It was about seven years ago, when Mr. Bentzy Eichorn had just gotten up from sitting shivah for his mother, Mrs. Esther Eichorn, a”h, that Misaskim of Toronto was first born.
“Before my mother got sick,” recalls Mr. Eichorn, “she was talking about wanting to open a gemach. However, she soon became ill, and nothing came of her dreams at the time. After she was niftar and we were sitting shivah, we experienced difficulties attaining some of the items that we needed — such as chairs, low tables, and siddurim. We had to make several phone calls to arrange for each item, and I almost missed saying a hesped, and other preparations, at the levayah, due to my involvement in making these arrangements. I said to myself, ‘This cannot continue, in a community that is the size of Toronto!’”
Mr. Eichorn reached out to his good friend, Mr. Tzvi Hofman, and together, they launched Gemach Zichron Esther Bracha, in memory of Mrs. Esther Eichorn and the gemach that she dreamed of establishing. “My mother always did chessed quietly, avoiding the limelight, so when she said that she wanted to start a gemach, we knew it was going to be special, but in a quiet way,” Mr. Eichorn recalls.
The organization began slowly, delivering tables and chairs, siddurim, a sefer Torah, and when necessary, food, to families who were sitting shivah. With much siyatta diShmaya, and due to the generosity of the Toronto community, all needed items were donated right away, and were stored in Mr. Eichorn’s garage.
“We immediately saw the need for our services,” recalls Mr. Eichorn. “Our goal was that aveilim would just have to make one phone call, and all of their needs would be taken care of. Word spread quickly. We also started providing, for the first time, comfortable leather chairs for the aveilim. The shuls started calling us to take care of their members when they were sitting shivah, and unfortunately, the demand grew and grew. Our success is largely due to our amazing volunteers, who are always on call.”
In 2016, Mr. Nussi Werner, z”l, was niftar in Toronto, and his son, Mr. Shmuel Werner, contacted Gemach Zichron Esther Bracha for help in setting up the shivah house. Mr. Shmuel Werner was very grateful to the gemach, and after completing his shivah, he and his brother, Mr. Elimelech Werner, became involved in the organization, and are now assisting in bringing it to a new level.
Mr. Tzvi Hofman, together with his brother-in-law, Mr. Motti Grossman, makes sure that all the administrative areas of the organization are running smoothly, and they are recognized as the pillars of the organization.
During the past 11 months, since the start of the pandemic, the demand increased greatly, R”l, and the gemach began expanding into different areas as well. With closure of borders, transferring meisim across the Canadian border to the United States was more complicated, as was transporting bodies to Eretz Yisrael for kevurah. With the expertise and connections of those involved in Gemach Zichron Esther Bracha, these border crossings were facilitated for the benefit of the meisim and their families.
Recently, Gemach Zichron Esther Bracha officially became a branch of Misaskim of Canada. The organization purchased a truck to ease the transfer of tables and chairs to shivah houses, and a large garage was set up, which is spacious enough to store all of the necessary supplies. Misaskim of Toronto also became a recognized charitable organization, and set up a website, as well as a 24-hour hotline, which is linked to Mr. Eichorn’s and Mr. Hofman’s phones. In addition, a second branch of Misaskim of Toronto was set up in the Thornhill area, in the northern part of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), which is very active.
Misaskim of Toronto is now further spreading their wings and has become involved in related services, such as assisting with meisei mitzvah and avoiding autopsies.
As a case in point, recently, a meis was flown in from New York for kevurah. However, the customs agency did not want to release the body, as there was no proof of it being embalmed. Misaskim contacted the supervising team at the customs agency and explained that according to Jewish custom, there is no embalming. They then quickly coordinated the kevurah, and set up lighting and sound at the levayah, ensuring the family’s peace of mind and kvod hameis to the highest standard.
“The word is out, and now, when people don’t know where to turn, they can call us,” notes Mr. Eichorn. “This is an extension of what my mother wanted. This should be a lesson to others who are thinking of starting a gemach. Just start it and Hashem will help it grow.”