While in Bangalore we were privileged to perform the mitzvah of chessed shel emet, kindness to the deceased, which is considered particularly meritorious because the recipient can never thank or repay the giver.
We learned about Miriam, who had arrived in India over 30 years ago and became one of Guru Sathya Sai Baba’s ten million followers. Over the years, she reached the guru’s inner circle and lost all connection with her Jewish roots. Less than two years ago, Rabbi Rivkin, Chabad rabbi to Bangalore, made her acquaintance.
She was already quite elderly and living in a nursing home. She had made it very clear in her will that she wished to be cremated after her passing, according to the traditions of the ashram, but after many long discussions with Rabbi Rivkin, Miriam’s feelings for her Jewish heritage began to re-emerge. She changed her will, stating her desire to have a Jewish burial in the old Jewish cemetery of Bangalore. A short time later, in December of 2010, Miriam passed away. The small local Jewish community participated in her funeral, and she was given a proper Jewish burial.
Soheil, a Muslim gravestone maker, was commissioned to create the tombstone for Miriam’s grave. Though more than a year had passed since her death, the gravestone was still not ready. We were asked to see to it that the gravestone be erected as part of the mitzvah of honoring and remembering the deceased.
We tried contacting Soheil numerous times without success. We were finally able to reach him five days before our scheduled departure. He told us that he had been sent an email with the gravestone details, but it was in Hebrew, and he was not able to open it. If we wanted the gravestone created, he told us, we would need to make a CD with the file, and he would be able to work with that.
We quickly arranged for the local office-supplies store to create and deliver the CD to Solheil who managed to have the gravestone ready by our last day in India. So, on our way to the airport we stopped at the cemetery, a historic part of the Jewish presence in Bangalore, founded in 1904. It is a partitioned section in the front of the Muslim cemetery, with some 50 Jewish plots.
We directed the workers to Miriam’s plot. While setting the stone, one of the workers turned to us.
"Mother?" he asked.
"No." we answered.
"Jewish family," we replied, and at that moment we truly felt the powerful bond the Jewish nation shares.
When the stone was in place, we recited Psalms, and then intoned Kel maleh rachamim – the prayer for the soul of the departed.
May the soul of Miriam bat Yosef be bound in the bond of eternal life.