By D. Gold
I watched him trudge up the front lawn and then tackle the long flight of steps. Beads of sweat glistened on his forehead and ran down his face. His long frock attested to his stature and I found myself wondering, “Who is he? Where is he from? And why is he here, so very far from home, making his way from house to house, engaged in a most
thankless of tasks?” My imagination got a bit carried away as I pictured a houseful of children, sitting around a Shabbos table with an armchair at the head, painfully empty. I saw a wife, left on her own, carrying the heavy burden of being both mother and father, as she thought of her husband, so many thousands of miles away. Suddenly, I found myself identifying with her. She was a woman, just like me. But a woman whose husband had undertaken the arduous task of fundraising in a faraway land. Was she wondering how he was doing? Did she worry if he was okay? If he found a welcoming haven? If he had enough to eat? Yes, did she worry if he had a nice, hot meal waiting for him at the end of a tiring day?
And then, as the visitor lifted his hand to knock, I, too, wondered, like that lonely woman at the other end of the ocean, “Did he have enough to eat? Did he have a nice, hot meal waiting for him at the end of the day?? And was there anyone out there who was concerned enough to provide the answers to these questions?”
As I handed over the donation and closed the door, my thoughts lingered. It was not just meshulachim, I realized, as I returned to the stove and continued mixing the stew I was preparing for dinner. How about all those lonely and unattached people, who for whatever reason, do not have a home they can come to at the end of a long and exhausting day, for a warm meal and a good word? Who worries about them? And who would undertake to provide an answer for these questions?
I wondered no more. For I had discovered a treasure, a treasure that is here in our midst, that quietly, without any pomp or fanfare, is answering these questions, one needy person at a time.
I discovered the Lakewood Bais Hatavshil.
A Vision and a Dream
The Bais Hatavshil, as many other chessed undertakings of its kind, had modest beginnings. One man, a small seed of an idea, a few phone calls, some technical arrangements… and a dream became reality. In its 20 short months of existence, the Bais Hatavshil, as this dream was named, has blossomed into an enterprise that brings sustenance, both literal and figurative, to close to one hundred people daily, by serving a full course dinner daily, including three meals on Shabbos free of charge, to anyone who is in need of one. How did it all begin? What was the initial inspiration that fueled this special chessed, unparalleled anywhere in town?
Mr. Menachem Kantor, the original visionary of the Bais Hatavshil, shares the origins of his dream. “It was a muggy summer afternoon and I was walking down 14th Ave,” he begins, the chuckle apparent in his voice. “Suddenly, I felt hungry. Very hungry. I began looking around, trying to find a restaurant where I could purchase supper to assuage the hunger pangs I was feeling. Sure enough, there, just ahead, I saw a sign “HaMasbia.” It sounded inviting and I decided to stop in. Delicious smells greeted me as I entered,” continues R’ Menachem, “but the interesting thing about the place was the complete absence of cash registers. I thought that very strange, I mean, a restaurant without cash registers?” Of course, after inquiry, R’ Menachem learned that this “restaurant” was really the home of “HaMasbia,” the legendary Boro Park soup kitchen, which serves hundreds of people daily, people from all walks of life, who for whatever reason, are in need of a warm, nutritious meal and have nowhere else to go to obtain it. “I couldn’t get over it,” exclaims R’ Menachem with obvious admiration. “I mean, here was a place serving the most delicious food – for free! Well, I told them right away that I didn’t need to eat for free and left them a donation, but I came home all fired up with the idea. Then and there, I decided: We are bringing this to Lakewood!”
The rest is history.
R’ Menachem contacted the caterer who provided the school lunches where his daughters attended school. They discussed the plan, deciding to begin with offering an evening meal for meshulachim and other needy individuals, at no cost. Together, they worked out a deal, where the caterer would be preparing the meals at almost cost price. “We discussed the logistics and planned to start a few weeks hence, on the Sunday after Tisha B’Av,” explains R’ Menachem. “But, of course, I went home and promptly forgot about the whole thing.”
Good thing the caterer, Mr. Gary Blum of Dalgar Catering, did not. “The day after Tisha B’Av,” laughs R’ Menachem, “I get a call from Gary and he says, ‘Menachem? Do you remember our plan? I have 35 settings and portions prepared here. But where are the people?!’ Indeed, where are the people?! I asked myself. So off I go scrambling to the Satmar Bais Medrash and start schlepping people over to the Bais Yaakov Elementary School on 6th St. where the Bais Hatavshil is housed. Of course, I couldn’t get 35 people on such short notice and that night we had to find families who would take the extras. But in the ensuing months,” stresses R’ Menachem, “we’ve never, ever, had that problem. We are ‘sold out’ almost every night, often having to rely on backup frozen food as the night wears on and more and more people show up.”
