|From left, Larry Kahn, Louis Karp, Moishe Singer, Yehiel Levy, Rabbi Larry Rothwachs, and Micah Kaufman all were instrumental in creating the gemach. Paul Lustiger|
After his wife, Renee Chaya, lost her nearly six-year battle with cancer in May 2013, Yehiel Levy and his sons, Chaim and Ronnie, decided to start a medical equipment free lending project in her memory.
The Rinat Chaim Gemach – “gemach” is a Hebrew acronym for good deeds – collects and lends new and gently used medical equipment for short term or long term use: a power wheelchair, standard wheelchairs, portable commodes, walkers, rollators (a foldable walker with four wheels and a seat), shower and tub chairs, crutches, and canes. The gemach does not charge recipients anything. The lending service has been up and running for a few months.
“The uniqueness of this gemach is that we deliver and pick up at no cost,” said Mr. Levy, who lives in Teaneck. “There is already one medical gemach in Teaneck, but only for wheelchairs. As far as I know, we are the only ones who offer all these items.”
Although the gemach is intended to serve all of Bergen County – and even lent a piece of equipment to someone in New York recently – this is very much a story based in Teaneck, and specifically at Congregation Beth Aaron, which the Levys joined about a year after moving to town 10 years ago.
“When Renee and I were battling this terrible disease, we got a lot of support from the Beth Aaron community and Rabbi and Chaviva Rothwachs,” Mr. Levy said.
“Many friends would come to help Renee at the drop of a hat. One woman came and sat with her every evening for hours. Another woman would come and play board games with her when I was away at work. All the people in Beth Aaron who took care of her also took care of me, making meals or making sure I had a place to be on Shabbes.”
As those difficult years wore on, Renee Levy needed more and more pieces of medical equipment to maintain her mobility. “It was very expensive, even to rent,” Mr. Levy said. “Buying it was out of the question, because there is so much insurance paperwork involved. So after my wife left us, we thought this would be a good way to give back to all these wonderful people, and even beyond our own community.”
Mr. Levy operates the gemach with trustees Larry Kahn and Micah Kaufman, fellow Beth Aaron members. Rabbi Larry Rothwachs, the synagogue’s spiritual leader, spread awareness of the project among Bergen County rabbis and named the project Rinat Chaim, which means “Joy of Life.” The name also hints at Renee Levy’s name, and at her sons’ as well. (It was the Levys’ son Chaim who first came up with the idea for the gemach.)
Rabbi Rothwachs said he was not fully aware of the need for such a service before. “Although it only opened its doors recently, through word of mouth alone there has already been a lot of interest,” he said. “Yehiel spent a lot of time and effort to set this up in a professional and dignified way, and I hope it will be helpful to the community for years to come.”
Another shul member, Moishe B. Singer, created the website www.rinatchaimgemach.com, which people can use to learn how to donate equipment or money, see what is available, and request loans.
Yet another Beth Aaron member, attorney Louis Karp, donated his services to secure 501c3 not-for-profit status for the gemach. And Izzy Salomon, also of Beth Aaron, has offered his warehouse to store the equipment.
Mr. Kahn’s teenage son, Eli, is coordinating youth volunteers who clean and maintain the equipment. Mr. Levy and Mr. Kaufman make most of the deliveries.
Mr. Levy said that he and Renee met in 1974 in Israel, when both were working for Israel Aerospace Industries. “She was born in Cairo, and after the Six-Day War she migrated with her mother, father and seven siblings to France for two years,” he said. “Then they made aliya to Bat Yam.”
The couple wed in 1975 and lived in the Tel Aviv suburb of Givatayim, where Ms. Levy taught Arabic and French in local schools. In October 2005, their son Chaim’s employer moved him to the United States, and his parents followed him to Teaneck. Ms. Levy worked at an Oradell law firm specializing in representing American Jews whose loved ones were victims of terror attacks in Israel.
“In December 2007 we found, to our shock, that she was diagnosed with cancer,” Mr. Levy said. “We had a lot of ongoing and loving support from the community, but unfortunately after six years the disease caught up with my beloved. About four months later, Chaim had the idea to form the medical equipment gemach in her memory.”