September 06, 2017
AMI•LIVING | SEPTEMBER 6, 2017 | 15 ELUL 5777
I By Rabbi Yoel Gold I

Chana and her siblings coordinated their schedules to drive out to Beth Israel Hospital in Brooklyn to visit their ailing father.

Generally, they found their father Rabbi Lowy in good spirits. Their father's roommate was Jan Hurtis, an older Jewish man fighting cancer, and Chana couldn't help but notice that his side of the room was always empty of guests. As it turned out, Jan had never married and had no children. He had faithfully cared for his parents until they passed away. He had two cousins in Florida and no one else. Children and grandchildren trooped into the room to visit Chana's father, doing their best not to disturb his roommate, but with each guest, Jan's eyes widened even further.

One of the Lowy brothers saw the forlorn look on his face and drew him into the conversation. He was smart and funny, and they all enjoyed talking to him. Visits with their father were now visits with Jan too.

After a few weeks, Jan reported that he had told his cousin in Florida about his roommate's children, who had drawn him into their family circle. “You know what he said? He said, "Why would they be so nice for no reason? You'll see. They want something from you."

Chana laughed awkwardly, not sure what to say. For the next few weeks, she continued to visit her father and Jan, advocating for both of them to the doctors.

Eventually, Rabbi Lowy was transferred out of Beth Israel, ending the family's regular visits there. Chana lived nearby, so she continued to drop in when she was able to see Jan, until the day came when he was transferred as well, to a hospice in Manhattan. His cancer was terminal.

On the day of the move, Jan was all alone—until Chana and her husband, Yanky, came to help him gather up his belongings. They continued to maintain their relationship with Jan visiting him in the hospice.

One day at work, Chana called the hospital and asked to be connected to Jan Hurtis. Instead of the usual, "Just a moment, please," the receptionist paused uncomfortably. "Mr. Hurtis is not available," she said. "Are you family?"
"No," Chana said, "but I just visited him on Monday. Can you please connect me to his room?"
After hemming and hawing and placing Chana on hold for a while, the receptionist finally told her the truth: Jan had passed away suddenly, with his Floridian cousin by his side. Because he had no close family and little money, a quiet cremation was planned.
"Thank you," Chana said. She hung up and immediately called Yanky at work. "We have to do something or they're going to cremate him!"

They didn't have much hope of stopping the inevitable, but Yanky had an uncle in Florida who knew Jan's cousin, and he put the two in touch. No matter how many arguments they posed, the cousin retorted, "But he wanted to be cremated!" The argument went on for hours. Finally Jan's cousin said, "You know what? I'll talk to our other cousin and see what he thinks."

In the meantime, Yanky called Misaskim and asked them to get someone to stay with the niftar until an agreement was reached.

When the cousin called back, he confessed that the real issue was money. Besides the two cousins, there was an assortment of more distant relatives, but none of them could afford to pay for a proper burial.

"Don't worry," Yanky said. "Our community will take care of it.

At last, the body was released into the care of Misaskim. The problem was, Yanky hadn't exactly been truthful. He had assured Jan's cousin that a funeral would be arranged, but he had no idea how to go about doing it. The Edelsteins and the Lowys didn't have the money for a funeral either.

But the community came through, as usual. A neighbor told them about the Hebrew Free Burial Society in Staten Island, which provides kevurah for the very poor. Misaskim performed the taharah, and Yanky found a rav to speak. Eventually a matzeivah was procured. The Lowy siblings contacted people who had known Jan during his time in the hospital.

When Jan's cousins arrived on Sunday for the levayah, there was a sizeable gathering of people there to pay their last respects. Despite the loneliness and poverty that had followed him all his life, Jan Hurtis was buried honorably, like any other Jew. And his cousins watched in awe.

The extended Lowy family has not forgotten Jan and the lessons he taught them even in death; that it's never too late to care about a fellow Jew, and that no catastrophe is inevitable when confronted by chesed.

Rabbi Yoel Gold, rabbi of Congregation Bais Naftoli in Los Angeles,California, and a ninth-grade rebbe at Mesivta Birkas Yitzchok, has inspired hundreds of thousands of people with his stories. To watch some of his videos or to share your story with him, please visit InspireClips.com.

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