Due to their dealings with niftarim, Chesed Shel Emes volunteers occasionally catch a small glimpse into another world and witness the awesome operations of Hashgacha Pratis.
The following are some of the true stories from the Chesed Shel Emes Files:
Closed Circle of Chesed
On an ordinary Thursday evening, an acquaintance by the name of R' Boruch approached R' Mendel Rosenberg and asked to borrow his cell phone for a couple of minutes, as his own cell phone was broken. R' Mendel gladly lent his cell phone, and Boruch called his friend, Aaron, to confirm a prearranged meeting in Manhattan to discuss an important issue. "Don't call me at this number," Boruch said. "I'm calling from R' Mendel Rosenberg's cell phone because mine is broken."
Within the hour, R' Mendel's cell phone rang. It was none other than Aaron. "Hello, R' Mendel!" he said, "How fortunate that Boruch called me from your cell phone, so I had your number on my caller ID! Listen, I was standing in front of St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital, when a gentile woman approached me..."
The woman had been visiting a sick relative in the hospital, who had a seriously ill roommate by the name of Mark Friedman; a sad, lonely fellow with no known family. She knew that although Mark had not known much about Judaism throughout his life, now during the course of his illness, he had developed an inexplicable interest in the Jewish religion. In fact, just the other day he had asked one of the Jewish visiting volunteers to help him obtain a 'skull cap and fringes,' the kind that religious Jews wear. Now, sadly, Mark lay at death's door and she felt certain that he would benefit from the presence of an orthodox Jewish person who could give him some solace.
Imagine her delight when, immediately upon exiting the hospital, she noticed an obviously orthodox religious Jew standing there - almost as if he was sent straight from heaven to bring some comfort to her newfound acquaintance!
This kindhearted gentile woman did all she could to help the anguished dying Jewish patient. Sensing the man's longing for something of religious significance, she had already searched the internet for 'Jewish religious last rites' and was quite well equipped with printouts of Kaddish, Shema Yisroel, and Adon Olam. Up until the moment that divine providence brought her face to face with R' Aaron, she was prepared to recite these prayers with the dying patient herself.
The hashgacha pratis here is simply incredible. Aaron was really supposed to be meeting Boruch several blocks away, but since Boruch's cell phone wasn't working and he couldn't confirm the exact time, he drove around the block hoping to find him. It was then that he encountered the kind woman who told him about Mark Friedman.
R' Aaron lost no time in contacting R' Mendel Rosenberg and the wheels were quickly set in motion. R' Mendel arranged for two volunteers (R' Benzion Follman and R' Nochum Yaakov Azrilowitz of Chesed Shel Emes of Williamsburg) to be at the dying man's bedside and recite the relevant tefillos. They stayed there for several hours, leaving at 3:00 a. m. when the patient died.
R' Mendel promptly began working to obtain the necessary release forms from the hospital so that Mr. Friedman might have a proper kevura, but inexplicably, he seemed to be reaching a dead end. There was a form that needed to be filled out; there were other papers to be filled in and different reports from various doctors still outstanding. Finally, subsequent to Rabbi Chaim Boruch Gluck's intervention, the medical examiner released the niftar for burial.
The niftar was brought to the Shomrei Hadas chapel in Boro Park, where volunteers performed the tahara. When R' Mendel wanted to recite Keil Molah Rachamim and say Kaddish, he headed out to the street, hoping to stop some passersby to complete a minyan. Surprisingly, he was unable to find a tenth man among the passersby, so he decided to flag down a car and ask the driver to spare a few minutes of his time.
In the ultimate instance of truth being stranger than fiction, it turned out that the car which R' Mendel flagged down was being driven by none other than R' Aaron, the very same person who had initiated the call on behalf of Mark Friedman, bringing him around full circle in the performance of this chesed shel emes. That very same day Mordechai ben Avraham was brought to kevura in the plot belonging to Chesed shel Emes in Long Island. Whoever wishes to do a chesed can learn Mishnayos for Mordechai ben Avraham a"h.¬ ¬
Several months ago, R' Mendel Rosenberg's office received a fax. As soon as R' Mendel took the document into his hands he realized that it had been sent to him in error. The document had been sent by a nursing home, requesting that the body of Samuel Horowitz be picked up for burial in a city-owned plot. Clearly, it was intended for the Public Administrator's office and as a result of some inexplicable mistake, the document ended up in R' Mendel's office instead. Realizing that Samuel Horowitz was a Jewish niftar, R' Mendel immediately intervened with the P.A.'s office that they should release the body for a proper Jewish kevura.
