Machberes: Inside The Chassidish And Yeshivish World
By Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum
On Sunday, May 26, a huge crowd of mourners gathered to give tribute and to take leave of twelve sifrei Torah rendered unsalvageable on October 29, 2012, by Hurricane Sandy. Miraculously, no fatalities resulted from the disaster, for which we are most thankful. The amazing, unified dedication of the entire community in extending aid to everyone in need, whether for food, clothing, or whatever was essential, must be praised and never forgotten.
However, the spiritual loss of sifrei Torah is overwhelming. Tons of sheimos that remained of sefarim and tashmishei kodesh that were totally ruined by the hurricane were dispatched for burial on November 25, 2012. Both burial events were facilitated by Chesed Shel Emes, the extraordinary organization dedicated to loving-kindness.
The emotional assembly took place in the courtyard of the White Shul, where more than a thousand men, women, and children tearfully joined to say good-bye to the sifrei Torah, two from Congregation Ohab Zedek in Belle Harbor, three from the Seaside Jewish Center in Belle Harbor, one from Bais Yisroel Maimonides in Bayswater, three from the Young Israel of Oceanside, two from the Kosnitz Shul in Seagate, and one from a sofer in Far Rockaway.
In addition to these sifrei Torah, five additional sifrei Torah came from Williamsburg. They were destroyed several years ago in a fire at the Satmar Beis Medrash on Clymer Street. At that time, Rabbi Yisroel Chaim Menashe Friedman, Satmar Rosh Beth Din, directed that the damaged sifrei Torah be kept in the aron hakodesh.
In response to the advance announcements of the Five Towns ceremony, a member of the Clymer Street Shul contacted Chesed Shel Emes about its damaged sifrei Torah. Volunteers of Chesed Shel Emes immediately made all the necessary arrangements to include the Clymer Street sifrei Torah, which were buried together with the Five Towns sifrei Torah in Liberty. Also included in the burial were the mezuzos that were burned in acts of vandalism in Williamsburg in April, shocking the entire Jewish community.
Chesed Shel Emes
The organization Chesed Shel Emes was founded and is headed by Rabbi Mendy Rosenberg. Rabbi Shraga Feivish Hager, Kosover Rebbe, serves as its posek. They receive calls from all of the United Stated and abroad in regard to Jews who are in terminal phases of dreaded diseases. The calls are about Jews who may have no religious affiliation or are simply indigent and are without resources to have a Jewish funeral or Jewish burial. Often cremation, prohibited by halacha, had been chosen. Other times, no one claims a body, and somehow, possibly by divine intervention, their predicament arrives at the doorstep of Chesed Shel Emes, which immediately springs into action to give the deceased final Jewish honors.
As its reputation continues to spread, the call volume in the office of Chesed Shel Emes continues to grow. New volunteer members are constantly being trained into this holy work, There are more than 275 men and more than 180 women who are actively involved, on a totally voluntary basis, in preparing Jewish deceased for proper burial. They travel to every imaginable city and neighborhood, regardless of the time of day or night or the inclement weather.
Chesed Shel Emes provides loving-kindness for the living as well. Bikur Cholim Yad Yaakov, under the auspices of Chesed Shel Emes, maintains fully stocked Bikur Cholim rooms in several New York City hospitals and has earned the profound gratitude of countless patients and their families.
On Sunday, May 15, 2011, an emotional memorial event was held in Congregation Ahavath Israel in Liberty, NY. Chesed Shel Emes marked the burial of the 100th mes mitzvah in the Liberty cemetery. A mes mitzvah is a Jew who passed away without anyone to attend to his or her burial. The Torah directs even a Kohen Gadol on his way to the Holy of Holies who finds a deceased Jew without any attendants, to bury the deceased. The burial of a mes mitzvah is considered a supreme mitzvah of gemilus chesed.
The event was simultaneously sad and happy. Sad that 100 Jews died without anyone to attend to their burial. Happy that 100 Jews who died without anyone to attend to their burial were interred in full accordance with Jewish law and tradition. Chesed Shel Emes acquired the cemetery in Liberty for this purpose in 2007.
The Jewish cemetery in Liberty dates back to the early 1900s, when the nearby synagogue of Swan Lake boasted a year-round observant community. Sadly, this once-vibrant community faded away, and years passed without any activity in the cemetery. Within a week of assuming administration of the Liberty cemetery in 2007, when burial plots in their other properties were becoming scarce, Chesed Shel Emes was called to a nearby Liberty apartment where an elderly resident had died, but, without any family, was found only days later. Chesed Shel Emes entered into extensive negotiations with local governmental agencies, and after much effort, no autopsy was performed and the deceased was brought to rest in the Jewish cemetery.
