Sephardic Relief is a phenomenal organization, right here in our community. This organization is dedicated to helping grieving families, to make the week of shivah go as smoothly as possible. Sephardic Relief is available for everyone. It’s not about money, but rather is about providing guidance and giving help to those coping with a loss.
Volunteers deliver essentials needed for a house of mourning at no cost to the family. Sephardic Relief provides everything from household necessities to religious items required (such as siddurim, etc.). They also field questions about halachot having to do with mourning practices. The organization provides access to resources including important numbers that a bereaved family may need. Sephardic Relief is a real blessing to our community, and offers compassionate help to families at the most difficult time.
A Little History
Sephardic Relief was inspired by an incident that occurred approximately eight years ago. A local community woman who I will call “Sarah” (she wishes to remain anonymous) was paying a shiva call with some friends. The man who had passed away was the father of a mutual friend of the girls paying the shiva call. The girls all wanted to help their friend in her time of need. They not only wanted to be there for her and comfort her. They also wanted to help get everything in order at the friend’s home. When they got to the house, they realized that there was a myriad of things to be done. One of the girls volunteered to buy groceries. Another volunteered to buy paper goods, and so on. However, not everything that needed doing was accomplished, as there was not a formal game plan that included all of the many tasks required.
It was at that shiva house that Sarah realized that in order to help a family sitting shiva in an efficient and timely manner, those wanting to help would need direction and an understanding of which tasks were immediately critical, and which could wait. Sarah saw firsthand that having people running off in different directions without coordination was not an efficient way to handle things. Sarah recognized that help had to set in motion immediately, so that bereaved families would feel some relief, so that the weight of the world (so many tasks to be accomplished, all while dealing with great loss) could be lifted from their shoulders. Help with the many tasks to be taken care of had to be done methodically, and systematically, to ensure everything ran smoothly, easily, and in a timely fashion.
Sarah recognized that many issues must be tended to when a loved one passes away. She wanted to do something significant, to insure that a number of the immediate issues could get resolved in an efficient and helpful manner. Her idea was truly innovative. And bringing her idea to fruition was also a huge undertaking.
A Team Effort
Sarah had always dreamed of running an organization, and helping people in our community. Founding an organization to help families in need during the time of shiva helped Sarah to accomplish both goals. After an intensive period of thought and planning, Sarah launched Sephardic Relief. She herself is in charge of the daily operations. Sarah is the one who answers initial calls and voice message. It is Sarah who dispatches boxes (which contain basic home necessities that a family sitting shiva would need) and a captain to oversee each family’s needs.
Sarah also handles all aspects of incoming donations. And she keeps track of the inventory of items provided to grieving families. Sarah tirelessly manages all the daily tasks involved in running the organization, including a significant amount of paperwork.
Sarah’s husband, who we will call “Avraham” also wishes to be anonymous. Avraham takes care of the technical side of things. He created the organization’s website, and set up systems to oversee the administrative end. Sarah’s brother- in-law, Isaac Katri, oversees the packaging and delivery of all the items sent to families. Isaac, a businessman, is able to get low prices through wholesalers. He arranged with a local warehouse to store the supplies until they are needed.
As the word started getting out on Instagram, a young man named Ricky Tawil, volunteered to help. At the time, he was studying accounting. Since graduating, he took on all bookkeeping tasks for the organization. The organization is blessed to have Ricky, who responsibly fulfills his very important role for Sephardic Relief..
How to Get Help
Only a phone call or a completed online form is needed for a volunteer to go straight to the shiva home. The phone call or form (which only asks for simple, basic information, such as family member or friend’s name who fills out the form, address of the shiva home, and contact number) will set in motion help for the bereaved family. The contact person can include the number of people sitting shiva, as well as the requested date for delivery of all the needed items. It is a real hesed for the family to have all the basics delivered straight to the door, as opposed to having multiple people headed to shop at different stores to provide all that is needed – which often leads to some basic necessities being overlooked or overbought.
The boxes that bereaved families receive contain most basic home necessities that a family would need during shiva. (See below.) The boxes are lovingly packed and are stored in the organization’s warehouse, awaiting for the need to arise for their delivery to shiva houses. Family members, and those helping them, are almost instantly relieved of pressing, overwhelming responsibilities for physical items. Now, close family members that are not sitting, but who are also feeling the loss, do not have to be tasked with this responsibility. They are freed to focus on the family and not on mundane tasks. Family members have reported back to Sephardic Relief that, in addition to the heartbreak of losing a loved one, they felt that facing the multitude of tasks to be handled felt like being hit with a brick, and dealing with so many details was just too much to bear. Sephardic Relief volunteers stepping in quickly and handling so many details in a timely and compassionate way was truly a lifesaver for them.