The auspicious error whereby the fax intended for the Public Administrator's office ended up in the Chesed shel Emes office, is an example of Mitzvah goreres Mitzvah (one mitzvah leads to another). Chesed shel Emes had recently been in contact with the nursing home regarding a favor for a lonely Yiddishe neshama. Thus, the recently used Chesed shel Emes number was still fresh in the memory of the secretary, who subsequently sent the fateful fax there, bringing about the proper kevura of a lost Yiddishe neshama, who was also added to the Chesed shel Emes list for kaddish and mishnayos.
Several Chesed Shel Emes volunteers were in the medical examiner's office negotiating the release of the body of a Jewish niftar for proper burial. Forms were filled out and papers were duly signed. As they were leaving, they noticed two men hoisting a casket into the building. One of the volunteers happened to note the name inscribed on the label and gripped his friend's arm. "Look," he whispered, "It says Sarah Chazon!"
They turned right around and headed back into the office to discuss this newly-arrived body. Sadly, it turned out that Mrs. Chazon was not newly-deceased. Records indicated that she had died three years earlier, and in the absence of any family or next of kin, the body had been designated to benefit scientific studies and sent to a college campus for medical students to use. The body was to have been shipped to the Queens medical examiner' office but 'by mistake' it ended up in the Brooklyn office at precisely the same time that the Chesed Shel Emes volunteers were there! Actually, the body was slated to be sent to several other campuses to benefit the medical field, but hashgacha pratis decreed that it should end up under the jurisdiction of Chesed Shel Emes.
Astonishingly, the day that Sarah Chazon (Sarah bas Shlomo) was brought to kever Yisroel was the day of her third yahrtzeit.
Message from Heaven
On Monday October 15, Chesed Shel Emes members were inspired by a moving incident which helped bring a woman to kever Yisroel.
Rabbi Rosenberg received a phone call from a man who said he had been contacted by the New York City Medical Examiner in reference to the body of a woman by the name of Mrs. Schwartz. The Medical Examiner said that the body was at his office and this man's name was listed as a contact since he had been a neighbor of Mrs. Schwartz. He added that the body was supposed to be sent the next day to a university where it would be used for medical research.
Rabbi Rosenberg wasted no time in investigating the matter. It turned out that the woman had passed away in N. Y. Methodist Hospital on August 3rd and on August 17th the hospital sent her body to the Medical Examiner's Office. Rabbi Rosenberg contacted the hospital and was told that the woman had been brought there from a nursing home. The nursing home said that she had been a resident there for ten years and her original address was 85 Taylor Street in Williamsburg.
Chesed Shel Emes volunteers were immediately sent to the 85 Taylor Street projects building and asked the neighbors if they remembered Mrs. Schwartz. Although some remembered her, they did not know her first name or that of her husband who passed away about twenty years earlier. One neighbor said he thought the husband's name was Avraham Mordechai and that he had been buried in the Sigeter chelka in New Jersey. However, the Sigeter chelka had no records of a man by this name.
On Tuesday morning, the day after Rabbi Rosenberg had arranged for the release of the body - which was being prepared for burial in a Chesed shel Emes chelka - he was contacted by Mr. Aron Orenstein from Williamsburg, who related the following:
His mother-in-law used to visit an elderly childless couple at 85 Taylor Street in Williamsburg. Occasionally, when she couldn't go, his wife would go instead. Sometimes she took some of their children along on these visits.
