By Rabbi Boruch B. Bender
I write the following thoughts not as an Achiezer representative, nor in any official capacity—but simply as a lifelong resident of the Far Rockaway/Five Towns community. There are just certain moments that are enough to make anyone marvel at the amazing community in which we are blessed to live.
On Friday, January 10, about three weeks ago, a sudden and unexpected storm blanketed the streets and sidewalks with a coating of ice. It was an otherwise typical cold morning, and the frightening part was that it was mostly black ice and largely invisible to the naked eye. In a matter of moments, there were dozens of accidents and emergencies. Cars slid into one another, mothers and children slipped and fell, and many elderly individuals suffered terrible falls and injuries.
Just as quickly, our community sprang into action.
Both Rabbi Kanner, venerable coordinator of Chevra Hatzalah, and the indefatigable Zvi Bokow, called Achiezer strongly suggesting that an urgent community warning be sent out immediately. Within moments, the e-mail was blasted. Dozens of shuls and individuals forwarded it to as many people as possible.
Chaim Liebtag, the never-resting president of the White Shul, called within minutes, asking what else he could do to help. Volunteers from the Young Israel of Woodmere fanned out, clearing the pathways and sidewalks near the shul. David Kopelowitz, ready to go with his famous “chesed machine monster 4 × 4 truck,” texted to find out who needed to be carried up and down stairs, who needed to get to doctors’ appointments, etc. Avraham Friedman of Bayswater went to numerous homes of the elderly and vulnerable, making sure that the dangerous ice was cleared away.
All the while, every single one of our community’s Hatzalah ambulances was busy racing, bringing more than a dozen fall victims to the hospital. Chaverim volunteers passed up their own Shabbos errands in favor of helping those with car trouble during this period.
In the local hospitals, numerous frum people congregated in the emergency rooms. Phone chargers were swapped, snacks and Tehillims were shared, and our community cared for one another in ways that we have never seen before.
The personal climax of my day was a phone call that came in at approximately 2:30 p.m. erev Shabbos from veteran Hatzalah member Mr. Eli Polatoff—now hospitalized at Mercy Medical Center after a painful knee replacement. After conveying his heartfelt thanks for the beautiful Shabbos package prepared by Meals ‘n More volunteers (under the guidance of coordinators Suri Bender and Eli Weiss), Eli then moved to the primary focus of his call. While lying in his own hospital bed in terrible pain, Eli had gotten word from hospital CEO Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt that the fully stocked respite rooms (lovingly replenished each week by over 100 incredible community volunteers, under the guidance of Shalom Jaroslawicz) just might not have enough food to accommodate the overwhelming number of frum patients that week.
Once again, additional last-second phone calls were made: “We need more food!” Disregarding their own Shabbos preparations, Yoeli Steinberg of Gourmet Glatt and Avi Krasnow of Chap-A-Nosh scurried around their stores preparing beautiful boxes of the most delicious Shabbos items so that yet another delivery could head out to our local hospitals.
Need I say more? This is beyond chesed. These dozens of heroes define selflessness, serving as personal examples of what it means to be there for a fellow Jew with no expectation of thanks, gratitude, or recognition in the public eye. It is these people who make me personally feel proud to be a member of this special community. v