July 20, 2024
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July 20, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

The phone rang at 3 a.m. The sudden piercing ring in the stillness of the night frightened Rabbi Moshe Faskowitz, spiritual leader of the Torah Center Synagogue in Hillcrest, New York, as he leapt from bed to answer the phone. His heart raced as he wondered what emergency could have warranted a call at this hour.

“Is this Rabbi Faskowitz?” an elderly woman asked apologetically.

“Yes,” he replied, “and who are you? Is everything all right?”

“Rabbi, I am so sorry to call in the middle of the night, but I have been searching for you for the last three hours. I don’t know if you remember me. My name is Mrs. Flanagan from Canarsie.”

Rabbi Faskowitz tried to think as quickly as one could at 3 o’clock in the morning. He had lived in Canarsie years ago and so he strained to recall the name. Surprising himself, he suddenly flashed back to an incident he hadn’t thought about in years. “Are you the woman that I gave the ride to about fifteen years ago?”

“Yes, that’s me,” she said, sounding relieved but exhausted.

How could he forget it? One afternoon in the winter of 1986, he was driving on Ralph Ave. in Brooklyn as windswept sleet and rain sliced the air. Huddled under the awning in front of a kosher supermarket was a middle-aged woman laden with bags of groceries, hesitant to walk out in the rainstorm without an umbrella. He pulled alongside the curb and called out to the woman, “Hello, I am Rabbi Faskowitz of the Young Israel. Can I offer you a ride home?”

“That would be nice,” said the woman, “but I am not Jewish so maybe you don’t want to take me.”

“I am a rabbi and I’m glad to help anyone,” Rabbi Faskowitz replied with a smile. “Please get in the car. I’ll help you with your packages.”

The woman settled into the back seat of the car with her groceries, introduced herself by name and thanked the rabbi profusely. A conversation ensued and Rabbi Faskowitz asked, “Tell me, if you are not Jewish why do you shop in this kosher food market?”

“The food is not for me,” she replied. “I live in an apartment house, and there is an elderly Jewish couple on my floor. Both of them are invalids. They can’t get out to buy their own food, so once a week, I go out and buy what they need. I know they eat only kosher food so I shop at the store where I know everything is kosher.”

Hearing this, Rabbi Faskowitz was doubly delighted to have helped this considerate woman. He drove her home, helped her with the groceries and complimented her generosity.

Now in the middle of the night, Mrs. Flanagan was on the verge of tears. “Rabbi,” she said, “the man I brought food to all these years died yesterday. There is no one to bury him. He has no children and his wife died a few years ago. I remembered that you were from a synagogue in Canarsie and I have spent a few hours trying to find you. It took a while till I got your name and then finally someone told me you had moved to Queens. I just got your number from the operator so please forgive me for calling so late. You are the only rabbi I know. If you don’t help, the man will be buried by city authorities in Potters Field (a cemetery for the destitute and for unclaimed bodies). I know he would want to be buried in a Jewish cemetery. Do you think you could help?”

Rabbi Faskowitz was astounded at the kindness, consideration and perseverance of this woman. He quickly called Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn, where the police had taken the body and where it was being temporarily held in the morgue until someone would claim it. After numerous calls to authorities later that morning, Rabbi Faskowitz was able to get the body released for a Jewish funeral service and burial.

No one attended the funeral at the Hebrew Free Burial Association cemetery in Staten Island except Rabbi Faskowitz. It was sad, simple, and solitary. Tears welled in Rabbi Faskowitz’s eyes as he eulogized the gentleman softly to himself, and said, “You must have been an adam kahsher (worthy — lit., kosher) man, because by the virtue of kosher food, you merited Jewish burial.” Then in silent dignity the man was laid to eternal rest.

The Sages (Avos 4:2) teach: “One mitzvah leads to another mitzvah.” Isn’t it remarkable that this dictum holds true even after a lapse of fifteen years? Perhaps it was because, “Benefit is imparted through one who is meritorious” (Talmud, Shabbos 32a) that Rabbi Faskowitz’s kind gesture many years before on that stormy day in Brooklyn made him praiseworthy. Additionally it undoubtedly encouraged Mrs. Flanagan to continue her kindness. Hence, Rabbi Faskowitz became “deserving” — and thus merited to perform the ultimate Chesed shel emes (genuine charitable deed) — burying a meis mitzvah (an abandoned corpse).

By Rabbi Paysach J. Krohn

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