Shortly before Shabbat on Friday, Jan. 1, Meira Loring, 5, sustained burns in an accident at her family’s home. Following surgery she remains in stable condition at Mercy Hospital. Since the incident, the Pittsburgh Jewish community has rallied to support Meira and her family, said David Knoll.
“We live in a special place, and we rally in good times and bad,” said Knoll, who is leading efforts — along with Chantal Belman and others — to assist the family with various needs.
“The response from the community was immediate, huge and efficient in terms of setting up meals for them, transportation, letting them know we are willing to help and ready to help when they are ready,” said Belman. “The community is having a visceral reaction. Everybody I talk to hears the news and their jaws drop, and they feel very sad for the family. They all relate, they all have kids, and it could happen to anybody.”
Over the past two weeks, Belman said that she has heard from over 100 people ready and willing to help.
“People just want to help at every level,” Belman said. “People who don’t even know them have gotten involved. They have contacted me and asked how they can help.”
Among those who have approached Belman are members of the non-Jewish community, who, after learning of the situation, volunteered to order the family a meal from Milky Way or Creative Kosher Catering.
“People have been very sensitive,” said Belman.
Both Knoll and Belman said that one avenue that individuals have offered support is through a community meal train. The meal-delivering process, which enables volunteers to sign up to cook and deliver a meal on a particular day, was established online by Belman. Hours after creating the meal train, 59 registrants had filled the schedule from the beginning of January through the middle of February.
Apart from individual responses, community organizations have also offered support.
Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh, Congregation Poale Zedeck, Shaare Torah Congregation and the Kollel Jewish Learning Center issued an electronic “Merit Meira” prayer campaign. Participants were asked to recite tehillim (prayers) while keeping in mind that their prayers should “serve as a merit for a speedy recovery for Meira Raizel bat Yehudit Tzviah.”
Belman said that other groups throughout the community have also offered assistance. “Chai Lifeline came to us. They are very generous and waiting to help and very respectful about when [the family is] ready.”
Belman also said that she has been in touch with the Lubavitch Women’s Organization.
The Red Cross and rabbis throughout the community have reached out, said Jessie Ackner, Meira’s aunt.
An Israeli group of Pittsburghers, led by Etti Martel, provided immediate support. “The Israelis came to me and said we know there is a meal train, but we don’t keep kosher, how can we help?”
Martel said that the group provided assistance and is ready to offer whatever the family needs.
“I’m very proud of them, I’m proud of my Israeli group” said Martel. “A lot of them don’t even know [the family]; it’s really nice that they want to step in and help.”
Belman said that she heard that teachers at Yeshiva Schools were making cards. Congregation Beth Shalom included Meira’s name in its weekly bulletin, dated Jan. 8, and wished the child a “Refuah Shlemah” from “our congregational family.”
Rabbi Seth Adelson, senior rabbi of Beth Shalom, added that the congregation also sent out a “brief mention in an email asking the congregants to pray for her.”
“We are praying for her, and she is on our misheberach list,” said Adelson.
Community Day School is in the process of making a donation to a fund established through Shaare Torah and plans on sharing the “Merit Meira” email campaign with its families, said Jennifer Bails, director of marketing and public relations at CDS.
“One of the most beautiful things about the Pittsburgh Jewish community is that both joy and tragedy unite people from a variety of schools and shuls,” said Rabbi Daniel Yolkut, spiritual leader of Congregation Poale Zedeck.
Knoll agreed that in times of suffering and health, denomination makes no difference.
“We rally around anyone who needs help, and we support our own, and it goes across all denominations,” said Knoll.
“I’m sure it happens in other communities, but in Squirrel Hill, where everything is so close it doesn’t matter what denomination you are, the community will give you whatever help you need.”
In response to the community’s actions, the family issued the following statement: “We are humbled by the outpouring of love, tefillot and chesed by our Hillel family and larger Jewish community. Meira’s recovery is slow but, G-d willing, will be a complete one. Please continue to daven and do chesed in her honor. Our family thanks you for your continued support. Leah, Jonathan, Zev and Meira.”
Belman said that she can be reached at email@example.com, but that for now the best thing is “to continue praying for [Meira]. It’s a long road ahead, and the best support [people] can give the family is to wait and listen and address the needs that they have.”
To help Meira, go to my.lotsahelpinghands.com/community/mighty-meira-ackner-loring-family.
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.