Thirty-five years after Candice attended Camp Gan Israel Day Camp in Richmond, Va., the connections that remained from that summer stopped her cremation and had her brought to a kevuras yisroel.
By Menachem Posner – Chabad.org
Candice spent much of her 50-something years in a non-Jewish environment.
But she clung to the Jewish observances she gained as a child at Camp Gan Israel Day Camp in Richmond, Va., saying Shema every night, lighting candles before Shabbat and observing the holidays to the best of her ability.
She had little in the way of material possessions, says her sister Suzie, “but she never saw the bad in anyone. Her home was literally open 24-7 to anyone in need, including children from unimaginably difficult home lives. They knew they were safe with her.”
When she passed away earlier this month, her husband decided that she would be cremated and sent her body to a non-Jewish funeral home with the expectation that the process would take a few days. A close friend of hers, Shannan, believing that the cremation had already been done, knew that she was Jewish and wanted to know if there were specific Jewish rites or prayers that should be performed upon retrieving the remains.
She reached out to Rabbi Chaim and Yocheved Adelman, Chabad emissaries in Amherst, Mass., who had directed Gan Israel in Richmond from 1983 to 1987 and who had remained in touch with Candice, known to them as Shoshana, throughout the decades.
“We were quite close to Shoshana and her two sisters, Wendy and Suzie,” says Rabbi Adelman. “We’d have them at our house occasionally for Shabbat and holidays.”
Suzie says even after the family relocated west from Richmond to Powhatan, Rabbi Adelman would drive an hour each morning and again each afternoon to ensure that the girls could attend camp during the summer months.
“They included every child, no matter your background,” Suzie says. “We went on kosher scavenger hunts, we sang songs about Shabbat and loved being Jewish.”
The connection continued even after the Adelmans moved to New England and Shoshana relocated to Brooklyn to attend Beth Rivkah high school in Crown Heights for a short while.
Ultimately, she returned home to Virginia, married a non-Jewish man—as did her sisters—and raised two children of her own. For decades, the Adelmans would send her supplies for Jewish holidays such as matzah for Passover.
“In recent years, we knew that Shoshana was not feeling well, and we’d call from time to time to find out how she was doing,” says the rabbi.
Shoshana passed away earlier this month, having spent several months in and out of hospitals and nursing facilities. Her husband had opted to cremate her since he could not afford a burial.
Cremation is anathematic to Jewish tradition, in which the body must be returned to the life-giving earth from which it was taken.
‘Talk About a Mitzvah’
Yocheved Adelman, hoping against hope that the cremation had not yet been done, called the husband to ask if he was willing to cancel it and allow her to have a Jewish burial, and he agreed. Rabbi Adelman then contacted Rabbi Levi Brashevitzky, program director of Chabad of Tidewater, the area where Shoshana had been living.
“I still cannot believe how Rabbi Brashevitzky pulled everything off so fast; he was absolutely amazing,” says Rabbi Adelman. “He worked with the family, the funeral home the Jewish Burial Society to make the burial a reality and affordable.”
Rabbi Adelman drove down to Tidewater (530 miles each way) with his 17-year-old son, and Rabbi Brashevitzky helped arrange for a minyan of 10 Jewish men to attend the funeral in a plot generously provided by the Bnai Israel Jewish cemetery.
Some of the funding came from a local family whose father had been cremated and wished to prevent the same tragedy from occurring to others.
“Talk about a mitzvah,” reflected Suzie, the sole surviving sister (Wendy passed away earlier this year). “I had no idea that my sister had remained in touch with the Adelmans for 35 years, but they kept the connection.”
Following the burial, the funeral party regrouped at Chabad of Tidewater where the mourners were served the traditional meal of hard-boiled eggs and bread, and some male family members put on tefillin.
“I am 50 years old,” says Suzie, “and this is the first Jewish funeral anyone in our family has ever attended. I cried and cried before the funeral, but not afterward, because my sister’s soul is at peace. Candice would be dancing if she knew how things turned out.”
And the Jewish soul of Shoshana bat Yosef was thus escorted to its heavenly abode with full honor and dignity.