Saving a Yid from Cremation in the Northwest Arizona Desert

When shliach Rabbi Mendel Super of Lake Havasu City, Arizona, found out that Robert planned to be cremated, he sprang into action and raised the funds for a proper kevura, then making the six-hour trip to Phoenix to officiate at his funeral.

By Mendel Ehrenreich –

Jewish law commands each Jew to return the gift from Above—our physical bodies—to the earth and that the deceased is treated with reverence. So when a Chabad rabbi in a small town in Arizona had the opportunity to help a fellow Jew, who’d recently died, he rushed to help.

Lake Havasu City is in the center of Arizona’s vast northwest desert. It has long been seen as too remote, not a fertile ground for anything Jewish. That was until Rabbi Mendel Super, his wife, Itta, and their children moved there in 2022, to establish Chabad of Lake Havasu City.

Since their move, the Supers have provided religious services and Jewish opportunities to the residents of the city and also worked closely with local business and organizations to build up Jewish infrastructure. A key part of their ethos is to provide for any Jew at any lifecycle point in their lives.

It was no surprise then that last year, during the festival of Chanukah, the Supers received a phone call from a local hospice provider telling them that a Jewish patient had requested to see a rabbi.

Wasting no time, the rabbi headed over to the address provided and met Robert Goldberg, 67, and his mother, Margo, a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor. Robert had received the diagnosis for terminal Stage Four oral cancer several months earlier and he and his mother, who lived in Newport Beach, Calif., had come to Arizona to spend his last days in the company of friends.

Robert seldomly attended anything Jewish; he never had a bar mitzvah or even received a Jewish name, but when he knew his days were numbered, there was something within him telling him to turn to G‑d.

Upon meeting the Goldbergs, the rabbi helped Robert wrap tefillin for the first time in his life. Thus, he officiated the “bar mitzvah,” offered the mother and son duo some traditional Chanukah doughnuts, and lit the menorah with them.

It was a moment of connection that Robert never had; he was being cared for and cared about. Super then helped the sick man say the end-of-life prayers (Viduy) and Shema.

In conversation with Robert, the rabbi discovered that due to his financial situation, he had chosen to take the path of a prepaid cremation in the place of a kosher and traditional Jewish burial.

“I approached Robert with an offer,” Super told “I asked him, ‘Robert, if I can arrange to collect and raise the funds for a Jewish burial for you, would you be willing to change your plans?’ To which he immediately and resoundingly answered, ‘Yes!’”

The young rabbi sprung into action and contacted the Sinai Mortuary of Arizona in Phoenix—the closest city with a major Jewish infrastructure. He was told the cost of transport and burial would be $8,000. He then contacted some generous donors and friends and quickly raised the necessary funds to secure a burial plot, cover transfer fees and for a matzevah (tombstone). All this for a Jew he had not met until that day.

Not long after, on the seventh of Tevet (Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023), Robert Goldberg returned his soul to his Maker with the settled conscience that his last wish would be fulfilled. He would be buried as he was born: as a Jew at the Jewish cemetery in Phoenix, Ariz.

Super had been in touch with Robert’s mother throughout this all. They had even made arrangements for her to travel from California for the funeral together with a woman who would volunteer her time to help the elderly woman travel. Unfortunately, at the last minute, the plane never took off, and Mrs. Goldberg and her companion could not make it.

As per Robert’s request, Super made the six-hour trip down to Phoenix and officiated at his funeral. Twenty or so Jews from the Phoenix area came to pay their respects to a man they had never met.

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