A Burning Desire

Mrs. Robin (Davina) Meyerson and her husband Charlie (Yoshiyah) are Orthodox Jews in Scottsdale, Arizona, who are members of the Rabbi Ariel Shoshan’s shul, Scottsdale Torah Center. They are deeply committed to Torah and mitzvos, but to their family members they are an island unto themselves. None of their relatives are observant and their lifestyles are dissimilar to that of the Meyersons.

Mrs. Meyerson’s uncle, Arnold Isaacs, lived alone in a trailer in campgrounds in the backwoods of Las Vegas, Nevada. A sick man who had a pacemaker and artificial knees, he was eighty years old when he died in March 2011. He left a note stating that he wished to be cremated, since it cost only $600 and he didn’t which to impose expense of the burial on his relatives.

When Robin heard about this, she called her cousins, Arnold’s children, who lived in California, Colorado, and Las Vegas. She pleaded with them to have a Jewish burial for their father. They said they regretted that their father would not have a Jewish burial, but they insisted that they wished to carry out his intentions. They called a crematory in Las Vegas to make the arrangements.

In non-religious circles, many do not rush to bury a deceased person. Arnold’s body had been transferred to a crematory, but for two weeks nothing had been done.

Hearing how long it was taking for her cousins to decide when to have the funereal service, Robin called a Jewish mortuary in Las Vegas and asked the manager to be on standby just in case the family changed their mind so her uncle’s body could be taken from the crematory. She also contacted Rabbi Yehoshua Fromowitz of the Las Vegas Kollel to stand by as well to officiate at the funeral. Trying to do everything she could, she contacted Chevrah Lomdei Mishnah in Lakewood and sponsored someone to learn Mishnayos for her uncle. The learning would start the following Tuesday.

On Thursday, the siblings Alan and Rachelle flew from California and Colorado to Las Vegas to meet with their sister Valerie to decide when to hold the funeral service. They met in an elegant restaurant. The mood was tense; although the ambiance was pleasant, eerily there was a crackling fire in a hearth not far from where they were sitting. Valeria kept staring at the hissing fire as the logs turned into flaming red and the smoke rose from the flames. She told her siblings that on Tuesday night she had dreamed that her father told her he did not want to be cremated.

Could it have been a coincidence that learning had begun that day for the sake of Arnold’s neshamah?

The siblings were overcome with emotion, but the issue remained unsolved. Valerie, though, now felt strongly that conventional Jewish burial was what she wanted for her father. Early Friday morning, Robin once again called Valerie and brought up the topic. This time, to Robin’s shock and relief, Valerie agreed to the Jewish burial.

The Jewish mortuary collected Arnold’s body on Friday afternoon, assigned him a shomer, gave him a proper taharah,  and set the funeral for Monday, Rosh Chodesh Nissan, with Rabbi Fromowitz to lead the services. Robin flew into Las Vegas for the funeral.

Was it the Mishnayos that were now being learning for Arnold? Was it the Divine Providence of the fire place near where the family was sitting? We may never know. However, on Monday Arnold Issacs was given a proper Jewish burial in the presence of family and friends he had known years earlier.

After the funeral, Robin’s aunt, Mrs. Isaacs, hugged Robin and said, “G-d will repay you for what you accomplished for Arnold. I always felt this was the right thing.”

Mrs. Issacs then asked, “By the way, who is paying for the funeral?”

Robin told her that a Jewish Society was paying, but she did not tell her aunt that this was with the understanding that Robin would reimburse them. Therefore, this Jewish funeral was Robin’s chssed shel emes, a benevolent deed for which her uncle would never repay her.

Perhaps he did. Robin and Charlie had several children, but subsequently she suffered a few miscarriages. For five years they had been waiting for good news. On the day of Arnold’s first yahrzeit, Robin gave birth to a healthy baby boy. She names him after her uncle, Azriel Mordechai.

It was Divine Providence that Robin called me with this story just two weeks after I stood before the crematoria in Majdanek and Birkenau on a tour through Poland. A prolific writer from Israel, Mrs. Rosally Saltzman, asked her friend in Scottsdale, Arizona, to call me with this story. As I had gazed at those crematoria, I was appalled and sickened by the humiliation and indignity the Nazis imposed on the innocent Jews. I though if secular Jews would be confronted with those scenes, they would think twice before choosing cremation at the end of their lives.

I wanted to get this message across, and then Hashem sent me this story. From Poland to Israel to Scottsdale to New York-  incredible.

Reproduced from “Illuminations of the Magid” by Rabbi Paysach Krohn with permission of the copyright holders, ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications, Ltd.