that was what he would have liked.”
Rabbi Yankie Meyer, a director of Misaskim and a police chaplain for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said that all the members of Misaskim’s board were involved in various chevra kadisha and other chesed organizations for over 20 years. “Three and a half years ago we decided to pool our strength and connections and make a normal organization that people can turn to in their time of need,” he explained.
First, he said, “we’re a regular chevra kadisha, we go around where people don’t belong and fill the void. We take care of all the arrangements and give the kavod ha-acharon, the way they deserve it, and help guide the family through the unexpected. We’re also careful with kavod hames,” he continued, “dealing with the medical examiner’s office, avoiding autopsies when we can and standing by and helping.”
“Once someone was accidentally shot and killed,” he related. “There was no reason for an autopsy. The doctor said that in the report the bullet was lodged in the ventrical, but on the scene they knew there was an entry and exit wound.” Misaskim volunteers checked the police report, noted that it said the bullet was found in the vehicle, and an X-ray confirmed the report, helping to prevent an autopsy.
Misaskim is also involved with incidents of meis mitzvah, spending over $100,000 in 2007, Meyer said. The organization also has a disaster/accident unit, he added. “If there is a fatality at an accident or someone passes under unusual circumstances...we have trained volunteers who clean up from the accidents and ready the body for kevurah [burial]. We have training with and deal with law enforcement and the medical examiners.”
Misaskim is also becoming well known as the gemach (loan society) for shiva equipment such as chairs, water coolers and air conditioners.
“We currently service the five boroughs, the Five Towns, Monsey, New Square, Kiryas Yoel, Deal and Long Branch,” said Meyer. Misaskim has nine paid employees, 40 volunteers across the tri-state area and warehouses in Borough Park, Monsey and Lakewood. “We’ll eventually have one in Queens,” he pointed out. “That would make life easier. The group currently owns eight vehicles. “We started in Borough Park and Flatbush,” he said, “but there are demands for L.A., Baltimore, Florida, Cleveland.”
“We shouldn’t need us,” Meyer said, and hopefully, the equipment “should be able to collect dust, or use it for simchas. One of the rabbis at a hachnasas sefer Torah said that we should go out of business.” Meyer suggested that the equipment be used for a different chesed. “We could throw out the little chairs. The regular stuff we could still use for bar mitzvahs, sheva brachos, simchas.”
To make donations and for information, contact Misaskim at 5805 16th Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11204 or call 718-854-4548.