Ellen Geller Kamaras
The value of the hesed services The Mitzvah Man organization and its volunteers are providing during the pandemic is beyond measure.
Rabbi Maurice Lamm says that being Jewish is a 24-hour occupation, and the most consistent act of faith is kindness.
The Mitzvah Man’s mission is the epitome of the Torah way of life, that is, to perform gemilut hassadim, the giving of loving-kindness without expecting anything in return.
Founded by Michael Cohen eight years ago, The Mitzvah Man now has over 3,500 volunteers, ranging in age from 18 to 75, who perform a wide range of hesed services for men and women in Brooklyn, Deal, and Manhattan.
Help Is a Phone Call Away
One only has to call the toll-free number or submit a request on the website and within 20 to 30 minutes someone is already working on that case. Mr. Cohen checks the phone line and website request forms starting at 8am in the morning until 10pm at night. Responses are entered into a log and categorized by type of service needed. “Our response is quick, powerful, and efficient,” says Cohen. Texts go out to different groups based on the type of service or need. For example, if a family needs a Shabbat meal, the dispatcher will send a request to one of their 200 volunteers dedicated to cooking meals in emergency situations.
Services run the gamut and fall into three categories: acts of kindness, social activities, and religious activities. Examples include: companionship, bikur holim in hospitals and homes, and visiting and assisting seniors in their homes or retirement homes, which includes special services for Holocaust survivors. Volunteers are also lined up to do home repairs, deliver and pack food and clothing, transport goods being provided as financial assistance, drive injured or elderly persons on errands, and drive cancer patients to their doctors for treatment. Other volunteers assist in cooking meals in emergency situations, helping the blind and handicapped with certain needs, delivering Shabbat flowers to the homebound and elderly, help with putting on tefillin, participating in minyanim in houses of mourning, learning Torah with the homebound, and so much more. Mr. Cohen recently hired a staff person who works exclusively on following up with clients to determine if they need assistance with anything else.
Covid-19 Strikes, The Mitzvah Man Steps In
When Mr. Cohen recognized the severity of the Covid-19 pandemic, he was ready, willing, and able to fill the void left by city agencies, food pantries, family members, and others. There was no need to create new procedures to deal with the crisis. The Mitzvah Man already had an excellent outreach and response system in place, resources and funds, a significant list of volunteers who cook meals on a regular basis, as well as drivers and healthy young people who committed to deliver groceries and medications in a safe manner (wearing masks and gloves) to homebound people and to assist community members in any way they could. Several organizations were overwhelmed and reached out to The Mitzvah Man for help in distributing meals and other supplies to the homebound and more.
Concerned adult children who live out of town but have elderly parents in Brooklyn called The Mitzvah Man to find out how they could get groceries to their loved ones. The Mitzvah Man has arrangements with three large supermarkets who accept online orders, and The Mitzvah Man volunteers pick up and drop off the groceries.
Since volunteers could not physically visit people in their homes, they practiced curbside delivery and increased the number of phone visits to the elderly and homebound.
A Few Real Cases
The acts of kindness that The Mitzvah Man volunteers are able to perform during the pandemic are priceless. A handicapped woman went out to shop one night, but when she arrived home, the elevator was broken. She called The Mitzvah Man and three men carried her up four flights.
A blind woman contacted the hotline and said her home health aide could not come to stay with her. She needed meals and asked that someone read to her on the phone. The Mitzvah Man was able to address both her requests.
Let’s talk about Jacob, who called his rabbi before Pesach, terrified by the Covid-19 television reports he was watching. Mr. Cohen called Jacob, gently advised him to reduce his TV time, found out what he needed for Pesach, and asked him if he would like some phone visits. On the same day, The Mitzvah Man arranged for Pesach food and supplies for Jacob and phone visits, too. When Mr. Cohen followed up with Jacob, Jacob assured him he was feeling better, saying that he always had Hashem in his life, but he never had people, and now he has both.
Local businesses wanted to donate food and supplies but had no way of delivering these items until The Mitzvah Man stepped in with drivers. Kosher pizza restaurant owners volunteered to bake pies for hospital nurses and doctors but had no way to get them to the hospitals. The Mitzvah Man was there to make it happen!
Calls came in regarding heaters, ovens, and refrigerators before Pesach. Also men and women called who were forced to work remotely but could not afford laptops. The Mitzvah Man’s incredible network includes volunteer handymen who could fix appliances with some life left to them. The Mitzvah Man also garnered contributions from people who had new or used heaters and donations of laptops and appliances.
A woman packed a suitcase for her husband, but it was not safe for her to take it to the hospital. The Mitzvah Man took care of it! Three nursing homes asked for masks and hundreds were dropped off within an hour.
Offering the Human Touch
Mr. Cohen encourages his volunteers to create a connection with the people they call and in normal times, visit with. Something like, “Remember me? I dropped off flowers for you last week” is a good way to do this. In addition, Mr. Cohen reminds volunteers when they call to say Shabbat Shalom, to inquire if the person needs help with shopping or anything else. Mr. Cohen is especially sensitive to the Holocaust survivors they help: “I don’t want them to suffer more.”
How should one talk to and comfort people during these trying times?
“I’m not a psychiatrist – but if someone is anxious or distressed, I talk to them in the same way I would treat a family member,” Mr. Cohen answers.
You can reach The Mitzvah Man toll-free hotline at (866) 355-1825 or go online at http://www.themitzvahman.org/.
Please do not let your kindness muscle atrophy, use it or you will lose it!
Ellen Geller Kamaras, CPA/MBA, is an International Coach Federation (ICF) Associate Certified Coach. Her coaching specialties include life, career, and dating coaching. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org (www.lifecoachellen.com).