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In Union County, Orthodox do-gooders are here to help
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In Union County, Orthodox do-gooders are here to help

All-volunteer group assists with car trouble and other emergencies

A Chaverim volunteer gets to work fixing what’s wrong. 
A Chaverim volunteer gets to work fixing what’s wrong. 

Uri Abramov is a guy with plenty of technical skills. He has his own multi-media company that provides music and lighting and video for events in the Jewish community. 

But when he recently locked his keys in his car, those skills weren’t enough.

He turned to Chaverim Union County, a group of Orthodox Jewish volunteers, based in Elizabeth, who provide roadside assistance — from unlocking cars to helping a bride stuck in the snow get to her wedding — and help in nonmedical emergencies, like burst pipes. Their services, funded through donations, are provided free of charge.

Abramov went public with his appreciation, posting on Facebook: “Within 10 minutes they were here! Opened it within five! Love you guys!!!! And I’m on my way to my meetings. :)”

Yehuda Janks is one of five dispatchers who field calls and messages and distribute them to the volunteers. A former Elizabeth resident, he now lives in Brooklyn but still comes to Elizabeth to work. He said that in 2015, the Chaverim dealt with 335 calls for help. That’s small-scale compared to the main Borough Park Chaverim in Brooklyn, which gets hundreds of calls a day, but the Union County branch is growing.

When it was suggested to Janks that this article might attract more callers, he said, “That would be great. That’s what we want. The more challenging it is, the better we feel. We love seeing someone who was stranded and helpless in the middle of nowhere back on the road again, or able to catch their flight in Newark airport.

And, he added, “They’re really appreciative.”

Chaverim is affiliated with an umbrella organization started in 1999 in Monsey, NY, by Rabbi Shaya Zev Erps, to help stranded motorists, the elderly, and those with handicaps. The word chaverim means “friends” in Hebrew. Headquartered in Brooklyn, it has branch groups throughout the East Coast, including five in New Jersey — one in Union County, one at the Jersey Shore, and in Lakewood, Passaic, and Teaneck.

The Union County group was started by three friends in 2011, after they got locked out of their van and had to wait two hours for help. They now have 70 members, between 18 and 60, and all Orthodox. The only criterion is that they be “available to help others.”

The volunteers repair flat tires, boost car batteries, provide directions to those who are lost, and help with emergency roadside assistance. They will even provide members for a shiva minyan or drive home the inebriated on Purim.

In 2008, the Lakewood Chaverim group was honored with a State Senate resolution. In 2011, the same group received a community service award from the Lakewood Police Department for their help during a blackout when members volunteered to direct traffic at intersections, and for helping people locked out of their cars or homes.

Abramov said he heard about the Union County Chaverim a few years ago when they came to the rescue of a rabbi, visiting from overseas, who was stuck in the snow at Newark Airport.

“It’s a wonderful thing when people give where they’re able to and what they are the best at doing,” Abramov said. He has done it himself, sometimes providing the services of his company, Olam DJ & Productions, to those who can’t afford the normal fee for their celebrations.

“If you call AAA, you might have to wait hours,” he said. “These guys came in minutes. They have the skills and the equipment needed.”

Chaverim Union County can be reached at 908-866-6166. To volunteer or donate to the group, contact unioncountychaverim@gmail.com.

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