From its modest beginnings, the Bais Hatavshil has grown unbelievably and fills a vital need in the Lakewood community. Rabbi Aron Meyer is on top of the day-to-day running of the Bais Hatavshil and attests to the great void that it fills. “If anyone wants brachos, this is the place to come to,” he states with a smile. “When any of the patrons discover that I am involved in some way with the running of the place, the sheer number of brachos that they shower upon me is unbelievable. It is clear from the way they carry on about the Bais Hatavshil just how much it means to them to know that there is a place they can count on, night after night, for a warm, nutritious and filling meal.”
Bais Hatavshil: The Logistics
To date, the Bais Hatavshil serves between 80 and 100 people a night. Patrons of the place include meshulachim who are mostly from Eretz Yisrael, and local people, who for various reasons, do not have a place where they can get a fresh, hot meal. “This is a place where every person feels important and cared for,” stresses R’ Fishel. “More than anything else, this is a bachovodige place, where a meshulach is not made to feel like a “shnorrer,” but like an important guest. We have chashuva Roshei Yeshiva, great talmidei chachomim and bnei Torah of all ages coming here. And it’s a zechus for us that we are able to give them what they need,” concludes R’ Fishel.
The Bais Hatavshil serves a complete, five course dinner every night. Served buffet style, the meal includes an appetizer, a hot and filling soup, a main dish with two side dishes, two salads and dessert. Drinks are also provided.
Indeed, how can we all take part in this incredible zechus? The opportunity is here, ready for those who wish to take advantage. “Believe it or not, we run out of food very often,” says R’ Fishel. “There is so much more we can be doing! So many more people we can be feeding! When we do run out, we rely on back-up frozen food and on the local takeout places that are glad to help us out in a pinch. But what we would really like is to have sufficient funding to make sure we never run out! And so we say to all of you: ‘Come! Be mishtatef! The brachos are here for the taking!”
In the Europe of old, the concept of a “soup kitchen” was a common one, as was the practice to have a table at every wedding, set aside especially for the needy to come and enjoy the wedding meal. This was considered a great merit for the young couple as they embarked on their new lives. Today, a table for the poor at a wedding is unheard of, and not likely to be introduced anytime in the near future. Many have expressed the desire, though, to be able to harness the power of the great zechus of feeding the poor on the occasion of one’s wedding. The Bais Hatavshil offers this opportunity in the most beautiful and respectful way possible. “For $500, one can sponsor the entire meal at the Bais Hatavshil on the night of the wedding,” says Rabbi Meyer, “thus harnessing the power of chessed and hachnasas orchim on the most important and auspicious evening of one’s life. What this does for the chassan and kallah is surely beyond measure, far beyond the relatively small investment of the sponsorship cost.” For those wishing to go beyond the merit of just one night, the entire week of sheva brachos can be sponsored for $3500. Additionally, sponsorship of an evening is available, as a zechus for a yahrtzeit, refuah sheleimah or other yeshuos. “The combined merit of hachnasos orchim and chessed is beyond measure,” concludes Mr. Kantor, “And the opportunity is right here!”
Eager plans for future expansion are in the making. “We are eager to begin offering not just an evening meal, but breakfast and lunch as well,” says Mr. Kantor. “This dream, which will mean so much to our patrons, will be able to become reality with the support and involvement of the community at large.”
What else is on the horizon? “We would also like to somehow work out the possibility of women being able to take advantage of the services the Bais Hatavshil offers,” says Rabbi Meyer. “Right now, due to logistics, only men can patronize our place, but we are aware that the need for women to be able to access our services exists.”
Help the Bais Hatavshil stay afloat especially in these economically challenging times by participating in their grand raffle for $10,000 which will be drawn on Lag Ba’Omer. Tickets are only $10 for 1. Click here to order tickets online.
Sponsorships for the Bais Hatavshil can be mailed to: Bais Hatavshil 419 Fifth Street,Lakewood, NJ 08701.
For further information and dedication opportunities, please call 732-276-1811.Fax entries to 732-534-5160