(Written by Sid Bridge of Norfolk:) There was funeral two weeks ago. Someone that nobody knew. All we knew was that he was Jewish. The story is incredible!
Someone called up the leader from our local Jewish Federation (a very non-observant Jew) and explained that an Jew had passed away, leaving no family except a crippled wife. He had no money and they weren’t sure what to do. I was shocked when I found out what the federation guy said: “Cremate him.”
Thank G-d, he wasn’t cremated. A member of our orthodox community found out and got our Rabbi involved. Our Rabbi informed the congregation the next morning, and by the end of the day, the money was raised to give this Jew (that none of us knew) a proper Jewish burial. I should also point out that two people from our community offered to pay whatever cost was left over after the first wave of donations came in.
A funeral was scheduled and ten men agreed to show up. I called the Rabbi before the funeral to offer to say Kaddish since there was no living relative capable of doing it. When it was time for the funeral, we didn’t just have ten men. We had more then twenty Torah-observant orthodox Jews attend this funeral in the sweltering heat and humidity as a thunderstorm rolled in. Our Rabbi spoke beautifully, even though he had nothing to say – even the man’s wife didn’t have any information for him. Then, we all took turns shoveling with the greatest care until the burial was complete. Finally, I said Kaddish. My contribution wasn’t a big one. I didn’t have money to donate, just my time and my voice.
His widow was aglow. She was positively beaming with pride over what we did for her husband.
I consulted with the Rabbi after another congregant suggested that I continue saying Kaddish for the deceased throughout the period of mourning. I’m not obligated, but the Rabbi thought it was a good idea to say it for one month, so I took on the responsibility. The Rabbi spoke beautifully that weekend about how amazed he was at the kindness our community did for this person that none of us knew. What merit did he have to earn a proper burial? What did he do in his lifetime that he should be accompanied by so many Torah scholars?
The next weekend, I went to Rockville, MD for my niece’s Bas Mitzvah. The synagogue in Rockville doesn’t usually get 10 men for daily prayers, and when I told my brother in law, he went out of his way to make sure we had a minyon of 10 while I was there because I was saying Kaddish. So, once again, this unknown merited having minyonim arranged for him in another community for reasons we will never know.
So, why am I writing about this? Do I want a pat on the back for saying Kaddish? No.
I’m actually a little disappointed. All of the merit that our unknown friend is getting in the world to come for his proper burial and my Kaddish is only a fraction of what he could have gotten. We all jumped up and worked our tales off to show what a loving crew we can be… but we waited until after he was dead. Sure, he and his wife didn’t come looking for us beforehand, but if even on his deathbed he had done one extra mitzvah – one of G-d’s commandments, he’d be getting an even bigger reward now.
Our community has a responsibility to reach out to other Jews, show them kindness, and make them proud to be Jewish – before they die. Yeah, we did a great job coming together, and maybe his wife will become more connected to Judaism because of it, but we should have found him first, before such a sad ending.
This month is the Hebrew month of Elul. The month of Rosh Hashanna – the time of judgement. Life and death are in the balance. This coming year, I don’t want to reach out to Jews I can say Kaddish for. I want to reach out to Jews I can hang out with.