Misaskim of Maryland: Alleviating Tragedy with Compassion
By Margie Pensak
Have you ever paid a shiva call in the tri-state area and noticed additional (amenities) made available to aveilim there, not offered in Baltimore? In all likelihood, they were provided by Misaskim, an organization which offers unique assistance to bereaved families during the week of shivah, in addition to other related services. Now, thanks to the local efforts of community members, spearheaded by Aryeh Leib Freedman, Misaskim of Maryland can offer our aveilim similar items and services. The independent, locally-run, non-profit 501 (c) (3) organization was founded in memory of Aryeh Leib’s father, Rabbi Mendel (Menachem Mendel Don ben Aryeh Leib) Freedman, z’l, a pillar of the Baltimore Jewish community who was the principal of Bais Yaakov of Baltimore for close to 40 years.
The Local Launching
Over the years, numerous Baltimore aveilim who had to scramble for shiva house items approached the New York-based Misaskim organization, post-shiva, hoping to emulate its unique services, locally. These well-meaning attempts did not come to fruition, however, until Aryeh Leib Freedman persisted long after his family’s personal shiva experience.
“When we started sitting shiva, we were very uncomfortable eating our meals on our laps,” recalls Mrs. Zipporah Freedman. “One of my daughters asked, ‘Why don’t we order TV tables?’ We ordered three packs of eight tables from Amazon, which came the next day–enough for all the aveilum, with some to spare.”
Ahavas Yisrael’s Executive Director, Rabbi Boruch Brull, a friend of the Freedman family, heard about their purchase the day after and offered to pay for them so they could be used for the community.
“When I heard that, I thought, I’m not going to share the bill with Rabbi Brull; we’re going to do this l’zecher nishmas my husband,” shares Mrs. Freedman. “I ordered a couple more sets to lend out to the community. After shiva, my daughter, who is in the business of personalizing things, wrote on them that they are l’zecher nishmas Menachem Mendel Don ben Aryeh Leib Freedman.”
The original order came just in time to share the extra, unneeded tables with another family that was sitting shiva at the same time. They were also used by another family that sat shiva soon after the Freedmans’ shiva concluded. Since then, the folding tables have been loaned multiple times.
The Freedmans’ table “gemach” was the catalyst for the researching of additional needs of aveilim and shiva houses, on top of what Levinson’s was already providing. “Levinson’s is amazing and goes above and beyond as a community resource” remarks Aryeh Leib. “They provide aveilim with items such as chairs for aveilim and shiva house guests, yarmulkes, nusach Ashkenaz siddurim, candles, and coat racks, which they don’t charge for–even if the levaya is not held there. We are building on their foundation, offering additional items and services to help out the shiva house.”
“Baltimore is a growing community,” explains Aryeh Leib. “We should have access to the same wonderful services and items that Misaskim provides in the tri-state area and beyond. Rabbi Brull and Menachem Levitansky have both been very involved in getting things off the ground.”
Filling the Void
The gap that Misaskim of Maryland fills, mostly, is taking care of the shiva house and other needs of aveilim above what Levinson’s and other organizations already graciously provide community members. Some of these items and services include: Nusach Sefard, Ari, and Edut Hamizrach siddurim; low tables, an aron kodesh; a sefer Torah; a bima for laining; a tallis to cover the bima; a shtender for the chazan; a lending library of English and Hebrew seforim about the halachos of mourning; Mishnayos charts and more.
“To get Misaskim of Maryland started, we had many meetings with the Rabonim of Baltimore; with the Bikur Cholims; the Chevra Kadishes; and, with Sol Levinson,” mentions Aryeh Leib. “All have given their backing, support, and encouragement. We also went to New York to meet with Misaskim, to benefit from their 17 years of experience. They are very encouraging of our opening up in Baltimore.”
In addition to providing shiva house items, Misaskim of Maryland also offers: Emergency Disaster/Recovery Clean-up; Coordinating Emergency Transports; Meis Mitzvah/Cremation Prevention Education; Community Awareness; and Education of Law Enforcement.
“We are working with existing organizations, such as with Agudath Israel of Maryland’s Rabbi Ariel Sadwin, to coordinate with medical examiner issues, and with the Chevra Kadisha regarding accident clean-ups,” emphasizes Aryeh Leib. “We are not replacing or duplicating existing organizations. Rather, we are working with them and referring to them—likewise, they will refer to us if they don’t offer a particular service.
How to Access Misaskim’s Services
When someone is nifter, r”l, a family member, preferably, should call Misaskim of Maryland, so the numerous amenities they offer can be coordinated. Mention where the shiva is being held, from when to when, and how many aveilim will be sitting shiva.
To date, as many as three shiva houses have benefited, simultaneously, from Misaskim of Maryland’s services–all offered and delivered gratis to the community.
“Whereas in the past, some additional items were available from various places or individuals. Contacting Misaskim of Maryland is a streamlined, one-call resource that provides a full suite of services, alleviating with compassion those in need in their most difficult time.” notes Menachem Levitansky.
A caring community member, Dovid Davis has provided one of his Sefrei Torah to be used by Misaskim of Maryland. With Baltimore being such a large community, there is a need for additional Sifrei Torah, cargo delivery vans, and other resources to service multiple shiva houses, simultaneously. Even before the organization’s official launch, it maxed out on its resources and supplies.
“I am very excited about the newly established Misaskim of Maryland,” shares Rabbi Brull. “It is a wonderful addition to our many chesed organizations in our city and will give physical and spiritual comfort to those in mourning. I have met and spoken with Aryeh Leib Freedman and Menachem Levitansky, who are truly amazing and dedicated to making this organization run successfully. Ahavas Yisrael joins the community in thanking them and all of Misaskim’s volunteers!”
“Misaskim of Maryland has been needed for quite some time,” concludes Jewish Caring Network Director of Operations Stacey Goldenberg. “The caring Misaskim team takes care of everything the family needs–from low tables to delivering water and coffee. They truly want to make sure that each and every family feels loved and taken care of during this extremely difficult time. No words can possibly thank them enough for all they do. May their tremendous efforts be a z’chus for an aliya for Rabbi Freedman’s neshoma.”