At four o’clock on a Friday afternoon your electric is going to be shut down for lack of payment; Shabbat is in an hour. Your neighbor is a cancer patient, alone and lonely, who needs her spirits lifted and a few groceries picked up. A refrigerator breaks, there’s no money for repair. A doctor’s appointment looms, and you don’t know how you’ll get there. An older gentleman needs help putting on tefilin each morning. The list goes on. Every day arbitrary disadvantages make our lives just that much more difficult and unmanageable. Sure, there are bigger problems and more important issues, but for now, today, at this moment, any act of kindness, large or small, would do just the trick. Who do you call? Mitzvah Man.
At its core, Judaism is concerned with the well being of humanity. “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” About four years ago, Michael Cohen began doing hesed daily because he could. One of the fundamental tenets of being a servant of Hashem and a good Jew, he found that each time he made someone else’s day better, his day became better too, just by the sheer act of caring. The more he did though, the more need he found around him, and the more he “needed” to help. Quickly these acts multiplied, as did the people he gathered to help him complete the acts, and thus, The Mitzvah Man was born.
“There is so much room for hesed,” explains Joe Cattan, President of Mitzvah Man, “Our community has amazing organizations in place to help with countless issues, and while we are always working in cooperation with them, both the money they raise and their tasks at hand are daunting. Sometimes though, it is urgent care or a band-aid that’s needed. Recently we got a voice-activated phone for a 95-year-old woman who lives alone, based on a volunteer’s suggestion. When she was having a heart attack the woman was able to say ‘Hatzolah!’ A $120 dollar phone saved this woman’s life.”
He continued, “Michael Cohen is truly a special individual. He has the uncanny ability to flush out the needs of people and match them up with the correct volunteer, time and again. He is a problem solver, and in 10 minutes he can do what might take me a week to complete. What’s more, he does it from a cell phone in his gym.”
Recently Michael received an award for his efforts, designed by Betty Gadeloff-Mizrahi, an avid volunteer, and signed by the entire Mitzvah Man board of directors. Betty is a nutritionist and a teacher of geriatric nutrition at Brooklyn College. She is so vested in the work Mitzvah Man does that she makes volunteering part of the curriculum for her students. “It’s a win-win,” she explains. Betty also helps two to three people each week with different needs, including a cancer patient, a woman on dialysis and a Holocaust survivor. She visits, does grocery shopping, and helps make appointments—among many other acts of kindness. She also has three small children at home, who often join her on these errands. Betty continues, “When Michael began arranging hesed about four years ago, he did it secretly; not even his wife knew. Today, his labors generate over 220 acts of hesed each week! This past summer he gave me an award. I was so touched and surprised to be acknowledged, and I wanted him to feel the same way.”
Michael is modest, to a fault. Given his way, his name would not even appear here in print, and yet the work he does helps too many to go unnoticed. Michael explains, “We take a lot for granted. Some don’t have the networking we do and really need the help. We, on the other hand, glory in being a part of the mitzvah. How fabulous does a Knicks season ticket holder feel when he gifts his court-side seats to a cancer patient for one game? Maybe it’s a service that’s needed, and we can usually do that for free. Even if it’s an appliance that’s required, for a good cause we can get it wholesale and stretch the dollars we’ve raised even further. Maybe it is some plants to give out, or car service vouchers. Our volunteers are eager to help, and there is something for everybody to get involved with. The beauty is that you can go at your own pace.
“On Purim, our volunteers read the Megilah to 150 home-bound people and hand deliver baskets to over 125 Holocaust survivors and other elderly. During Hurricane Sandy, we provided tremendous help including temporary housing, food and clothing to many families within 24 hours. Be it a broken pipe, help with an autistic child, or a ride to the city, we can help. Sometimes I feel like we are the ‘fast food’ kind of hesed, but the quick response helps the needy not feel like such a burden, and often, for us, the answer is at our fingertips.” Mitzvah Man has 1,800 volunteers helping thousands of people get help they couldn’t get themselves. The new website and back office (recently implemented) keep things running more efficiently and smoothly than ever before. New volunteers are welcome and needed always. Visit the website www.themitzvahman.org or call (866) 355-1825 to donate or offer your time, goods or services.