Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

Dying Is Not So Easy

Zalman Velvel
Rabbi Levi’s cell phone buzzed on his night table. He opened one eye, and looked at his alarm clock. Three a.m.
It’s probably bad news, he thought, maybe even terrible news. That’s what a call in the
middle of the night usually is. What catastrophe awaited him, he wondered? He went down a mental checklist as he reached for the phone and hit the receive button.
“Rabbi, she’s gone.”
Then the caller began sobbing.
At 10 AM the following morning, Rabbi Levi was sitting at his old beat up  desk, with one wobbly leg, groggy from lack of sleep. He punched in a familiar number on his cell phone – Sunshine Memorial Gardens and Cemetery. He blew away the steam on his third cup of strong tea until the call was answered. Then he began:
“Gedalya, I need a favor … and you probably need a mitzvah.”
“Ruchel Leah?” Gedalya ventured. He could imagine Rabbi Levi’s charming smile at the other end of the phone line.
“How did you know?”
“Mendel Leibowitz left ten minutes ago.” Gedalya looked at his watch. He took off his dark black coat jacket, then loosened his tie.
“Gedalya, Mendel lost his house to foreclosure, and he hasn’t worked in three months, what with having to shuttle Ruchel from doctor to doctor, clinic to clinic, and then finally, hospital to hospital. He can’t afford $15,000 for a funeral, and you know it. We’re in a horrible recession here in Sunshine, in case you haven’t noticed.”
“We’ve noticed, Rabbi, believe me we’ve noticed. It hasn’t stopped people from dying … only from paying.”
Gedalya sighed and gripped his phone so tight his fingers began to ache. He knew he was in for a battle here, a battle he could not lose. The owner of the funeral home told him one more charity case and he was o-u-t OUT. Fired. Unemployed.
There was a long pause. The conversation evolved into a game of Rabbinical Chicken – the first one to talk … lost. Gedalya held his breath and waited. And waited. And then he waited some more.
“Well, Rabbi, if you have nothing more to say, I have a busy day, and-”
“Yes, Rabbi.”
“You know Jewish law. Ruchel must be buried as soon as possible. The Hevra Kadisha will be finished preparing her body by one o’clock. Can we have the funeral at two?”
“Rabbi, I also know business law. When will Mendel be here with the check?”
“Gedalya, he has $3,000. That’s it. Not a penny more. And it’s all coming from family. Her family. His family is all gone.”
“Then … when will you be here with the remaining twelve thousand dollars, Rabbi?”
“Gedalya I have eighteen dollars and thirty-six cents in my checking account.”
“Have you thought of cremation? It’s only a thousand dollars.”
Gedalya regretted the words as soon as he said them. The silence that followed was so filled with guilt he had to take three deep breaths, and his stomach turned end over end four times. Cremation was not an option for an observant Jew; immediate burial in a plain pine box was the only choice.
“I’m sorry, Rabbi.”
“Apology accepted.”
Another long silence.
“Can you work with me on the price, Gedalya?”
Gedalya hemmed and hawed, and then said:
“Two thousand dollars is the most I can take off, Rabbi. That means you’re still short ten thousand dollars.”
And there goes my commission, Gedalya though, right out the window. My wife is going to love this. Oh boy, is this going to hurt when I get home. How will I tell her?
“Rabbi, Mr. Fein said he can’t see you now. He’s on a very important conference call,” the new receptionist told him. She was blonde, perhaps twenty-two, with a southern belle look about her.
“Did you tell him it was an emergency?” Rabbi Levi asked.
“Yes, Rabbi.”
Rabbi Levi did not like the way his own voice sounded so whiney, nor did he like coming to the office of the president of his synagogue, hat in hand, once again begging for money. But there are times when only gold can solve a problem, and Michael Fein was The Man with the Gold. He could hear Michael in his mind, repeating the phrase, “I live by the real Golden Rule, Rabbi. He who has the gold, makes the rules.”
“Rabbi, is there something else?” the receptionist asked, interrupting his thoughts.
Rabbi Levi turned and left the office.
As he walked down the street, heading for his old beat up Dodge, he wondered who would he ask next?
No one.
There was no one else to ask. He had asked everyone. Everyone. Twice.
© Copyright 2012 by Zalman Velvel Inc.
You may print this story for yourself, but not make copies without author's permission.

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