Last night the husband of that elderly couple appeared to his wife in a dream and said, "My name is Moshe Zev and I am buried in the Sigeter chelka in the third row behind the fence." Mrs. Orenstein did not pay much attention to her dream. However, that same day her son from Lakewood, who remembered the Schwartz couple, called and told his mother about a dream he had that night, where he saw Mr. Schwartz. Mr. Schwartz told him, "My name is Moshe Zev and I am buried in the Sigeter Chelka in the third row behind the fence."
This prompted Mr. Orenstein to go to 85 Taylor St. and inquire if there was anything going on where the Schwartzes used to live. Neighbors informed him that Chesed Shel Emes members had been there the day before and were trying to obtain information regarding Mrs. Schwartz.
Rabbi Rosenberg contacted the people in charge of the Sigeter Chelka. Of course, the gravesite of Mr. Moshe Zev Schwartz was immediately located, along with the information that an adjacent plot had already been purchased for his wife.
On Tuesday, 3 months after she passed away, and after miraculously being saved from the medical university's research labs, Mrs. Schwartz was finally laid to rest in the Sigeter Chelka.
Mother and Son
An elderly Jew from Williamsburg, who actually did have a family, suddenly passed away. The family was unable to pay the high costs of kevurah and they contacted Chesed Shel Emes with the following request: The Niftar's mother, who passed away several years before, was interred in the Belzer chelke in Long Island. Would Chesed Shel Emes be able to finance the kevura of this man next to his dear mother, in the Belzer chelke?
R' Mendel Rosenberg regretfully refused this request, since such practices were not in the range of Chesed shel Emes activities. The niftarim who are cared for by Chesed shel Emes are interred in the organization's own chelka. Chesed Shel Emes simply doesn't have a fund to pay for kevuras in other locations.
Since the family was unable to pay for the kevurah, they agreed to have the man laid to rest in the Chesed Shel Emes chelka. Chesed Shel Emes kindly handled the entire matter, interring the coffin at the edge of their plot in Long Island.
When the kevura was completed and R' Mendel turned around to leave, something that caught his eye made him stop in his tracks. Right next to the new grave they had just filled was the matzeiva of this Niftar's mother! The mother's grave was at the edge of the Belzer chelka, which bordered the Chesed Shel Emes chelka. There was not even a gate separating mother and son! There is only one other kever in between them. "The beloved in life were not separated in death."
Just in time
On a recent Friday afternoon, R' Mendel Rosenberg received a telephone call from an acquaintance, telling him about a non-religious, unaffiliated Jewish co-worker who had died in St. Vincent's Hospital, leaving no next of kin. R' Mendel lost no time in contacting the hospital to ensure that the nifteres would be allowed to come to kever Yisroel. Much to his chagrin, the person with the authority to do anything, was currently on his lunch break. After an hour's lunch break that seemed to R' Mendel like an eternity, the official returned R' Mendel's call and informed him that the nifteres had died more than a week ago and had already been transferred to the medical examiner's office. Thus, the body was no longer under his jurisdiction.
R'Mendel immediately attempted to reach the NYC Public Administrator, who determines what is ultimately done with unclaimed bodies. Here, too, it took a while before he was successful in reaching the official. When R' Mendel finally did reach him at four in the afternoon, the official explained that because this was a holiday weekend he was extremely understaffed and would be unable to address this matter until sometime next week. R' Mendel pleaded, begged and wheedled until the public administrator promised him that if he would have all the relevant forms delivered to his office before five o'clock, he would grant the release and they would be able to retrieve the body. (which usually even during a regular business week is a process of at least a week or two). R' Mendel immediately sent a volunteer to Manhattan; he arrived promptly at five o'clock and did indeed secure the release.
On Motzei Shabbos, however, when R' M.W. from Shomrei Hadas Chaples arrived to the medical examiner's office to pick up the body, he was informed that he would not be able to take the body after all, since forms had already been signed, committing the body to a medical school for the purpose of research and experimenting.
