Misaskim’s First Intiative Gets Underway


misaskimMisaskim has announced the implementation of a new initiative that has been developed to meet the needs of the community during emergencies that may arise on Shabbos or Yom Tov. Under the new system, Misaskim’s emergency hotline which until now was answered 24/6, will now be monitored on Shabbos and Yom Tov. The emergency hotline will be answered on Shabbos and Yom Tov by a team of trained and knowledgeable non-Jews who have been hired for this purpose.

Over the years, a number of tragedies have occurred on Shabbos or Yom Tov, during which time the assistance of non-Jews has proved invaluable in assisting the families involved and in preserving kavod hames by avoiding nivul hames.

Pesach 2005

Early on the second day of Pesach, fire tore through the house and hearts of a family in Williamsburg. Although Hatzolah members arrived at the scene in record time and worked feverishly to try and resuscitate the victims, three precious kinderlach; one einikel and two children of the family, tragically lost their lives.

Amidst the heartbreak and confusion, the family desired to conduct some of the childrens’ levayos while it was still Yom Tov. This posed several difficulties simply because it was Yom Tov and even more so because someone had to deal with the legal system so that the niftarim could be released from the Medical Examiner’s Office. Who could step up and assist the distraught family in dealing with legal processes on Yom Tov? How could it be arranged on Yom Tov that these bodies would be released in time? Where could the grieving family be directed on Yom Tov to coordinate between the Medical Examiner’s Office and the various other agencies involved?

Misaskim accepted the challenge. Without the advantage of having a non-Jew on call, Misaskim was presented with the daunting dilemma of how to proceed according to halachah on Yom Tov. The organization reached out to members of the New York City Police Department who were kind enough to step in. In addition, the NYPD escorted Misaskim volunteers to the Medical Examiner’s Office and it took only 45 minutes for the 3 niftarim to be released once they arrived at the Medical Examiner’s Office. The first levayah was underway just a few short hours after the terrible tragedy occurred, thus preserving kavod hames to the greatest extent possible. It was this situation that prompted Misaskim to hire a non-Jew on Yom Tov.  

Shemini Atzeres 2007

As the Goldman family was preparing for their seudah on Yom Tov morning, an electrical fire erupted in their third floor bedroom, claiming the life of seven month old Tuvia a”h. Who could guide the parents on Yom Tov in navigating the legal system to prevent an autopsy? Who would arrange the release of the niftur? In addition, the parents intended to bring the baby to kvurah in Eretz Yisroel on the Motzaei Shabbos midnight flight once the three-day Yom Tov was over. Mr. Goldman wanted his father to join him in accompanying the aron to Eretz Yisroel. Who could help the grief-stricken family communicate with out-of-town family members?
Misaskim volunteers were called in. They arrived on the scene, escorted by a non-Jewish employee who was instrumental in assisting these volunteers in the coordination of all necessary arrangements, including informing out-of-town relatives.

Shemini Atzeres 2010

This year’s searing tragedy on Shemini Atzeres remains fresh in the minds of all members of the community. As the Krasny family of Midwood, Brooklyn celebrated Yom Tov in their sukkah, fire broke out indoors and quickly ravaged everything in its path. Five Krasny children were injured, while little 8-year-old Avigdor a’h, tragically lost his life.  

Misaskim volunteers were summoned to the scene and once again utilized the assistance of the non-Jew on call at the time. Guided by Misaskim volunteers, this individual worked to hasten all the legal procedures necessary. Misaskim’s efforts resulted in the release of young Avigdor’s body from the Medical Examiner’s Office on the following morning. In addition, the non-Jew was available to assist the Krasnys who were also dealing with the other injured children during the three- day Yom Tov.

What About Shabbos?

While Misaskim has been gratified that the employment of non-Jews on Yom Tov has enabled them to better serve the community, a number of tragedies that occurred on Shabbos have illustrated the urgent necessity of having non-Jews available every single Shabbos to assist during times of tragedy and loss.

One year ago, tragedy struck a family in Williamsburg. While rushing to join his Chevras Tehillim group on the Shabbos preceding Rosh Hashanah, the 8-year-old son was struck by a car and killed. Mired in grief, the parents were considering the possibility of having their child’s levayah take place immediately, on Motzei Shabbos.

However, all the legal procedures involved in cases of accidental death mandate the involvement of the Medical Examiner’s Office which does not operate at night. Who can aid the family on Shabbos and communicate their wish that an autopsy not be conducted? How can hospital personnel be made aware that according to the Jewish tradition a mes should not be moved on Shabbos? Misaskim volunteers stood by the family throughout Shabbos and guided them every step of the way. In fact, it was through Misaskim that the Medical Examiner opened an office for the family at 11:00 at night. This ensured that the required external exam was completed in order that the niftar could be released sooner, should the levayah indeed take place on Motzei Shabbos.

