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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Chesed Shel Emet

I was fortunate to be chosen to go with the EKO Commission on Monday October 31st to help clean up the Hebrew Free Burial Association’s Silver Lake Cemetery in Staten Island. I didn’t exactly know what “clean up” meant, but nevertheless I was excited to be doing something that combined the importance of caring for the earth together with chesed. Before we left, we had a brief introduction to the association and about what we would do at the cemetery. What I learned about the Hebrew Free Burial Association made the trip all the more meaningful.

The HFBA is not a typical burial society. It is a non-profit group that handles the burial of Jews with little or no family, and/or that don’t have enough money for a burial. They make sure that all Jews receive a prompt and proper funeral and burial - no matter what their financial means are. The alternative would be for the bodies to be buried in an anonymous mass grave. When the association was created at the end of the nineteenth century, the HFBA first provided burials to immigrants, including Holocaust survivors and refugees from the former Soviet Union as well as the impoverished deceased.

Because the HFBA provides free burials, they often don't have enough money to maintain the cemetery and hire workers. This is why they value volunteers to help them with whatever needs to be done.

I, along with 24 other students, participated in the “clean up” to help maintain the cemetery and allow for the continuation of an extremely special mitzvah that the HFBA is based upon, Chesed Shel Emet, Chesed towards the deceased that cannot be repaid. We raked leaves and brushed snow off the ground around the graves, and collected fallen branches and parts of trees. It wasn't easy (or clean) work, especially in the very cold weather, but it was more than worth the effort. Even though we only worked for two hours, not only did we make a physical difference in the cemetery's appearance, but also it also affected us emotionally. The people who run HFBA dedicate their lives to taking care of those who have no one or nothing to take care of them when they die. The least we can do is to contribute our time to show our support. I was happy and proud to know that I did something worthwhile and I know everyone from Flatbush felt the same way. It was an incredibly rewarding experience to be part of the amazing mitzvah of Chesed Shel Emet.
~Miriam Zami, 3HN