By Liba Lieberman
On Sunday morning, December 2, many members of the Far Rockaway and Five Towns communities were still immersed in post-Sandy recovery efforts that would naturally preclude participating in a community event. Nevertheless, the 31st Bikur Cholim annual brunch was once again held in the lovely (and untouched) banquet hall of the White Shul, and any necessary activities were put aside to support this organization, whose sole purpose is to help Yidden in times of need.
With a stunningly impressive turnout of over 600 women, the brunch was attended by a standing-room-only crowd, as women from throughout the local neighborhoods banded together for this once-a-year fundraiser for the community’s Bikur Cholim. This year’s event featured the dynamic Rabbi Label Lam as guest speaker. A former fulltime lecturer for Arachim Seminars, Rabbi Lam has been inspiring businessmen, college students, and others for Ohr Somayach International and Hamayan Institute for almost two decades.
Rabbi Lam related that his mother used to say, “You can find sympathy in the dictionary.” What is needed, he continued, is empathy.
One story he related involved a ba’al teshuvah who had a tattoo. Embarrassed by the tattoo, he would wear long sleeves throughout the year. One time, however, he decided to go to the mikveh, and he planned out how he could walk along the wall with a towel draped over his shoulder. On the actual day he went, however, he slipped on soap lying on the floor. He and his towel went flying, and he was devastated. All of a sudden, an elderly gentleman went over to him and showed him his arm, which had a tattoo of numbers from Auschwitz. The old gentleman said, “This is my gehennom. Mistama, this is your gehennom. Come, let’s go together into the mikveh.”
In another story, Rabbi Lam spoke of a little orphan for whom a lady bought clothes. She bought him more than he needed. At the end of the shopping, he asked her if she was Hashem. “No,” she said. “If you aren’t Hashem, who are you?” he asked. She answered, “I am one of Hashem’s messengers.” The little boy replied, “I knew you were related.”
The Tehillim awardees, chosen for their contributions as volunteers, were Mrs. Hadassa Bobker and Mrs. Shani Moerman. Both dedicated members of Bikur Cholim keep the North Shore Hospital Bikur Cholim room stocked with kosher food for its Jewish patients. As a result of honoring these two special volunteers, the brunch was a great success. Dr. Neal Goldberg provided the Lev Leytzan clowns to entertain the children during the brunch.
Chairladies were Mrs. Marilyn Wolowitz, Mrs. Tzippy David, and Mrs. Esther Feigenbaum. “The commitment to come and show chizuk at this time indicates an understanding of the vital function that Bikur Cholim plays in our community. A short amount of your time means a great difference in someone’s life,” Mrs. Wolowitz points out.
Bikur Cholim of Far Rockaway and the Five Towns was originally the outgrowth of suburban life, which does not always feature a comprehensive transportation system. When elderly residents could not find a way to hospitals and doctors’ offices, local women volunteered to drive them to their appointments. That was over 30 years ago. Today, the organization includes its original mandate of driving people to appointments, but it has significantly expanded to include visiting Yidden in hospitals and residents in nursing homes, visiting or calling shut-ins, and cooking for families who are undergoing medical challenges or individuals who are homebound.
Overwhelming medical bills are paid, as is home care after surgery, illness, or childbirth. Physical therapy, laboratory work, dental work, eye care, prescriptions, and mental-health treatments are all part of the vast array of services to which the organization donates significant funding on behalf of the community it serves. Another facet of Bikur Cholim of Far Rockaway and the Five Towns is its equipment gemach—wheelchairs, walkers, and canes—located in the garage of Mrs. Jeanette Baruch, in memory of her mother, Mrs. Hinda Karmel, a’h.
The women who choose to work with Bikur Cholim help those in desperate situations, and they also contribute to maintaining a healthy lifestyle for its recipients. Hospitals now included under the local Bikur Cholim’s care are St. John’s Episcopal Hospital, Mercy Hospital, and North Shore University Hospital. The transportation team drives residents not only to local doctors, but also to many appointments as far away as New York City, where many treatments take place.
Attending a Bikur Cholim brunch is giving testimony to how Yidden work in times of crisis and need. There is an underlying theme to this event, a theme that states the importance of making time for someone else, for stretching the limits of chesed to do even more. Since Superstorm Sandy, Bikur Cholim of Far Rockaway and the Five Towns has stretched its protective umbrella that much further over the lives of those stricken with homelessness or deficient living situations. Its cooking volunteers are on call to provide meals for those who cannot prepare meals for themselves, either because they are not living at home or are at home without cooking facilities. The group is particularly taxed because many of its volunteers lost their cars during Sandy. Getting new drivers and an adequate number of cars is a challenge that must be addressed as the recovery takes its long, difficult road back to normalcy. The current presidium members of Bikur Cholim of Far Rockaway and the Five Towns are Mrs. Marilyn Wolowitz, Mrs. Tzippy David, and Mrs. Esther Ruzohorsky.
Whether taking a resident to the optometrist or providing a ride to someone who is receiving treatments for a life-threatening illness, Bikur Cholim needs funds to continue its mission and to expand that mission now as the community struggles after the great storm. Pushkas are available, as are “zmanagram” cards, which can be used for simchos, Purim, or personal use. Both can be purchased by calling the Bikur Cholim hotline at 718-327-5989 or 516-371-9662. Contributions can be mailed to Bikur Cholim of the Five Towns, P.O. Box 294, Lawrence, New York, 11559. v
Reprinted from Yated Ne’eman.