Misaskim has an arrangement in place in which the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner will open one of its offices in the five boroughs at any hour of the night, provided that the levayah is planned for that same night.

On a recent Shabbos morning, an elderly gentleman visiting from Israel tripped and fell on a sidewalk. He was transported to an area hospital where doctors diagnosed a severe head injury. Sadly, he succumbed to his injuries a short time later. As is standard procedure in these situations, the hospital called in the Medical Examiner which unfortunately led to an autopsy being performed on the niftar on Shabbos. Had Misaskim’s new Shabbos system been in place at the time, then someone could have contacted Misaskim on Shabbos, and the unfortunate autopsy might have been avoided.

On another Shabbos morning, a heartbreaking loss occurred in a small Brooklyn apartment when a mother discovered her infant lifeless in her crib. A full criminal investigation is required by law to ensure that the death was a result of SIDS, and not abuse or neglect. Although the investigation is extremely harrowing to the parents, it is of the utmost importance that they cooperate fully and promptly with law enforcement officials. Even while the parents are still at the hospital with their tiny niftar, law enforcement officials are already in their home investigating the incident. Often, there are other children at home, still unaware of the tragedy that has occurred and they become terrified and confused as investigators arrive. Parents face a barrage of painful questions, which must be answered confidently and correctly so as to avoid incriminating themselves in their panic and confusion.

The price parents can pay if they are suspected of a crime is heavy. In addition to losing their baby to SIDS, they can C”V risk losing their other children to Child Welfare officials, and face years of legal trouble. Proper support and compassionate guidance is crucial at this critical time. Who can guide parents who have been thrust into this nightmarish situation – especially on Shabbos? How can parents be encouraged to thoroughly answer a 25 page questionnaire usually presented by the Medical Examiner’s Office under these traumatic circumstances? Misaskim has time and time again gently explained the process to parents and specifically outlined what they should expect in order to lessen their confusion. This has empowered the family to retain their presence of mind during these complex investigations.

It was these crises and all the challenges they presented that highlighted the need to have a non-Jew present on Shabbos. Misaskim discussed the issue with its leading halachic authority, Rabbi Yechezkel Roth, Shlita, and his dayanim, and thus began the implementation of the specifics of this new initiative. As a result, Misaskim now has a non-Jew answering the emergency hotline on Shabbos under the auspices of Rabbi Yechezkel Roth, Shlita and his Bais Din.

Misaskim’s Shabbos Initiative: How It Works

Since April, 2008, Misaskim has employed non-Jews to assist the organization on Yom Tov. Misaskim volunteers have spent endless hours testing and perfecting the initiative and this past August, Misaskim was able to implement this service on Shabbos too.

At the core of the program is a team of non-Jews who will be on call answering Misaskim’s Emergency Hotline every Shabbos and Yom Tov. These people have spent hours undergoing intensive training under the direct guidance of HaRav Yechezkel Roth, Shlita, along with Misaskim volunteers.

These non-Jews have been trained to deal with questions that arise pertaining to nivul hameis. They are aware of the unique halachos which clearly outline the many melachos they may or may not do in the event of a Jewish death occurring on Shabbos or Yom Tov. In these cases, these individuals will notify Misaskim and work with the volunteers in taking any action necessary to assist families and prevent nivul hames.

Under the new system, law enforcement officials and medical examiners can now rely on Misaskim every day of the week should they encounter a problem related to the death of a person of the Jewish faith. In an effort to perfect the system, Misaskim provides training for law enforcement agencies on how the system operates.

While this initiative is now operational in the five boroughs of New York City, Misaskim has arrangements in place on Shabbos and Yom Tov to assist neighboring communities that are currently serviced by Misaskim. In addition, Misaskim is exploring the possibility of connecting with an organization in Eretz Yisroel that will act on behalf of Misaskim. Thus, in the event that Shabbos is already over in Eretz Yisroel, and an individual there needs to arrange matters in the United States, the organization in Eretz Yisroel will act as Misaskim’s liaison.

It is the sincere wish of every volunteer at Misaskim that Klal Yisroel should be spared all tragedy and loss on Shabbos, Yom Tov, and every other day of the year. Together, we wait for the day in which all tears will be dried and all heartbreak will turn to happiness and joy.

{Noam Amdurski-Matzav.com Newscenter}