Taking Care of Hashem’s Children Bnei Melachim Provides Much-Needed Support for Widows and Orphans
By: Kelly Jemal Massry
“Eminent orphans,” a term coined by Malcolm Gladwell, refers to children who lost a parent but continued to thrive in spite of it. These children become resourceful and independent, persistent, and inventive. They forge their own path and go on, in many cases, to become people of great influence. An article published on the topic asks, how can this be the case? How can these children have come from so far behind to succeed?[i] From a Jewish perspective, it is simple. Those fortunate enough to have living parents enjoy built-in advocates who will attempt to do the best they can for their children. Try as they might, however, they will still be limited in their capacity to give – because, of course, they are only human. An orphan’s parent though is Hashem, as it says in Tehillim, “Avi yitomim ve’dayan almanot” – and His capacity is unlimited. He pledges to care for the children He left bereft, to fill in the gaps, to fight their fight and propel them forward in life in spite of the loss they’ve suffered.
Of course, human effort has to be put forth as well. Throughout the Torah, Hashem asks us to take care of His children, namely orphans and widows. They themselves may be simply too lost, too lacking, to act on their own initiative and find a way to keep going. And until very recently there was no organization in this community that was dedicated solely to the aid of these individuals that sent the message, “We are here and we will carry you.”
Community philanthropist Ralph Tawil, A”H, himself an orphan who battled through hardship before he became successful, felt this void deeply. In fact, at 93 years old, just a few years before he passed away, it was still bothering him. He approached Rabbi David Maslaton and Mr. Eli Cohen with this passionate request: “There’s something missing that I have not accomplished in my life. We need an organization in the community dedicated to orphans and widows.” Rabbi Maslaton and Eli looked at him incredulously. “You’re 93 years old!” they thought. “At your age, this is what you’re thinking about?” Hard as it was to believe, Mr. Tawil regretted this sincerely. All his life, Ralph felt the pain of having a mother who’d died, a father who couldn’t take care of him and siblings who wound up in foster homes. He carried that pain with him and it followed him through every life stage. When he became successful, he supported various orphanages, but still his efforts never infiltrated into our community. With just a few years left to live – but still plenty of time left to accomplish – he enlisted his son-in-law Steven Sutton in the project as well.
Together, Ralph and Eli founded Bnei Melachim – which is translated to mean Children of the King. Because indeed, though these children may have lost one or both parents and though these men and women may have lost their spouses, they will always be the children of Hashem. That knowledge provides some comfort, but there are still so many practical needs to be met. “Our mission is to have a family in this situation feel like they have a support system and that they’re not alone,” says Director of Bnei Melachim, Rabbi David Maslaton. “We want to make sure they know that they belong and that they will be helped and cared for by our community. Our organization was created to cater to the special needs of these people.”
Rabbi Maslaton vividly remembers the day his 28-year-old brother in law passed away. “He was playing ball one day and he dropped on the court. He had three little children. We were completely shocked and there were so many different angles to take care of. We had to contact various organizations to deal with the many aspects of the loss. Our goal at Bnei Melachim is to be the one number to call for everything.” Committee member Steven Sutton reiterates these sentiments. “It’s really a reality check,” he says. “There are so many things that are connected – every facet of theirlives are affected. Unfortunately, it’s the reality.”
Bnei Melachim’s all-volunteer staff aims to be the voice of these families, working with other community organizations to provide them with the hope that was lost with the death of their loved one. They negotiate with catering halls so that weddings and bar mitzvahs can be held at a lower price. They speak with our community schools and get orphaned children in on scholarship. They negotiate with summer camps so that children who have lost a parent can enjoy the season with their friends. They assist with money for a funeral or an arayat that is dignified and fitting. They pay for therapists so that those in mourning can get the emotional help they need. They enable the bereft spouse to take the children on a modest vacation or, in certain cases, pay for a child to go away with a friend. They make sure there is money for groceries. They arrange for drivers to perform carpooling duties, provide funds for extracurricular activities and reach out to state agencies when possible to secure tutoring services. Bnei Melachim believes that orphaned children need these services more than most kids. “A child who has suffered like this can easily become lost if we don’t give him or her what he or she needs,” says Rabbi Maslaton. Widows, too, have a hard time getting back on their feet. For this reason, Bnei Melachim helps with job placement and training, as well as mental health services for adults.
Another goal of Bnei Melachim – after providing for the needs of widows and orphans – is to raise awareness of their needs and what we can do for them within our community. Often schools, peers and contemporaries unintentionally do or say something insensitive. Classes will host mother-daughter breakfasts, shuls will hold father-son minyanim – all without realizing there are orphaned children among them. Efforts need to be taken to make these gatherings all-inclusive, rather than a source of pain.
As we know, Jews are asked to take special care of widows and orphans. The Rambam in Hilchot De’ot teaches that we must deal softly with them and treat them only with kindness and respect. We must be careful not to hurt them with our words or with our actions and we must be sure to provide for them — caring about their money more than we care about our own. “Hashem says to us – you take care of them and I’ll take care of you,”[ii] says Steven Sutton. “We take almost everything for granted, but when we get put into a situation like this we have to dig down deep inside ourselves and do what we can to help other people. We have to see it as an opportunity.”
While we must help them, we also must take measures to make sure they don’t feel embarrassed or indebted to us. “They don’t want to feel different,” says Rabbi Maslaton. “They don’t want to be pitied. They’re regular kids, regular people and they have to feel regular, even though they carry a lot of pain in their hearts.” Before he meets with the families that come to him, Rabbi Maslaton says aperek of Tehillim, praying for the right words. We, too, must try to strike the right balance – remembering that while orphans and widows seem normal on the surface, nothing will ever be normal for them again. They will always notice the silence that greets them when they come home and feel saddened by the empty place at the dinner table. They will ache during life’s milestones and even ordinary days will be difficult. We, their fellow community members, can only try to assuage their loneliness. “Yes, they’re lost, yes they’re missing someone that they will never get back, but people care about them,” insists Rabbi Maslaton, “and that can make all the difference.”
In publicizing what the organization does for orphans and widows, the goals of Bnei Melachim are two-fold: First, they want to make themselves known to the families stricken by loss. Rather than fumbling around, feeling completely overtaken by this crushing blow, they’d like these children and spouses to know that there is an organization they can turn to for support. Second, they hope to inspire people to donate to the cause, as so much of the aid they provide is monetary in nature. Gd willing, Mashiah will come soon, putting an end to tragic death and the need for an organization of this kind – but until then, Bnei Melachim will be there to help these Children of Hashem.
Donations can be mailed to:
Bnei Melachim Inc.
1123 Avenue N
Brooklyn, NY 11223
Bnei Melachim is JCF recognized. Donations can also be made through:
The Jewish Communal Fund
575 Madison Avenue, Suite 703
New York, NY 10022
Bereaved families seeking support can contact Rabbi David Maslaton for a confidential consultation. He can be reached by phone at 718-510-5634 or by email at email@example.com
[i]The article about “eminent orphans” referenced above can be read in full at http://www.npr.org/sections/krulwich/2013/10/15/234737083/successful-children-who-lost-a-parent-why-are-there-so-many-of-them
[ii]The source for Hashem’s reciprocating our care of orphans is Deuteronomy 16:10-11