Rabbi Chaim Baruch (Edgar) Gluck was called into the picture. First, he implemented a cease and desist order so that the body would not be transferred. Then he phoned the chief medical examiner - who happened to be on vacation - on his cell phone and elicited a promise from him that the first thing he would do on Monday morning upon his return from vacation would be to arrange for transfer of the body to be re-assigned for a proper Jewish burial. On Monday early in the afternoon, the deceased was finally accorded a proper Jewish funeral and was buried in one of the burial plots of Chesed Shel Emes. Clearly, if not for the timely intervention of Chesed Shel Emes, this poor woman would have ended up serving the cause of science and medicine, without ever coming to kever Yisroel r"l.
A tragic accident took place in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. A car lost control on 86th St. and 5th Ave. and was driven wildly onto the sidewalk, knocking down two people at a nearby bus stop and a woman that was standing in front of a store window. The woman, a religious Russian Jew, died on the spot.
A Rav from that area contacted R' Mendel Rosenberg, and informed him about the accident. Chesed Shel Emes immediately sent a volunteer to the medical examiner's office to ensure that no autopsy will be performed and that the nifteres will be handled with proper respect, and that she should be released in a timely manor.¬ Several volunteers were also dispatched to the scene of the accident in order to collect all human remains that require kevura.
Chesed Shel Emes brought the woman to kever Yisroel in its own chelka. After the kevurah was done, the volunteers that were present noticed that the grave right next to the new kever had the same last name as this nifteres, after a little research they discovered that this¬ other kever¬ belonged to none other than the woman's grandmother, who was brought to kever Yisroel by Chesed Shel Emes several years before.
One Friday afternoon, R' Mendel Rosenberg received a phone call from Mr. Moskowitz, a Williamsburg resident, who used to invite many homeless and forlorn Jewish souls to his Shabbos meals. He had just received a phone call from a doctor in Bellevue Hospital, who told him that a Jew named Dovid Arbel passed away several days before, and no one is claiming the body.
The doctor just remembered that on a certain Friday several years before, when Dovid was hospitalized, he asked the doctor to release him early enough so that he should be able to make it to Mr. Moskowitz's house for Shabbos. The doctor asked him who Mr. Moskowitz is, and the patient gave a full description of his warm hospitality to all kinds of people from the street. The doctor was most impressed and actually took Mr. M.'s address and phone number, and wrote it in his files.
Now, several days after Dovid's passing, the doctor recalled that conversation and looked up Mr. Moskowitz's number in his files. He asked Mr. Moskowitz what to do with the deceased.
When R' Mendel Rosenberg received this phone call, it was too close to Shabbos to do anything. Immediately after Shabbos, several volunteers got to work, trying to locate Dovid's family. Unfortunately, their efforts brought no results.
Chesed Shel Emes then turned to the public administrator and secured the body. They performed the tahara and he was brought to kevura in a Chesed Shel Emes chelka that very day.
One Motzoei Shabbos, two religious girls were shot dead in Phoenix, Arizona. Carol (Chana Faiga) Kestenbaum was in Arizona for medical studies, and her friend Nicole Schiffman came there in honor of Carol's birthday. Both students were from Long Island.
As they were walking on the Street on Motzoei Shabbos, a person came over and shot them; the murderer then shot himself dead.
After investigating the shooting, it was discovered that Carol persuaded another Jewish girl to become religious and cancel her wedding plans with a non-Jewish person. Infuriated and disappointed, that non-Jew shot Carol and her friend in revenge, and then ended his own life. According to Halacha, both girls died al kiddush Hashem.
On Sunday afternoon, Chesed shel Emes was contacted by a friend of Ephraim Kestenbaum, Carol's father. He informed the organization that the Arizona authorities will not release the bodies before Wednesday, due to a national Holiday and plans to perform autopsies.
R' Mendel Rosenberg and Rabbi Chaim Baruch Gluck immediately contacted the authorities in charge of the case in order to speed up the process and prevent the autopsies. Fortunately, the medical examiner in charge knew Rabbi Gluck from an incident that took place several years before, and he promised not to perform the autopsies. This was a highly unusual exception to the law that requires autopsies to be performed on all criminal victims. The medical examiner further promised to come into the office on Monday, even though it was a Holiday, and personally fill out the necessary forms to release the two bodies.
By 2:00 p. m. on Monday, the bodies were flown to New York and they were brought to kevura the following day.