Yesterday I attended the funeral of a woman whose whole mission on earth may have been to share with others how you are supposed to die.
Some background is important. Yesterday I joined a group of men, mostly Chabad rabbis, or their recruits, in an effort to pull together a minyan for a woman who otherwise was known to virtually no one.
Her name was Nancie Shapiro. Unfortunately that is about as much as we know about her. We don’t even know her Jewish name.
About seven months ago, Nancie’s pure and holy soul departed this earth, at a Framingham hospital. Having no named next of kin, the hospital held onto the body, and when no one claimed it, it was sent to a funeral home in Worcester. After months, the funeral home petitioned the Framingham Public Health Department to have the body cremated – a big no-no in traditional Judaism. Last month, the city approved the request.
The funeral home then put out a notice in the Framingham local newspaper, that one Nancie Shapiro was going to be cremated.
Rabbi Lazarus, the Chabad rabbi in Framingham, was notified about this notice from a community member. Perhaps the woman with a last name such as Shapiro was Jewish? Perhaps the rabbi could step in to help avoid this cremation?
First thing Rabbi Lazarus did was contact the funeral home to see if it was too late. Thank G-d it was not. He then asked them to put everything on hold for a brief period of time. He then reached out to the Chevreh Kadisha, a Jewish burial society, to see what could be done.
Some background work was done to ascertain that indeed Nancie Shapiro was Jewish, and to see if anything more about her life could be found out.
As it turns out, poor Nancie was in a difficult relationship until it ended, and she was the mother of a beautiful daughter. Unfortunately, her daughter was a victim of life and circumstances, and is now institutionalized. Nancie, having lived a life of pain and suffering, finally found herself destitute and alone on this earth. After some time, she got ill and passed away.
With no friends (or relatives capable of) taking charge, her body was left to lie alone, marking a devastating ending to an already tragic life.
Through a series of divine providences, and with the herculean efforts of Rabbi Lazarus, and the Chevreh Kadisha, and this very decent funeral home in Worcester, Nancie Shapiro was able to finally be laid to rest with a kosher and proper burial.
I don’t know Nancie Shapiro, it seems like not many people did know her, and the few who did hurt her, and then abandoned her.
What a waste. What a tragedy. What purpose did this woman and her suffering on this earth bring?
I am not G-d and I am not a prophet, so I cannot tell you anything with any level of certainty.
Perhaps, her tragic story was to bring a bunch of rabbis and laypersons together, to unite in this holy mitzvah of escorting the dead to their final resting place.
Perhaps, even more importantly, it was so that the story could be told: to communicate to the world about the growing crisis of Jewish people accepting cremation as an acceptable form of burial. Here you had a consortium of people, good people, who do not know one another, who joined hands to right this wrong.
They were united in the common goal, to make sure that a Yiddishehe neshama, a Jewish soul, should have a proper kosher Jewish burial.
She may have done more to inspire in her death than she did in her life.
She left a legacy of letting the world know, that this is how a Jew ought to be buried. And this is how a Jew must react – as Rabbi Lazarus did – when you see a fellow Jew in distress. Even if that distressed person is no longer alive.
Rabbi Nechemia Schusterman leads Chabad of Peabody. For more information on Jewish burial vs. cremation, visit chabad.org.