The Festival of Lights became infinitely brighter for the nearly 2,100 yesomim and almonos who received Chanukah gift packages distributed by Misaskim containing Chanukah gelt, toys and a packet of dollar bills and coins bearing the blessings of the most prominent gedolim of our generation.
Understanding that yomim tovim can be particularly difficult for those who have suffered the loss of a loved one, Misaskim began distributing Chanukah gifts several years ago with a relatively modest budget of $36,000. The project has grown exponentially over time, and this year Misaskim raised $150,000 to benefit 476 families in California, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas and Wisconsin, in addition to Montreal and Toronto.
In addition to arranging two toys for every family and $50 for each child, Misaskim founder and director Yanky Meyer personally visited with ten revered rabbonim, asking each one to give his blessings to dollar bills that would be given to every recipient. Meyer traveled through the New York area and made a whirlwind 48 hour trip to Eretz Yisroel, bringing massive stacks of singles to Rav Chaim Kanievsky, Rav Tuvia Weiss, Rav Don Segal, the Belzer Rebbe, Rav Moshe Shternbuch, Rav Dovid Abuchatzeira, Rav Gamliel Rabinowitz, Rav Matisyahu Solomon and Rav Yechezkel Roth for their brachos, with the Skulener Rebbe following his custom of blessing only half dollars. Misaskim volunteers spent hours placing every dollar into a plastic sleeve, noting the name of the rov and the bracha that had been given and then creating packets for each child that included $9.50 in “gebentshte gelt.”
The annual Chanukah distribution has grown to become a significant part of Misaskim’s work and Meyer is buoyed by stories he has heard from recipients. Last year, a teacher reached out to Meyer on the second to last day of Chanukah at home, telling him how one of her students had lost her father and had told her how much she has hated Chanukah ever since.
“The teacher told us that the student had gotten our Chanukah package and she said that it felt like it was the Ribono Shel Olam giving her a big hug and saying ‘don’t worry. I didn’t forget about you.’”
In another instance a mother approached Meyer and told him that the entire family had pooled their Misaskim Chanukah gelt and, after adding some more money to the
collection, used it to buy a piano.
“She told me ‘you don’t know the simchas hachaim you brought into my house,’” said Meyer.
The feedback this year has been equally rewarding with one widower reporting “my kids screeched with excitement. It’s our first Chanukah without my wife and let me tell you they haven’t been this excited in a long time.”
A woman who lost her husband reached out to Meyer telling him “My boys felt so chasuv getting the gebentshed dollars! My 11 year old said ‘At least we get this! Totty owes us a present so I guess this is him sending.’ I could have cried.”
And yet another mother who contacted Misaskim reported that the Chanukah package showed up while an ACS employee was visiting her home, giving the family a passing grade on their inspection because it was clear that they were being well taken care of by the local community.
Misaskim is well aware of the many children who have lost parents all too young, inspiring them to find a way to infuse joy and celebration into a Chanukah that has been overshadowed by grief. The entire process involves considerable amounts of effort, but Meyer noted that every minute was well spent.
“Just to bring a smile to the faces of these kids and to bring them something that no one else is getting makes it all worthwhile,” said Meyer. “There are still more yesomim out there who aren’t on our list and if we knew who they were, we would bring them Chanukah packages too.”
(YWN World Headquarters – NYC)