by Chaya Sarah Cantor
The phone rings in her “office” – a kitchen table where groceries share space with pens, invoices, and notepads.
Devorah Scheiner answers. “When can you be here? … I’ll get a car service.”
The caller was a single mother, one of many residing in Crown Heights, the Brooklyn neighborhood Mrs. Scheiner has made home for over 50 years.
“Forty of which were devoted to this work,” she adds. “I can’t ever stop doing this.”
Indeed, chessed, kindness, is her life, and Devorah Scheiner, 70, has breathed it like air. But even from childhood, charity, tzedakah, had always been part of her world. Her parents and grandparents, refugees from Nazi and Communist Europe, instilled in her their own deep tradition of self-sacrifice – secretly leaving Shabbos meals at doorsteps and offering financial aid to synagogues and organizations.
Growing up, Mrs. Scheiner learned firsthand the importance of help to those less fortunate. To her, kindness means more than just writing checks. It also meant involvement with care and generosity.
As founder of the Yom Tov Fund, Devorah Scheiner set out over 20 years ago to provide food packages for local families struggling financially and needing assistance for the Jewish holidays.
During the major times on the calendar – eight-day Passover, which requires special foods, and the month of Tishrei, which contains four holidays – trucks roll in and park outside Mrs. Scheiner’s two-story house. Inside the trucks are cases full of chicken, meat, fish, produce – enough to last not only for the immediate holidays but for weeks afterwards. In a community where large households are the norm, these supplies make the crucial difference between dry bread for breakfast and cereal, fruit, milk, and eggs.
In recent years her concerns have only increased, as the Orthodox Jewish population is experiencing exponential growth while facing worsening hardships. Divorce or death in the family, loss of a job, mental illness, medical emergencies – the crises are everywhere, 24/7. Always people know where to go for help.
To date, over 350 have approached Mrs. Scheiner’s doorstep, located on a quiet street. On days the trucks arrive, juice and Danishes await on tables outside her porch, offerings of welcome to keep spirits up and bodies energized. Volunteers – among them Scheiner family members – stand in front of the tables, serving refreshments and packing up boxes to go. No one is ever turned away.
“During Chanukah I had 25 people in vans,” Mrs. Scheiner remarked. “I offered them hot drinks.”
Over the years, the Yom Tov Fund has branched out into other areas. In addition to money and food packages, Mrs. Scheiner has supplied clothing, all of good quality, calling and collecting from manufacturers.
“The Syrian community sent cartons of clothes,” she remarked. “We once had over thirty.” During these cold months, she has made winter jackets available for children.
For those whose incomes barely match expenses, Mrs. Scheiner has become a virtual lifeline. In all kinds of weather – from heat waves to blizzards — Devorah Scheiner has fielded phone calls and arranged meetings. Not even family or personal obligations have stopped her from ensuring that food, supplies, and vouchers arrive on time.
“I’ve taken in women who ran out of food stamps,” Mrs. Scheiner recounted. “One woman even blessed me.”
One divorced working mother wrote a thank-you letter on COLlive: “…When my son had his bar mitzvah, I phoned Mrs. Scheiner and she discreetly gave me shoe vouchers. She even wanted to know if my make-up and shaitle [wig] were being done!”
Mrs. Scheiner’s enormous heart has extended even beyond the material. She has walked 29 brides to the chuppah (marriage canopy), taken them by the hand to purchase items for their trousseaux; and instructed them where and how to shop on a budget. Mother of four – grandmother to 14, and great-grandmother to three – she has helped bring a number of other people’s children into the world.
Although a recent spate of surgeries have landed her in and out of the hospital, Mrs. Scheiner remains fiercely devoted to her work. In spite of physical pain or discomfort, she continues her rounds, soliciting funds and visiting the Crown Heights Community Council, which maintains her website. Every dime goes to her organization; at her kitchen table she is CEO, secretary, and bookkeeper. And every dime is tax deductible.
Mrs. Scheiner’s Yom Tov Fund can be helped by any amount. Please contact her at 718-771-2418 or donate through chcentral.org/donate.