In addition to burial, Chesed Shel Emes arranges for a monument to be inscribed and placed upon the gravesite. Further, the organization has Mishna study groups that dedicate their studies to each mes mitzvah for the first year as well as for each subsequent yahrzeit.
The 100th Burial Memorial Event honored the dozens of volunteers who reside in Kiamesha Lake (Vishnitz), Kiryas Yoel (Satmar), Monsey, New Square, and South Fallsburg (Yeshiva Zichron Moshe). In addition, Hon. B. Elton J. Harris, Sullivan County Coroner, who also serves as a licensed funeral director, was honored at the event. By law, every interment must be overseen by a licensed funeral director. Elton Harris attended every burial by Chesed Shel Emes in Liberty. Late into the night, on legal holidays, in severely inclement weather, Elton Harris unfailingly responded immediately and unhesitatingly whenever called. Also honored was Perry Meltzer, Town Justice of the Thompson Town Court, Monticello, NY, who has selflessly assisted and guided Chesed Shel Emes in innumerable ways.
Shenitza Rebbetzin Esther Roitblatt, a’h (1908–2013)
A great sadness descended upon Boro Park on Sunday, 17 Sivan, May 27, when the holy and pure soul of Rebbetzin Esther Roitblatt, the oldest chassidish rebbetzin, was called to Heaven. She was 105 years old and literally active to the very last day.
Her tzedaka and chesed were legendary when she was yet an unmarried girl. She was the daughter of Rabbi Yosef Yonah Gavriel Sharfzin, zt’l (1882–1935), Shenitza Rav. She married her first cousin Rabbi Eliezer Paltiel Roitblatt, zt’l (1912–1998), Shenitza Rebbe, son of Rabbi Yehoshua Usher Roitblatt, zt’l (1880–1941), Shedlitzer Rebbe. Her husband, Rabbi Eliezer Paltiel, succeeded her father upon his passing in 1935, thus becoming Shenitza Rebbe. He was the last surviving rabbi that had officially served in the Polish rabbinate before the Holocaust.
Together with her husband, she barely escaped the Nazi onslaught. In their flight, they were apprehended by the Russians, who exiled them to slave-labor camps in Siberia, where their lives were always at risk. In spite of horrendous conditions, they never ate non-kosher, never ate chometz, and never were mechalel Shabbos. Her husband donned tefillin every weekday and would always have a sefer with him to study Torah whenever possible, at the risk of death if discovered. Rebbetzin Esther built a disguised sukkah. She saved pieces of bread from her rations so that she could give imprisoned Jews the opportunity to make a beracha in the sukkah.
After the war, Rabbi Eliezer Paltiel was appointed as rav of the Displaced Persons Camp in Lintz-Weigsheid, Germany. He was instrumental in freeing many agunahs, whose husbands were murdered during the Holocaust but no absolute proof of their death was attainable. He worked alongside post-Holocaust Torah leaders such as Rabbi Boruch Leizerowski, zt’l, Lodzer Rav and author of Taam Boruch, who survived Dachau and Auschwitz and was appointed the Chief Rabbi of Munich, later serving as Chief Rabbi of Philadelphia. Rabbi Eliezer Paltiel also worked with Rabbi Avrohom Meir Israel, zt’l, author of Vaya’an Avrohom and Imrei Avrohom.
Emigrating to the Americas in 1947, Rabbi Eliezer Paltiel was appointed as Rav of Bogota, and together with the rebbetzin energized the community there to become notable in its Torah observance. In 1956, Rabbi Eliezer Paltiel and the rebbetzin moved to Boro Park, eventually establishing the Shenitza Beis Medrash.
The Shenitza Rebbetzin continued her acts of tzedaka and chesed in Bogota as well as in Boro Park. Her door, kitchen, purse, and hand were always open to the many in need that came to her for help. In her advanced age of more than 100, she continued to walk to Maimonides Medical Center and the Boro Park Center nursing home, not far from her home, and helped feed paralyzed patients.
The beloved Shenitza Rebbetzin remembered chassidish rebbes of more than 100 years ago. She shared personal insights into many popular chassidish legends. Rebbes and rabbis eulogized her at her funeral inside the Shenitza Beis Medrash, from where she was brought to eternal rest alongside her revered husband in the Shenitza Cemetery in Floral Park, New Jersey. v
Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum is the Rav of B’nai Israel of Linden Heights in Boro Park and Director of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. Rabbi Tannenbaum can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.