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Ward Crimes

Bracha Greenfield

He claimed he was an impoverished end-stage cancer sufferer at Sloan Kettering with a wife and “zeese kinderlach” back in Denver, ingratiating himself with families of other patients and davening by the bedsides of their loved ones

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

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“He spent hours reciting Tehillim next to my father. We all felt he was someone very special, some sort of lamed-vavnik, and we found ourselves opening up to him and sharing our personal problems with him.”

I

n 2015 Gedalia Mann*, real estate broker and noted askan, found himself in the unenviable position of spending countless hours with his sick mother, who was fighting — and ultimately losing — her final battle with leukemia at New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

When necessary, he’d sleep over in the nearby Friendship House, a building housing bikur cholim apartments. The Friendship House had recently been set up through the philanthropy of one of his best friends, real estate magnate David Lichtenstein.

“It was a tough time,” Mann recalls. “I was spending a lot of time at the hospital, watching my mother progressively get weaker, and at times felt lonely and isolated.”

He needed moral support, and apparently Hashem decided to send some his way. At the Friendship House, he ran into an acquaintance, Rabbi P., who introduced him to a personable, slightly quirky man who frequented the place as well. David (Yisroel Yosef) Orgel was about 50 years old and dressed in the chareidi style, along with a short bushy black beard and glasses.

Orgel told the two men that he was a rebbi with a wife and five small children who lived in Denver, and had come to Sloan for cancer treatment. In the long breaks between chemo sessions, he spent time with other patients and their families. Orgel and Mann soon became hospital buddies, and the rebbi from Denver would visit Mann’s sick mother frequently, giving chizuk and reciting Tehillim.

Orgel befriended many New York families —including relatives of Rabbi P. — and frequently spent Shabbosim with them. But he also spent many nights and weekends in the Friendship House. “When he was around on Shabbos, he’d often have to share a room, but he didn’t like having a roommate, and would leave the next day,” recalls Friendship House director Yehuda Osina. “He liked the room off the kitchen best, where he could interact easily with the people coming in and out.”

Orgel shared with Mann that he’d had brain surgery, but the cancer had spread to his liver and his leg. “He wasn’t sure he was going to survive,” Mann recalls. “It seemed like a terrible situation.”

Like Mann, Rabbi P. and one of his brothers had befriended Orgel while their father lay sick at Sloan beginning in the summer of 2014. Between their father’s three children, their spouses, and numerous grandchildren, the family kept a constant vigil at his bedside. Orgel, who radiated a certain charm and charisma, became so friendly with all of them that he seemed like part of the family. Before long, he was often spending Shabbos at Rabbi P.’s brother’s home.

“He was wonderful — like a malach,” Rabbi P. recalls in his trademark ebullient manner. “If one of us was staying very late, he’d offer to let us use his bed in Friendship House, and we’d think, ‘How nice — he doesn’t even know us!’ He would buy cheesecake for the nurses to encourage them to give my father special care. He even helped one of my sons set up a shidduch date at the Friendship House.

 

“His modus operandi is apparently to get to know people, ingratiate himself with them, become part of the family, and then ask for handouts”

“He spent hours reciting Tehillim next to my father — he knew the entire Sefer Tehillim by heart. We all felt he was someone very special, some sort of lamed-vavnik, and we found ourselves opening up to him and sharing our personal problems and information with him.”

The family felt so close to him, and so sorry for his dismal situation, that they opened their wallets as well as their hearts. Rabbi P.’s brother gave Orgel $5,000 of his own money to help Orgel pay his medical costs and support his struggling family; the members of his shul raised another $10,000 for him. In addition, he enlisted a prominent community rav in Flatbush to put out an appeal in his shul, and several thousand more dollars were donated from the shul’s chesed fund.

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