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Never Alone

The one indispensable quality for Chaveirim volunteers is a big heart

 

Part of the mitzvah of eglah arufah, which is triggered by the finding of a dead body between cities, is that the elders of the closest city must take an oath that they did not shed the blood of the deceased. The Gemara (Sotah 46b) is puzzled about this requirement.

The Gemara explains that the oath is required not because they are suspected of the visitor’s death but because they may have indirectly caused his murder by sending him out of the city unaccompanied. From which the Gemara derives another rule: Those who are accompanied do not come to harm. (The power of realizing that even Jews of a foreign city are concerned about a coreligionist strengthens a person and protects him on the way.)

Last week, I had the opportunity to savor the feeling that a frum Jew is never completely alone and always has others upon whom he call for help.

My wife and I decided to stop on the way back from the hakamos matzeivah for her father in California to visit a beloved former neighbor who can no longer make the trip to Israel. And I extended that stopover another day to attend the chasunahs of children of two close friends — one in Lakewood and the other in Passaic — the next night.

Unfortunately, as I started to drive out of the parking lot of the first chasunah, I realized my car was barely moving. My front tire was totally shredded. There I was dressed in my best suit, on a rainy night, driving an SUV with tires twice the size of any I have ever changed, and I was stuck.

Fortunately, wherever there is a large concentration of frum Yidden, there is a Chaveirim, and I managed to get the number of the local branch. Unfortunately, the dispatcher’s message warned to expect longer wait times for flat tires. In the end, however, the two Chaveirim volunteers arrived sooner than expected.

They quickly removed the flat and replaced it with the “doughnut” spare, which proved to be about half the size of the tire it replaced. I would have been effectively driving on three wheels had I attempted to take the highway on that spare.

Fortunately, Lakewood is blessed not only with Chaveirim, however, but also with Tire Shop on Wheels — the synergies are obvious — and the owner happened to be by the phone doing paperwork after work when I called. After taking the tire’s specifications from the Chaveirim volunteers, he was on the scene in ten minutes. (The Chaveirim volunteers would reappear half an hour later to remove a reluctant bolt from the spare tire.)

The replacement tire cost me less than it would have in a shop if the car had been towed. Within less than 90 minutes of discovering my shredded tire, I was ready to head off to Passaic, with a warm glow in my heart from all the assistance eagerly proffered.

 

BUT I NEVER MADE it to Passaic. The windshield wipers were not working, the dashboard proclaimed my tire pressure to be low, my Waze stopped speaking to me, and by the time I missed the Garden State Parkway twice, once in each direction, I would have arrived just in time for the mitzvah tantz (and my friends are not chassidic).

That disappointment did, however, give me time the next morning to contact Yaakov (Sruli) Dorfman, a health care professional by day, and one of the overall coordinators of Lakewood’s Chaveirim the rest of the day. He had been the dispatcher the previous evening when I called.

He confirmed what my rescuers had told me the previous night: 40 flat tires a day is typical. But Dorfman pointed out that Chaveirim is not a frum AAA. It receives 35,000 to 40,000 calls per year, covering a wide range of situations.

Each year Chaveirim fields 2,000 genuine emergency calls, such as young children locked in cars (very rarely, incidentally, because they have been forgotten), and three or four calls for assistance each day from the police.

The information gathered from tens of thousands of cases annually provides the basis for public information campaigns, such as one on child car safety. Another expertise born of experience is assistance for those stuck in traffic, who fear that they won’t make it home before Shabbos.

Not all calls are emergencies. Once a woman called that all her challahs for Shabbos were in the oven, and the door was jammed. Not life-threatening. But the motto of the volunteers is: Think how you would feel if it was you.

Chaveirim’s approximately 140 volunteers are carefully selected. Each volunteer carries thousands of dollars of equipment and must be capable of returning that investment. Every applicant is interviewed and goes through a thorough background check. Anyone who hints in any way that they are looking to volunteer because they have time on their hands or are looking for “action” will be dropped from consideration immediately. As Lakewood expands into surrounding towns, an applicant’s geographical location is also an important factor so that Chaveirim can continue to achieve its goal of being on the scene within three to four minutes of a call.

The one indispensable quality for volunteers, according to Sruli, is a big heart. Almost all volunteers remain for years, unless their life circumstances change greatly, such as a long commute to a new job. The satisfaction of being able to help so many fellow Jews makes the hours committed weekly worthwhile for the large-hearted.

 

MY RESCUERS’ ENTHUSIASM was evident. But try as I might, I had little success trying to interview them about how they came to join Chaveirim, the extent of their commitment, and how they manage the balance between work, learning, family, and Chaveirim. They have no time for schmoozing while on duty. The most I could extract was that they both grew up in Boro Park. One works in an office that allows him to take emergency calls, and the other has his own business, which gives him flexibility.

For all I know, they could both have been avreichim in Beis Medrash Govoha. (One does not, after all, drive around in a Chaveirim truck, dressed in black and white, even if one is an avreich by day.) Sruli Dorfman assured me that the volunteers cover a wide gamut both in terms of age — from bochurim under 20 to men in their mid-50s — and backgrounds, including not a few avreichim.

As I contemplated my rescuers’ mesirus nefesh on my behalf, I was reminded of a story I heard from a successful Monsey businessman, though the connection has nothing to do with the Chaveirim volunteers. This businessman’s young daughter volunteered him for the local chevra kaddisha. Her teacher had been speaking about chesed shel emes, and the young girl was sure her father would be eager to devote the time he had saved by moving his office from Manhattan to closer to home to involve himself in the mitzvah.

She did not know that her heroic (in her eyes) father is extremely squeamish. Nothing could have been further from his aspirations than joining the chevra kaddisha. Yet he felt he could not disappoint his daughter.

While he did not remain long in the chevra kaddisha, he shared with me that he learned an extremely important life lesson. He often davens in a shtibel in Monsey, and it always bothered him to see Jews arriving for Shacharis well after sof zeman tefillah. A product of mainstream yeshivos, his attitude to those davening late was extremely dismissive.

In his brief stint with the chevra kaddisha, however, he encountered a number of those same latecomers to minyan and witnessed the love and tender care with which they performed the taharos. “It gave me an entirely different understanding of olam hafuch ra’isi — i.e., that we are in no position to judge our fellow Jews’ real status in Shamayim,” he told me.

I had the same feeling when one of the Chaveirim volunteers explained to me his commitment to the organization: “To help a fellow Yid — what could be better than that?” I realized that even in a city filled with great talmidei chachamim, there are tzaddikim whose entire days are not spent in the beis medrash.

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 787. Yonoson Rosenblum may be contacted directly at rosenblum@mishpacha.com

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