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Running on Chesed: Moishe Lederer Remembered

Barbara Bensoussan

More than a decade has passed since 9/11, and Osama bin Laden has been dead for a year. But the horror he perpetrated is still taking lives. Hatzolah volunteer Moishe Lederer, who inhaled the toxic fumes at Ground Zero, recently passed away after a lifetime devoted to his favorite pursuit: helping others.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

moshe twin towers backgroundWhen the Hatzolah calls started coming in on 9/11, Moishe Lederer, a longtime member of the Queens Hatzolah, didn’t hesitate. As soon as the first tower collapsed, he was on his way. Ten years later, when he found himself suffering from mysterious flu-like symptoms, he was diagnosed with a rare 9/11-related illness that claimed his life within the year.

Close to 100,000 9/11 first responders paid the price for their selflessness with lung damage and other complications that resulted from breathing the toxic, ash-filled air. For Moishe Lederer, however, selfless volunteering on 9/11 and the days following was no one-shot deal. In his 49 short years in this world, he accomplished enough chesed for multiple lifetimes. But it wasn’t just that he helped other people. The discreet, tactful way he went about it is an object lesson for all of us in how to be an oheiv Yisrael.

It’s only a short five weeks since his petirah that I meet Lederer’s wife Lisa and two of his children (daughter Leah Herbstman and son Chaim Yosef; the oldest daughter, Nechama Elbaz, lives with her husband in Lakewood, and the youngest son, Nossi, was in yeshivah).

They’re a wholesome-looking group, forthcoming but refined, and with a ready sense of humor despite the heartrending nature of the subject. In fact, they have so many happy, inspiring memories that the conversation brings forth, in turns, both laughter and tears. 

Lisa says her husband came by his fine middos and community sense honestly; his parents, Rabbi and Mrs. Avigdor Lederer, always had an open house, and her father-in-law was a pillar of Rabbi Shaingarten’s shtiebel in Boro Park. “ Moishe took those qualities to an extreme,” she says with a smile.

“He made me laugh,” she says. “And he never lost that simchas hachayim.”

From the beginning, Lisa was a cheerful accomplice in her husband’s over-the-top chesed exploits. When she cooked her first shanah rishonah Shabbos meal of two pieces of chicken and kugel and her husband returned from shul with six hungry bochurim in tow (it was a good thing that they had brought food along…just in case…), she good-humoredly learned to prepare for an army in the future.

She also learned to expect the unexpected while on a family vacation. Shortly after their marriage, for example, they were on their way to Monsey when they spotted a frum family stranded on the side of the road with a broken-down car. They helped them get to a garage, where mechanics announced they didn’t have the right part to fix it. The family, who was from Brooklyn, decided they’d just have to get themselves home somehow for Shabbos — but how?

Moishe immediately piped up, “How perfect! We were also planning on going to Brooklyn. We’ll give you a ride!”

I ask Lisa if she sometimes railed when their plans took these unexpected detours. “No,” she replies simply. “I loved it.”

She even loved it when one evening, about 12 years ago, he invited her to join him to literally go the extra mile: he proposed they walk together, during Yom Tov, to a hospital where a terrified friend was scheduled for surgery. What Moishe hadn’t quite fully explained was that the hospital was a good ten-mile walk from their home.

“We left at midnight — the surgery was scheduled for six in the morning — then walked home after it was all over and our friend woke up,” Lisa recalls.

Her daughter Leah remembers it well: “I can still see my parents arriving home, sunburned like two tomatoes!”

With his penchant for helping others, it was only natural that Moishe would join the local Hatzolah corps shortly after they were married. But according to  Chaim Yosef, “My father never liked to show off his Hatzolah involvement. As far as he was concerned, you’re in it to help people, nothing more, and he never discussed the cases at home.”

“There are a lot of things he didn’t tell us about,” Lisa says. “He used to go to Maariv at ten and not come back till 11:30. Sometimes it crossed my mind that maybe he was davening an awfully long Maariv. Later I learned that he used to stay behind to empty the garbage, fix the lights, put back the seforim, and so on.”


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