It Starts with a Box
Sephardic Relief provides mourning families with a box containing the following items. For the berachot table – disposable plates and bowls, cups, cutlery, napkins, and bottled water. Supplies for a hot drinks corner include Styrofoam cups, sugar, coffee, tea, creamer, stirrers, serving trays, serving plates, serving pieces, and plastic tablecloths.. (Upon request, a hot water urn will be lent to the family, and will be picked up after the conclusion of shiva.) Home items provided include paper towels, toilet paper, dish soap, hand soap, sturdy garbage bags, plastic wrap, aluminum foil, Windex, sponges, tissues, vinyl gloves, aluminum tins, Ziploc bags, a seven-day mourning candle, Purell, tape, matches, permanent markers, Lysol, scissors, paper to cover mirrors, note pads, pens, writing paper, print cards, and kippot. Books included are Tehillim, Kol Yaakov siddurim, and copies of two books by Rabbi Michael Haber (Eternal Life and Sur Olamim: The Cemetery Visit Guide).
Always dedicated to providing what will help the most, in the most dignified manner, Sephardic Relief has paid attention to how families feel about what they received, and what other incidentals they may have required. Over time, the organization carefully refined the list of items sent, determined the appropriate quantities, and improved the quality of goods provided.
Sephardic Relief Expands and Improves
The organization grew through word of mouth. It now has over 900 Instagram followers and provides boxes to families in Brooklyn and New Jersey. It started slowly and grew significantly after COVID-19 hit. Three years ago, the founders unfortunately experienced a personal loss themselves. They used their own experience to fine tune how Sephardic Relief helps bereaved families, and they made significant improvements. Two years ago, the organization held its first fundraiser.
A new innovation has been the appointment of 12 Sephardic Relief captains. These women volunteers are stationed throughout Brooklyn. Bezrat Hashem New Jersey will also have a team of volunteer captains. In addition to the volunteers who deliver the boxes, the captain’s job is to go to a house of mourning to help set it up for the week of shiva. If help with set up is not necessary, the captain will leave her number for the family to call if such a need arises. These captains each keep a hot water urn and siddurim in their cars, which facilitates easy drop off. After shiva, the captains retrieve the urns and siddurim for the next family in need. Captains may also assist in other ways, such as finding household help or homework help for the children during the shiva week, or locating a larger urn, getting a specific siddur, etc. Their shlichut is to help bereaved families in any way needed during such a very difficult time.
The captains’ job is not easy. It is difficult for everyone to walk into a house of mourning. But the captains do so quite often, with the motivation of helping to ease a mourning family’s pain as much as they can, by helping with the services they offer. The Brooklyn program continues to get a stronger, Baruch Hashem, and in the near future a New Jersey team will get underway. Several women in New Jersey have already signed up.
During Covid Sephardic Relief members met with the Sephardic Bikur Holim Crisis Team via Zoom to brainstorm about the best ways to compassionately assist members of the community. All of the captains participated and they shared ideas about the best way to speak to people they were helping, taking into account community, social, and family norms.
Future Plans – Focus on Food
In the future Sephardic Relief hopes to provide grieving families with additional items having to do with food, such as a berachot platter, and a printed list of resources, including significant information about local stores, caterers, and restaurants Family members sitting shiva, of course, need to eat. Often community members provide meals for their neighbors, but these meals may not cover three full meals per day. Offering families help in this area takes another burden off their shoulders. In the works are lists not only of restaurants and their menus, but also suggestions for breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, with calculated prices per person, simplifying the process of ordering food needed so it can be accomplished quickly and easily.
I would like to publicize the wonderful work of Sephardic Relief, especially because I know that not all community members are familiar with the organization. Only after recently sitting shiva for my father, Mordecai Ackman, a”h, did I learn about Sephardic Relief. I had not even known that it was Sephardic Relief that had provided many of the important items for my family. I was amazed at the array of items they provided for the shiva.
I encourage community members to help by donating their time and their tsedaka. Currently the organization needs a volunteer driver for deliveries in New Jersey. In just the last few weeks alone, they have sent 23 packages out to community homes.
It is truly a mitzvah to help other Jews who are mourning. Sephardic Relief brings nachat and comfort to our community’s families during the most difficult week of shiva. Supporting this organization surely helps to fulfill the mitzvah of v’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha – loving your neighbor as yourself.
Sephardic Relief Needs Our Help
Donations in any amount are most welcome, and appreciated. Sephardic Relief is dedicated to growing even larger, with community support. That way, they can help even more families. To sponsor everything needed for a shiva home the cost is $501. Donations may be designated in memory or in honor of a loved one, or as a merit for a refuah sheleima for an ill family member or friend. A $251 donation funds half of the cost of providing necessities for a shiva home, and a $101 donation will fund one-quarter of those costs. Donors may also provide Tehillim books in memory of a loved one. Please visit the organization’s website at https://sephardicrelief.org/.
Checks may be sent to: Sephardic Relief, POB 230532, Brooklyn, NY 11223. It is possible to donate via Venmo: @sephardicrelief, or via a Chase Quickpay: Suzy@Sephardicrelief.org. The Sephardic Relief telephone number is: 347 983 2483. Sephardic Relief is a nonprofit organization, which provides proper receipts for tax purposes.