A sizeable showing of volunteers participated in the annual Tomchei Shabbos of Queens (TSQ) volunteer appreciation night held on Monday, August 22. This year, due to recent orders filling up their warehouse, TSQ held the event in the Simchah Hall at the Bais Yaakov Academy of Queens in Kew Gardens. The program included an inspiring lecture by noted orator Rabbi YY Rubenstein, a remarkable performance by seasoned juggling professional Michael Karas (@nycjuggler), table magic by Yoel Spielman, and of course included an array of delectable fleishig options, along with copious amounts of tasty sushi.

As an invited guest, I wanted to bring to readers the passion of the volunteers. My first encounter was with Forest Hills resident Leon Vales, who has been a regular helper at pantries like Commonpoint and Beth Gavriel. “I have been very successful at repurposing kosher meals,” explained Vales. “From dried goods to canned items, I come into contact with leftovers from distributions like the one held here at Bais Yaakov. I find needy families who can benefit from these available foods.” Vales usually brings five boxes with sometimes up to 300 lunch meals to TSQ to be included in weekly distributions. During the pandemic, Vales was hard at work on a near daily basis, bringing food to those who could not be outdoors.

“People go through ups and downs throughout the week. I use my weekly volunteer time at Tomchei to keep myself grounded to real world issues as I grasp that even if we are having a bad day, there are those who are worse off,” expressed Danny Baruch, a member at Hashevaynu of Kew Gardens Hills. “I am fortunate to be able to help others and enjoy the ability give back to those most in need.”

At my table, I encountered Yehuda Weinberg, a volunteer who grew up being involved with TSQ since youth. Today, the energy of his son Hillel continues that tradition. “I come to help with my father and get the chance to lift a few boxes that have essential foods for families who cannot afford these items. But I admit, most of all, I love the cholent prepared for the volunteers.”

R’ Steve Moskowitz and his West Hempstead family have an over 30-year relationship with TSQ, highlighted by a s’farim gemach he operated at the Young Israel of Jamaica Estates that raised $10,000 for TSQ. R’ Moskowitz, now a rebbe at SAR, has been producing raw cholent batches with his talmidim for Shabbos shul kiddushim, like at Great Neck Synagogue, and for pantries. The program saw such success that it turned into a team-based chesed project many youths now take on for their bar and bas mitzvahs. “It has been said that this project is the most meaningful part of their milestone celebration,” said R’ Moskowitz.

“I am also aware that seniors started to drive juniors to volunteer. They participate, enjoy the time, and do it, often forgetting that they may receive a college recommendation for their time well spent.” R’ Moskowitz also offered, “As a rebbe, I can attest that few things can teach the students a real hands-on experience with helping the underprivileged. I have worked within communities that, baruch Hashem, have not seen such hardships. I introduced many to Tomchei and am proud to say that there are those who continue their volunteerism here today.”

Jeremy Golub, a Bayside resident entering 11th grade at North Shore Hebrew Academy, has been volunteering at Tomchei since the pandemic, when the need for volunteers increased. “COVID presented severe health risks for many of our volunteers,” said Golub. “I joined to bring relief to the warehouse support team when it was difficult to find willing personnel.” Now in a post-pandemic world, Golub looks forward to his Wednesday evenings, when he gets the opportunity to help other Jews.

Max Spector, also of Hashevaynu, picked up a knack for volunteering at a Woodmere-based food distribution and began his efforts at TSQ a short few months ago. “As volunteers, we generally do not see the impact we have on families. After leaving a package at the door of a family, I phone them to ensure its acceptance. On one such call, the recipient could not stop expressing her gratitude for the delivery and this reaction gives me the strength to continue going out each week.”

I was pleasantly surprised at the showing of volunteers from Hashevaynu and would like to note that Rabbi Avi Zakutinsky and his sister Toby Zakutinsky are both on the regular volunteer roster.

“Tomchei Shabbos of Queens operates as a huge machine,” said Jordan Katz of the minyan at the Lander College for Men in Kew Gardens Hills. “We are a family of volunteers who appreciate one another and are grateful to the administration for the mitzvos we get to accumulate.”

TSQ operates grants, the generosity of organizations, but more importantly from donations from readers like you. Rabbi Shmuel Gold of the Queens Jewish Center in Forest Hills has been making monthly donations to TSQ since 1978, the year of inception. “I am not sure if my pledge was $5 or $20, this was a considerable donation in those days, so I went with $20 and continued each month,” said Rabbi Gold. “Eventually, I adjusted the figure for inflation and proudly continue my effort in donating monthly to the worthy cause of Tomchei Shabbos serving our community.”

David Shakhmoroff of the Sephardic Minyan at the Young Israel of Forest Hills has been volunteering for a few years together with his cousin Aaron Samuels, also of Forest Hills. Together they deliver packages to needy homes spanning the gamut of Queens neighborhoods. “I volunteer for various organizations in the area, and I feel that my time is well spent Wednesday evenings here at Tomchei, where I always return home with fulfilling, warm sentiments.”

Moe Harary of Shimon’s Pizza on Main Street has been delivering fresh pizza pies to the Wednesday night crew. “The efforts of the volunteers and staff at Tomchei is commendable. As a small endeavor, I set aside leftovers from my shop to be distributed to needy homes,” said Harary. “Nothing should go to waste.”

TSQ would not be able to operate without the dedication of the Katz family who operate as a father-son team. As readers, we do not see the daily efforts involved. Morah Gittel Katz, who has been working alongside her husband since their marriage, gave us a hint of an inside look, saying, “My husband is busy day and night working to give the Tomchei clients the best experience. Aside from his limud Torah schedule, there is the planning, orders, and bills of the powerful organization that must be attended. That and more is the work of my husband.”

“Michael the performer was really good wowing both children and adults with his fantastic acts,” said Yoel Spielman, an up-and-coming frum magician who gave of his time to do table magic with the volunteers. “It felt so good to sit in the audience and not be on stage for a change. I too got to see smiles and that wow moment as I interacted with the wonderful Tomchei helpers.”

Rabbi Katz extended a special appreciation to Rabbi Simcha Noble and Rabbi Yosef Chaim Cohen who graciously opened the auditorium at BYQ and went above and beyond to accommodate the neighborhood pantry.

 By Shabsie Saphirstein