In the recent weeks of the Kletzky family’s tragedy — the disappearance and murder of 8-year-old Leiby in Borough Park, and the subsequent week of shiva — a group of Orthodox volunteers played a prominent part in the news coverage, coordinating the search for the missing boy, serving as a liaison with police and medical officials and announcing a Torah scroll that will be written in Leiby’s memory.
But the Kletzkys weren’t the only mourners helped during that time by the Brooklyn-based group, known as Misaskim (the Hebrew word for those who assist).
The independent Orthodox organization (misaskim.org), formed three years ago, assisted another “15 or 20” Jewish families in mourning with a full range of services, such as preparing the deceased’s body for burial and bringing supplies like prayer books and chairs to the shiva house, said Suri, a Misaskim spokesperson who asked that her last name not be published.
Made up almost entirely of volunteers performing the mitzvah of helping families during their time of bereavement, privately supported Misaskim does not charge for its services, and estimates that it assists about 10,000 mourners’ families a year.
But the organization’s responsibilities multiplied in the case of Leiby’s death, one of Misaskim’s most high-visibility periods. The group called most of its 200 volunteers from the Greater New York area to take an active role in the search effort that began when Leiby went missing, Suri said. They brought light towers to illuminate dark areas at night, established a command center at the day camp Leiby attended, dealt with detectives and finally, the medical examiner’s office.
“The NYPD reached out to Misaskim for assistance in notifying the parents about the death of their child,” the organization’s website states. “No matter how many years of professional experience and training” — all Misaskim volunteers undergo extensive training — “one has had, nothing can prepare one for the tragic task of delivering such horrifying news.”
Misaskim also coordinated details of the funeral, which drew an estimated 10,000 people, distributed more than 10,000 bottles of water there, and its Crisis Intervention Team was among the groups that has supported the Kletzky family.
When the Kletzkys’ shiva ended, Misaskim collected the supplies that were provided, as to any mourners — among them siddurim and a Torah scroll and an air conditioner.
While some individual congregations and funeral homes provide such services on a limited basis, no one does it as extensively, Suri said.
Private donations cover all its costs, including a fleet of 11 vehicles and five warehouses in Brooklyn. The organization helps “anyone of the Jewish faith,” not only in New York but frequently in New Jersey or Pennsylvania, and sometimes as far away as Florida, Suri said.
Coinciding with the end of shiva, Misaskim started a fund-raising campaign for a sefer Torah, and its small wooden ark, to be dedicated to Leiby’s memory. The scroll will be used at future shiva homes, Suri noted. (For information:  854-4548.)