In what was dubbed as a historic breakthrough for the Orthodox community living in the five boroughs of New York City, Dr. Barbara A. Sampson, the Acting Chief Medical Examiner, unveiled major new protocols that will go a long way in accommodating Orthodox Jews. The occasion was a February 23 breakfast meeting organized by Misaskim at the Renaissance Hall for some 200 Jewish community leaders. The new far-reaching procedures will in most cases expedite burial, facilitate transfers for burial in Eretz Yisrael, and eliminate the possibility of chillul Shabbos.
The new policies put into place by Dr. Sampson follow many years of efforts by Misaskim to change procedures that caused great distress to many families. Dr. Sampson thanked Misaskim for their efforts and went on to outline some of the changes that are being instituted. She explained what the legal mandates are for reporting cases. One example cited as a reportable case was an accident or shooting victim who ultimately dies, even years later at home.
Yanky Meyer, the CEO of Misaskim, praised Dr. Sampson for her sensitivity and understanding in accommodating the community. A prime example were accommodations made in “reportable cases” that occurred during business hours, after hours, or Shabbos and yom tov. To facilitate the process in the event of such an emergency on Shabbos or yom tov, Misaskim retains non-Jewish workers who are familiar with the procedures and act as intermediaries with the authorities. If petirah occurs in an institution, such as a nursing home or home for adults, the M.E. will talk to the attending physician and clear the body for burial. If, for example, a reportable death occurs in a patient with a medical history due to surgery or a procedure, they will no longer have to wait till the next day until the body can be brought to the office of the M.E.; the medical examiner will dispatch an investigator to the institution.
Dr. Sampson indicated that if necessary, her offices would reopen after hours in a case where the body must be legally brought in, thus facilitating kevurah locally or transfer to Eretz Yisrael for burial. In case a body is brought in and the office is opened after hours for an examination (i.e., X-rays and photography, not an autopsy), borough chiefs will now have laptops and will be able to issue death certificates remotely. Another point of contention in the past was the insistence by M.E. staff to fingerprint a decedent even after identification by a family member, thus causing delays that can interfere with burial before shekiyah or even prevent a body from making the flight. After Misaskim’s intervention, the M.E. can now forgo the fingerprinting.
Menachem Lubinsky, community leader and president of Lubicom Marketing Consulting, opened the breakfast by calling the event “not a customary breakfast of honors for elected officials, philanthropists, institutions, and causes but a breakfast to honor custom, tradition, and Jewish law.” Rav Moshe Tuvia Lieff, the mara d’asra of Agudas Yisroel Bais Binyomin, praised the tireless work of Misaskim, and focused on the holiness of the Shabbos and the sanctity of the soul. “Oh how sad it was for those Jews who were cremated during the Holocaust, but [the Nazis] could not destroy the soul.”
One of the participants who had experienced the intervention of Misaskim firsthand was Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who learned while vacationing in Florida nearly a month ago that his older brother had suddenly passed away. “I experienced what Misaskim means to our community firsthand, and sometimes we don’t appreciate the importance of such an organization until we are personally involved,” said Assemblyman Hikind. “What Misaskim did for us was tremendous—what a chesed!”
Mr. Yanky Martin experienced the activism of Misaskim and the benevolence of the office of Dr. Sampson firsthand when his mother passed away in a hospital on an Erev Shabbos, potentially holding up the kevurah until after Shabbos. Mr. Martin had high praise for the medical examiner and Misaskim: “She realized the sensitivity of k’vod ha’niftar—it was only able to happen through Dr. Sampson and Misaskim.”
Mr. Meyer recounted how on November 18, Hatzalah responded to a call at 4:30 in the morning of a child in distress who ultimately passed away. That afternoon another toddler passed away in Flatbush, the nine-month-old child of Rabbi Zev Gottesman, a first-grade teacher. The rabbi and his wife, despite their shock, decided to have their son buried in Israel next to his grandparents. Since it was after hours, the M.E. quickly opened the office, where the body of the toddler was brought, and arranged to find an X-ray technician and a photographer so the body could make the flight for burial in Eretz Yisrael. Said Rabbi Gottesman: “There is no place I would rather be on a Sunday morning than in my first-grade classroom, teaching my students. Yet here I am standing before this special group of people. Why? The answer is two words: hakaras ha’tov.”
For Yidel Meisels, the pain of losing a child was far more than he could bear. But to have 19 police officers in his home on Shabbos was beyond tolerable. But in the end, thanks to Dr. Sampson and Misaskim, the body was not moved until after Shabbos, avoiding chillul Shabbos.
Amongst the participants at the breakfast were Hatzalah coordinators from all five boroughs of New York, representatives of the various chevra kadishas, hospital liaisons, chaplains, rabbanim, Chesed Shel Emes, and representatives of major Orthodox Jewish organizations. Some of the elected officials who participated included State Senator Simcha Felder, Assemblymen Dov Hikind and Philip Goldfeder, City Councilman Chaim Deutsch, and Mr. Wolf Sender of the office of Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson. In addition to the elected officials, Mr. Meyer singled out Mendy Rosenberg of Chesed Shel Emes and Rabbi Chaim Boruch Gluck and Rabbi Elchonon Zohn of Vaad Harabbonim of Queens. v