It was late Thursday evening, the second night of Passover, and Yossi Margaretten was sitting at his family’s seder table when his phone rang.
Margaretten glanced at the screen to see who was calling on the holiday. As the director of Chaverim of Rockland, a volunteer emergency-safety organization for the suburban New York Jewish community, he was used to getting calls from the local police department and the Jewish volunteer ambulance service, Hatzalah.
This time, the call came from Chaverim of Montreal, hundreds of miles away.
Margaretten quickly picked up. Though he doesn’t use electronics on Shabbat and holidays as an Orthodox Jew, he knew it had to be an emergency—and therefore an exception—if Canadian colleagues were calling.
A devastating ice storm that hit the city two days earlier toppled trees and electrical lines, and Montreal residents still didn’t have power as temperatures dropped into the 20s. Chaverim of Montreal was fielding many requests for emergency assistance, and it needed to call in assistance from New York.
As Margaretten told JNS, the Canadian said there were a lot of elderly people, sick people, and new mothers and babies who hadn’t had power for 36 hours. “The situation is not getting better,” Margaretten recalled being told. “I need generators. We are stuck. I tried finding some locally—nothing available here. They can’t be found.”
Chaverim of Rockland’s warehouse was full of emergency supplies, including portable heaters and generators, and it was happy to help. But Margaretten couldn’t spring into action on the holiday as he normally would on a regular day.
Margaretten asked his Canadian colleague to ask the rabbi who provides religious consultation to the organization how to handle the necessary arrangements on Passover.
Chaverim of Rockland has its own rabbinic consultants, but Margaretten needed an expert on the ground in Montreal who could rule on how dire the local conditions were firsthand. The Montreal rabbi said the need was so critical that lives were at stake.
The rush was on …
Chaverim had the supplies but not a trailer, so Margaretten called the emergency services of New Square, a Chassidic village in Rockland County, N.Y. A trailer was indeed available.
One hour later, 40 generators, extension cords and many heaters were ready to go. Touched by what they saw, two non-Jewish members of the community’s Shabbat security patrol offered to drive the truck.
Chaverim of Rockland representatives drove the trailer partly up the New York State Thruway, where they met the security officers who took over and drove the supplies to Montreal.
With the goods safely en route, Margaretten returned home around 2 a.m. to complete his seder.
During the intermediate days of the Passover, during which electronics are permitted, another phone call brought the situation home in a very personal way.
A family member of Margaretten’s with elderly relatives, who was in Montreal for the holiday, was able to stay warm thanks to a portable heater and noticed a sticker on the unit bearing the Chaverim of Rockland name.