Supreme courage for Jewish burial
The hospital was five kilometers from our home. Once, while visiting the patient, my husband observed that his condition was very serious. He made the acquaintance of the doctors, one of whom was also a deportee, and asked them to give the patient special attention.
A few days later, the doctor reported that the patient had passed away. This created a problem of how to give him a Jewish burial, for there was no Jewish cemetery there.
My husband was very troubled by this, and went to work making the necessary arrangements. First he went to the doctor and secured the hospital’s agreement to hold the body for three days and not to perform any autopsy—as was routine for those who died of typhus.
Then, with full knowledge that every step he took was being watched, my husband went to the telegraph office and sent a telegram to the Kzyl-Orda Jewish community requesting that they send a representative, and specifying why. He signed his first name only, without his family name.
Next day, the Rav of Kzyl-Orda, a Bukharan Jew, arrived. As I’ve already noted,4 he used to shine shoes for a living. But towards evening, he would go to the synagogue to serve as the Hakham5 of the city. He was no simple Jew when it came to Torah knowledge.
Accompanying the Hakham was the gabbai [director] of the burial society, a Kazakh Jew, dressed in traditional Kazakh clothing including a large red scarf. He had a very coarse face, was heavily built, and although quite ignorant of Torah—I don’t think he even knew any Hebrew—was deeply religious.
They had brought with them all necessary items—boards, and even unused linen for shrouds. Such items were not available to ordinary citizens, but thegabbai had told his son, an army officer, to supply him with as much linen as was needed and with the boards.
When they arrived, they came to our home, and sat down on the floor, as was their custom, to eat the food they had brought. Then they requested instructions about what to do.
First they went to the hospital to see whether the doctor had kept his word and not allowed the body to be buried with non-Jews. The doctor replied, “I made a promise to Schneerson, and as difficult as it may be, I will not do otherwise.”
The three of them—my husband and the two from Kzyl-Orda—went out into the fields to find a place suitable for digging a grave. They decided on a small plot not far from the hospital. This could not be done too openly, primarily because the one in charge of this burial—my husband—was a prominent “criminal.” He therefore gave the Bukharan Rav and the gabbaifull instructions, then reentered the hospital to ask the deceased for “forgiveness,” and went straight home to avoid notice.
At 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon, the two who had taken care of the burial returned to our home. They were highly gratified and thanked my husband profusely for giving them the opportunity to perform such a great mitzvah.
The Rav spoke with some familiarity with Torah texts. The gabbai, on the other hand, knew not a word of Yiddish, and certainly no Hebrew. In his great desire, however, to show my husband how deeply inspired he was, he strongly squeezed his hand and said, “L’chayim, Rabbi!” This was the only Hebrew word he knew, and he said it with such deep feeling inimitable only to a Kazakh Jew.
For the full diary entry please visit: http://www.chabad.org/1729186