Recently, Chaverim of Baltimore sent out two tweets asking for assistance. These were not the all-volunteer organization’s run-of-the-mill pleas for help to change a flat tire, fill a stranded car’s tank with gas, direct traffic for a large car accident, do a pop-a-lock on a car or home, or jumpstart a dead car battery. Nor was it to ask Chaverim members to join forces with Baltimore’s other chesed organization team players to go on a missing person search.
The September 8, 11:17 a.m., tweet read, “Assistance needed for minyan/burial for meis mitzva, tom 3pm bnai israel cemetery in east balt.” The November 4, 7:45 a.m., tweet read: “Help needed to make shiva minyan in ellicott city at 4:40 pm today.” Both tweets asked responders to call the Chaverim hotline, 410-486-9000, if available.
A minyan is mandatory, according to Torah law, at a burial. That includes the burial of a meis mitzva – an unknown and unclaimed deceased – to ensure that he or she receives kevuras Yisrael, a proper Jewish burial.
The challenge of finding the tenth man – or even all 10 men – needed for a minyan at a levaya (funeral) or a shiva (mourning) house, especially on short notice, can be daunting; Chaverim’s launch of a new text alert system has facilitated the process. No longer does the organization have to depend solely on Chaverim members responding to their tweets or radio dispatched bulletins. In the short two months that it has reached out to non-Chaverim members of the community, 38 men have signed up to be “on call” for these minyanim.
The concept of a text alert system was brainstormed by Chaverim of Baltimore members, among them, my son, Tzvi Pensak. In fact, it was Tzvi’s idea to dedicate and sponsor this new initiative in memory of his father/my husband, Asher Zelig ben Tzvi (Stewart Pensak), z”l. Memorializing him through Chaverim’s latest project is most fitting, for in addition to his love and zealous pursuit of Torah and mitzvos, Stewie was very community-minded and an extremely selfless and giving person. He lived to give; all he cared about was doing for others and making others happy. Just as leviyas hames (escorting the dead) is the ultimate mitzvah, because the meis can never acknowledge or repay the favor, so too, did we realize – mostly after Asher Zelig ben Tzvi’s levaya and shiva period – that his hallmark was doing chesed secretly; he shunned recognition and compensation.
“This new text alert system comes after many years of calls for help and Chaverim disseminating the information rapidly,” notes Chaverim of Baltimore President David Bagan. “Our new system will enable the entire community to take part in the great mitzvos of shiva and meis mitzva by simply texting EZRHY79124 to 313131. Alerts will be issued as information becomes available, and Chaverim dispatchers will confirm once a minyan has been completed.
“As Baltimore grows, so does the need for Chaverim’s services,” continues Mr. Bagan. “Members of our community reach out to Chaverim on the average of once a week to request our help to make a shiva house minyan, and on the average of once a month, to make a minyan for a meis mitzva. This is on top of, and simultaneous to, the ever-increasing calls for changing flat tires, jumpstarts, pop-a-locks, and other maintenance calls. We therefore felt there was a need to enlist the help of our greater community, outside of Chaverim members. The more the merrier.”
Chaverim is a volunteer group comprised of approximately 25 units (individuals) and five dispatchers (three of whom are women), who are on call 24/7 to come to your rescue in a variety of situations, within minutes. Since its inception, almost nine years ago, Chaverim has received over 22,000 calls.
“An operation as vast as ours could not succeed without our selfless volunteers,” concludes Mr. Bagan. “I personally would like to thank coordinators Ami Klein and Dovid Weingot, and our secretary Sarah for all they do for our organization.”
Chaverim is always looking for dedicated volunteers to be responders or dispatchers. The organization provides all training and equipment. All you need is some flexible time and a strong desire to help your community! If you are interested in joining, please call Chaverim at 443-928-5361 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. If you need Chaverim’s help, you can reach them 24/7, at 410-486-9000.
ã Margie Pensak-2015