Adele Levine writing for the Washington Post describes her experience of calling the wrong rabbi to take her father’s funeral – and finding out that it was the right call after all.
When my father found out his cancer had returned, he called a family meeting. Not about the cancer, but about his funeral. He said he wanted Rabbi Eli to do the service.
I was surprised to hear that my father even knew a rabbi. He was hardly religious. But he said that this particular rabbi had once been a stand-up comedian, and he and my mother heard him speak at a local event. He found Rabbi Eli very engaging and wanted him to do his funeral.
Levine and Rabbi Eli seemed gently bemused by one another as they talked on the phone about her father, the fact that he had never met the rabbi personally, and that none of the family were members of his congregation. Nevertheless, Rabbi Eli responded gracefully to her request.
After I hung up the phone, I asked my mom if she remembered what Rabbi Eli looked like. She said he was tall with red hair.
The rabbi who met us outside the funeral home was short with black hair, and the long dark beard and traditional clothing that immediately marked him as an Orthodox Jew. He gave me a curt bow instead of a handshake, since Orthodox men do not touch women who are not their wives.
I bowed back, as I came to a sudden realization: I had called the wrong rabbi.
“But,” writes Levine, “he was the right rabbi for us.”
He might not have been a comedian, but his service was a total home run. Many people came up to me later and told me it was the best memorial they had ever been to. Each of them, it appeared, had been affected not just by the rabbi’s speech, a profound discussion of life and death, but also by his Orthodox appearance. …
He concluded the service by telling the congregation, if we had a choice between going to a funeral and going to a party, that we should always go to the funeral, because at a funeral you will learn the most about life. Perhaps that was the reason he had decided to do our funeral. I will never know.
Levine’s story of unexpected blessings and the gentleness of a stranger leading her family into the mourning of her father’s death is found in the Washington Post here.
Featured image: Antony cimetiere juif petits cailloux multi-colores by Djampa (Own work) [GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons