Call it the closing of the chesed gap, that space between those with unmet, pressing needs and the pool of volunteers who connect them to the appropriate services and experts. Or who provide support when support can mean scheduling a covid shot and transportation to the mega-site. Or who show up at any hour of the day or night expecting no recompense other than to lighten the outsized burdens imposed on some of us by the fog of the pandemic surrounding all of us.
Call it the kinetic force of kindness, one that fires the imagination and feelings of the givers and eases the plight of the recipients. Call it the coming together of individuals in a more concretized and holistic way to arrange and deliver the help, the counseling, the food, the pro bono professional connections, or the needed emotional support. Call it the West Orange/Livingston Chesed Committee — and call it an ongoing success.
Renee Glick of West Orange remembers the symbolic starting point of her chesed journey, one that began a bit more than year ago and most certainly will thrive into the future. It occurred during Chanukah 2019, when a young girl from in Lakewood was being treated in the burn unit at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston. It was difficult for her parents to make the round trip to maintain a bedside vigil while caring for their 10 other children. An organization from Monsey, Ahavas Chesed, heard about the family’s plight and began sending volunteers to sit with the girl. Meanwhile. the director reached out to Ms. Glick for support.
“I have always loved to participate in chesed activities but preferred to steer away from the medical arena, because I was simply not comfortable around illness and hospitals,” Ms. Glick, a cancer survivor, said. “It was not until I was the recipient of tremendous chesed while undergoing surgeries and treatments myself that I changed my perspective and decided to push out of my comfort zone.
“I was amazed that the organization was sending volunteers from Monsey to stay with the girl for two- or three-hour shifts at all times of the night and early morning. I was thrilled when its director asked me if I could arrange for some women to fill a few slots. My friend and I went to the hospital and bonded with the girl. When we returned to visit, we brought along the ‘Peppa Pig’ episodes she requested.
“I decided to model what Ahavas Chesed was doing, and with Alisha Blugrind we created a West Orange/Livingston Chesed WhatsApp group to help fill the remainder of the slots,” Ms. Glick continued. “This went on for a month or so, until the girl was successfully discharged. Following her release, the group became a forum for immediate chesed opportunities, ranging from the formation of a dress gemach and gift-of-life drive, to volunteers for the Friendship Circle and rides for an outpatient at Kessler.
“And then came covid-19. Our group became a clearinghouse for all types of urgent requests, such as food shopping, pharmacy runs, and personal protective supplies.”
The original nucleus has multiplied from a dozen volunteers to about 260 today, essentially drawn from four congregations in West Orange and Livingston: Ahawas Achim Bnai Jacob and David, Congregation Ohr Torah, Suburban Torah, and Congregation Etz Chaim. Ms. Glick’s husband, Dr. Moshe Glick, and Jewish community activist Larry Rein are the organization’s co-chairs, or, as Ms. Glick likes to call them, her partners. Her counterpart in the Livingston phase of the operation is Dr. Barbara Listhaus.
“Until we formed the West Orange/Livingston Chesed Committee, we didn’t realize the level of need in our community, and the hardships that many faced, whether health, economic or emotional in nature,” Dr. Glick said. He’s a dentist in New York City and a co-founder of Kulanu MetroWest, an afternoon Hebrew school for public school students that is in the process of extending its virtual reach. “The pandemic has obviously increased the need for support and it’s our obligation to help each of our fellow Jews, regardless of shul affiliation or level of observance,” he continued. “If any Jew needs help, we are here for them.” Dr. Glick cited the plea from a single mother, unemployed for months, who connected to the pro bono networking group and generated six job leads. “Her email of gratitude for something so simple that literally changed her life is heartwarming,” Dr. Glick said.
And help comes in the form of responding to many requests every day, Mrs. Glick said. “Usually within five minutes of our posting a specific type of need and volunteers getting alerts to their phones, we have matched the person to the task and can complete the assignment, sometimes within 90 minutes. And what a diverse volunteer base we have: retirees, single moms, and college students. The age groups span the generations. It is an amazing network.”
Larry Rein, who has been named a “MetroWest Mensch” for his volunteerism efforts, also helps leads the “Redwood Minyan” and is on the launch committee of Kulanu Hatzoloh of West Orange/Livingston. He views the chesed committee’s efforts as the perfect blending of technology and rachmones (compassion); technology through the use of the WhatsApp centralized messaging and voiceover platform, rachmones in the collective expression of service and caring.
“The beauty of our Chesed WhatsApp group is you put in a request to help someone in need and dozens of West Orange /Livingston community people respond to perform a cherished mitzvah,” he said. “When covid first began, the West Orange/Livingston Chesed Committee jumped into high gear to help individuals who were not leaving their homes to go shopping for groceries, drugs, and other household needs. Also, the homebound individuals had the opportunity to see a friendly smile to cheer up their day. We are still shopping, plus we have added on more activities, including making appointments for vaccines, plus providing transportation.”
Dr. Barbara Listhaus, a psychologist, author, and speaker, feels that “we are fortunate to live in a community that values the opportunity to be involved in chesed.
“At the beginning of the pandemic we realized that the ideal way to meet the many needs of our community members would be through collaboration. Whether through financial support, packing and delivering packages, or running errands, each person’s contribution has made a difference.”
The enlarged scope activities includes the availability of 50 pro bono professionals who lend their expertise to help resolve legal, financial, and medical problems, and to facilitate job placement, food assistance, and tutoring in English and Hebrew. One service that seems to have become permanent is the committee’s challah distribution program. Under the leadership of Bobbi Luxenberg, it now coordinates deliveries to about 45 recipients a week.
“There is a tremendous amount of logistics and planning involved,” Ms. Glick said. “We receive at least a post every day and usually have multiple requests.” But the reasons for her to stay involved are even more compelling than those requests. “It’s helping the helper,” she said. “It’s giving back to the community. People just went and did for me when I needed it, and didn’t make me feel like they were doing me a favor. It’s help in a way that makes people feel dignified.”
Just before Pesach, the chesed committee raised more than $23,000 and provided 870 pesachdik to-go meals to the community. The packages included a ready-made seder plate and dinners. Deliveries were conducted by volunteers as well as Deliver Together. The first half of the holiday was catered by Reuben’s Glatt Stop and the second half by Shimtal Catering. And that effort has been followed with a Shavuot-to-go program partnered through the Jerusalem Restaurant and Shimon Nissel that will provide more than 300 meals.
To join the West Orange/Livingston Chesed Committee, find out about volunteer opportunities, or make a donation, email Moshe Glick at firstname.lastname@example.org or Larry Rein at email@example.com.
For pro bono professional services, including medical, dental, therapy, law, IT, tutoring and job coaching, email WOLivGives@gmail.com
For shopping and errands assistance, email Renee Glick at firstname.lastname@example.org or Larry Rein at email@example.com.
Dr. Glick, Ms. Glick, and Mr. Rein all can direct you to more specific resources or volunteer opportunities. There’s a list online at bit.ly/EssexResources.