Knowing all too well the difficulties of finding furnished short term rentals in Flatbush, a group of realtors have banded together to set up chesed apartments in the heart of the Jewish community, providing lodging and all the comforts of home to those coming to the New York City area for medical treatment.
Habayit – Home Away From Home evolved just over a year ago when realtors Eva Shammah and Elliot Shelby decided to take on a special project together. Recalling the many requests that they had been unable to fill from out of towners who needed a temporary apartment while they received medical care in New York, they realized that there was an unmet need in the community, one that they wanted to address.
“I would get those calls all the time,” Shammah told Yeshiva World News. “I would try to drop everything to help them – it could be a kid who needs surgery, a couple undergoing fertility treatments or someone needing a heart transplant. Even if I could find a landlord who would rent to them for a month, what about beds and a couch? And even if I could find a furnished apartment, what about sheets and towels and sefarim?”
The two reached out to fellow realtors Natalie Ammar Shalom, Regine Shrem and Lillian Srour, and, together, the group rented their first apartment. Community members who heard about their plans jumped on board, donating furniture, beds, mattresses, pots, pans, dishes, linens, toys, sefarim, books and more as they renovated the apartment from top to bottom. By the time their first family arrived last winter Habayit had the apartment fully stocked with food and a list of nearby kosher restaurants posted on the refrigerator.
While Habayit’s apartment was a welcome addition to the landscape of Flatbush’s Jewish community, it became immediately apparent that there were countless other people in need of similar arrangements. Additional apartments were rented and renovated and the project snowballed with donations of all kinds pouring in from members of Flatbush’s Sephardic community who wanted to share in this unique mitzvah. Habayit has more than 400 volunteers who pitch in in a variety of ways, whether it is cooking for a family, driving them to appointments, inviting them for Shabbos meals or dropping off gift baskets of goodies. Local schoolchildren have pitched in as well, making welcome signs, havdala packages and baking cookies for those using Habayit’s housing, while yeshiva boys have built furniture and taken on other jobs.
Currently Habayit has 13 apartments in Flatbush, most of which are rented, although some have been donated as well. An additional apartment near New York-Presbyterian Columbia University Medical Center in Manhattan is currently undergoing renovations and Habayit has hosted over 40 families from Israel, Mexico, Panama, Argentina, Boston, Florida and other locations over the past year. There is no charge for Habayit’s accommodations and all applications to Habayit are carefully vetted and must be accompanied by a referral from a reputable medical organization.
The feedback that Habayit has gotten from people who have utilized its apartments makes it clear that the need for it’s services is very real. A couple who came from Israel for fertility treatments and had stayed previously in a Boro Park basement said that they were stunned when they walked into their Habayit apartment.
“It was like yetziat Mitzrayim for us,” said the husband. “We couldn’t believe that this kind of chesed existed. Everything was extra – it was the best apartment, like your own house and you saw that they took care of every detail, asking us what else we needed what else they could do for us. It changed the face of our entire treatment and made it a positive experience for us.”
A text from a Panamanian couple described how in addition to providing them with a place to stay, Habayit also made them feel like family, making sure that they had meals and transportation.
“What a way to fulfill the Mitzva of Hachnasat Orjim, so special worthy offspring of Abraham Avinu,” wrote the couple, who added that they operate a chesed organization of their own in Panama that specializes in welcoming guests. “You don’t know how much we learned from you to improve here. You have been our example!”
Despite running 13 apartments, Habayit has waiting list for its accommodations and Shammah hopes to be able to continue growing the organization’s list of properties.
“Sometimes we have people who come for a week and sometimes they stay for months,” said Shammah. “We are a loving community and anytime anything is needed we have people running to help. With Hashem’s help we want to be able to expand because this is something so special.”
For more information on Habayit, visit them online at www.habayit.org
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