The photograph and Facebook post of a volunteer from Chaverim of the Five Towns and Rockaway — an emergency roadside-assistance nonprofit — who stopped to change a motorist’s flat tire last month went viral, with more than 2,200 likes and nearly 1,000 shares on the social media platform.
On Aug. 25, Mary Kate Tischler was driving home to Seaford on the Southern State Parkway with her daughter Ruby, 7, when she realized her car had a flat tire. Tischler pulled over onto the grass shoulder and searched for a phone number for AAA. Before she could find it, a black Jeep pulled off the highway in front of her.
Kasriel Zakutinsky, a Chaverim volunteer, was at the wheel of the Jeep, traveling for his recruitment job for Five Star Nursing, when he spotted Tischler’s vehicle. Having grown up Orthodox Jewish, Zakutinsky, who lives in Brooklyn, was taught to lend a helping hand.
He joined Chaverim — which is Hebrew for friends — when he attended the high school Yeshiva of Far Rockaway, and has been volunteering for nearly 10 years. When he saw Tischler, he immediately thought of his mother or his wife in the same situation, and there was only one choice for him. “To me, it’s second nature,” he said. “I don’t think twice before helping somebody.”
Shocked by Zakutinsky’s kindness — and the number of tools in his trunk — Tischler agreed to let him fix her flat. She wanted to express her gratitude, but initially she didn’t know how.
“I was thinking, I should give him some money,” she recounted, “but it didn’t feel right to give him money because he clearly wasn’t looking for money, and was doing it out of kindness.”
When a driver in distress calls the Chaverim helpline — (718) 337-1800 — a volunteer dispatcher sends out a text message, which is received by roughly 100 other volunteers, and the most conveniently available one responds, Zakutinsky explained. In urgent cases, such as when a child is locked in a car, more volunteers will respond. New members are trained at the site of emergencies by experienced volunteers.
Established in the Five Towns in 2003, Chaverim has expanded its areas of coverage, and now answers more than 3,500 calls a year. The response time for 90 percent of the calls is five minutes or less, according to the organization’s website, which is usually much faster than any other form of roadside assistance.
Help from its volunteers is available 24/6, excluding the Sabbath, from sunset on Friday to sundown on Saturday. “Members of Chaverim 5T/R start their day as early as the first neighborhood risers in the morning,” the website states, “and end as late as the last person getting home.”
Besides offering emergency services, the organization, which is recognized by both the New York state and Nassau County police, hosts defensive driving classes and car seat safety events throughout the year. Besides the Five Towns and Far Rockaway, there are many other Chaverim divisions and chapters, which are organized by geographic area.
Because Zakutinsky made such an impact on her, Tischler shared her gratitude on Facebook, posting her story with a photo of him as he changed the tire, outfitted not in a mechanic’s overalls but in a collared shirt and yarmulke.
The post attracted attention almost immediately, making its way across the internet, and was shared widely among the Orthodox Jewish community. “It’s been really heartwarming, because so many people have reached out to me to say what an impact the post has made,” Tischler said.
Zakutinsky and Tischler were able to reconnect and communicate through LinkedIn, where he told her more about Chaverim and other Orthodox Jewish volunteer groups, including the ambulance corps Hatzalah and the citizen watch group Shomrim.
Tischler followed up with another Facebook post, linking to a donation site for the Chaverim on GoFundMe. “People need to be reminded of how important it is to look out for one another,” she said, “no matter your religion, race — it doesn’t matter.”
Zakutinsky said he was glad the post had such an extensive reach on behalf of his community. “I feel like it’s important for everyone to know that we [Orthodox Jews] are just like every other race, color and religion,” he said. “We are friendly, nice, respectful people and we often can easily get a bad rep.”
As a nonprofit, Chaverim of the Five Towns and Rockaway relies on donations, financial support from corporate sponsors and other local organizations. To donate, go to www.chaverim5tdispatch.org.