January 13, 2022

The Lakewood community has seen astronomical growth over the past decade. With thousands of families moving here annually, there is an increasing demand for services in all areas. Schools, supermarkets, and many other establishments are constantly opening to keep up with that demand.

Organizations such as Misaskim are no exception to the rule. The Lakewood branch of the famous organization has been around for over a decade, quietly filling a void no one realized was there.

If you stop someone on the street and ask them if they’d have heard of Misaskim, they’ll likely say yes. But they probably have no idea what really goes on there each day. There is a whole world of chessed that is performed completely under the radar. Part of the reason for this is the humility and secrecy with which the volunteers operate.

Myer Fried, coordinator for Misaskim of Lakewood, shares, “We are called every day to assist families in need. Misaskim is well known for our shivah services. But there is so much more that we do, and people have absolutely no idea about it.”

Springing into action

Immediately upon the passing of a family member, Misaskim is called. The call may come from a family member, an askan, a rav, or a friend. What happens next goes way beyond setting up the house for shivah, although that is a huge undertaking of its own. When a loved one passes away, there are so many minute details that no one even realizes need to be taken care of.

Many times, the Misaskim volunteers are in the home before anyone else gets there, and they use that to their advantage.

A volunteer recalls the time a young mother passed away after being sick for a while, R”l. “The house was in disarray. It had been functioning without a mother figure for quite some time. There was laundry on the floor, the kitchen cabinets were empty, and the floors needed to be washed. Immediately, a team of Misaskim volunteers got to work.

“Before the husband got home from the hospital and before the levayah was even arranged, the home was cleaned up and a grocery order had been made and unpacked. Then our volunteers checked if each child was ready to attend the levayah. One child was missing Crocs, so we ran out and bought a pair. The newly teenaged son had only one suit jacket, and he would need another one since he would be tearing kriah. He would not be able to get a new one after the shivah since he would then be in aveilus. We asked a she’eilah and took care of procuring a new suit for him before the levayah began.”

It’s all in the details

These are all small details in a much larger picture, but it is precisely in these small details that the greatness of Misaskim lies.

It’s changing the light bulbs for a family who lost a small child and the parent says, “I’ve been meaning to get to that for eighteen months, but life was…you know.”

It’s the response to a call from a new almanah whose husband just passed away because she needs a ride home from the medical examiner’s office.

It’s Shabbos food and meals that are brought into the shivah home, no questions asked.

These details are what make Misaskim who they are.

Misaskim is on their toes all year round, sending beautiful care packages to families who have lost loved ones for every occasion. At the start of the school year, families receive a package of school supplies, personalized in accordance with each child’s age and grade. Before Yom Tov, in many neighborhoods, cases of paper goods are delivered, providing some relief during an already expensive month. Sukkos packages include sukkah decorations, toys, books, and treats. Then there are the heartwarming Chanukah packages, gourmet Purim seudos, and Shavuos packages with flowers and delicacies. When the summer rolls around, Project Yedid’s camp fund enables yesomim to have an escape and to refresh themselves for the year ahead.

A volunteer shares, “One particular story stands out. We once went to install a basketball hoop for an almanah. We showed up at about 10 p.m., and after we were done with the hoop, we put up a light outside the house since we’d noticed that it was quite dark.

“Suddenly, we noticed a young child standing and watching us work. He stood there for a moment and then turned to ask his mother, the almanah, if he could help us. When she smiled and nodded, he ran excitedly and returned a moment later with his late father’s drill, ready to work.

“While he was gone, we apologized to the mother for inadvertently keeping the child out of bed, and with tears in her eyes she told us that doing this with her son was the greatest gift of all.”

Indeed, it is these acts of kindness that will remain in a child’s memory, even after a long time has passed and the volunteers have long forgotten about it.

Providing help with heart

Misaskim of Lakewood wastes no time assisting those in need, and they never give up, even when the situation seems daunting. Long after shivah has ended and others have moved on with their lives, Misaskim volunteers receive call after call from almanos for assistance in various matters, and they don’t turn anyone away.

A young almanah once called, distraught. She had been driving to Lakewood from Baltimore, and her car had stalled. She was in tears, as it was Erev Shabbos and she was driving with all her children, alone. A task that was already daunting for her, driving by herself with her kids, had now broken her completely. Misaskim called Chaveirim and explained the urgency of the situation, and she was on her way minutes later. A volunteer stayed on the phone with her until assistance arrived, assuring her that help was on the way.

One may wonder, why did this woman call Misaskim in this situation? Klal Yisrael is a nation of chessed; surely she could have called someone else. What needs to be understood is that Misaskim volunteers were the first ones on hand after the petirah. Often, the volunteer’s face is the first one the family sees after the death of a loved one. Therefore, in times of crisis and difficulty, it is those volunteers who will be called.

Myer Fried notes, “We were there for her in ways she didn’t realize she needed. And so, when something happens, it’s us whom she calls. Also, what people don’t realize is that often, when a situation arises in which an almanah needs assistance, she truly does not have whom to call. Should she call her brother-in-law again? Her neighbor? When she calls Misaskim, she knows her requests will be handled with her dignity intact and with the utmost privacy. Both are essential aspects that every volunteer here is trained in, and that make all the difference. So we step in to help when we can, however we can.”

Misaskim provides care and direction with heart, supporting the community through their darkest moments. Misaskim is always there—lifting spirits, illuminating hearts, and wiping tears.

A Moment with Misaskim Lakewood Coordinator Yechiel Kaszirer

Please tell us about a typical day as a Misaskim coordinator.

There really is no “typical” day at Misaskim. The nature of what we do is not anything we can plan for in advance, so it very much depends on the day. However, usually a coordinator will get calls for shivah deliveries in the morning and work on taking care of that. While a shivah delivery is made, the trained eyes of our volunteers take in the situation and assess what else is needed in the home. Usually the meals for the week of shivah are taken care of by family or friends, but if they’re not, we make sure they’re taken care of. We also see if immediate food is needed, and we take care of that. If there are other items needed for the levayah or shivah, such as a coat or rubber shoes, we procure those as well.

Another unique service we provide is helping to empty a shivah home at night, when needed. This is discussed with the aveilim beforehand, but sometimes shivah homes are still very full late at night, and the aveilim cannot send people away, but they just do not have the strength to sit there any longer. Our volunteers will tastefully lead everyone out so that the aveilim can get some rest.

We also respond to calls about tragedies, lo aleinu, and from almanos and yesomim for assistance in a variety of areas.

What makes Misaskim of Lakewood unique?

We really do not leave any detail unnoticed. If there is something that can be done to help aveilim or almanos and yesomim, we will do it, no matter how small or detailed the task may be.

Our team is the best of the best; we’re really cohesive and in tune with each other. I find that when we enter a shivah home, we automatically all work as a team and intuitively know what each of our roles are. Our volunteers are a great mix of all different types, which makes sense as Lakewood is a multifaceted community. We are currently accepting select volunteer applications as the need for our services continues to grow.