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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.

Praying at Miriam's grave.
Praying at Miriam's grave.

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.

While stationed in Bangalore, India, we decided to head north to Hyderabad and visit an Israeli family living there.

Before setting out, we searched online for any other Jews living in the area. We were excited to come across J., and we sent her a message explaining that we would be visiting, and were interested in getting together with her.

Our time in Hyderabad was wonderful. We put on tefillin with our Israeli friend, had a lovely conversation with his family, and even had some time left to enjoy the historical city.

We were anxious to hear back from J., but with no internet connection, we had to wait until the evening to check if she had responded.

When we returned to our lodgings we saw an enthusiastic response with her contact details, and a warm invitation for us to visit.

It was already late at night and we had a morning flight the next day, so we weren't sure if we would be able to meet, but we resolved to try.

We called at nine the next morning, and she graciously invited us over. We told her that we were in quite a hurry to catch our flight, but since she was only a five minute drive away, we would stop by on our way to the airport.

We got into a taxi, and attempted to give the driver directions, but it was not easy with our lack of communication. We called J., and in no time her security guard and the driver were talking in rapid Hindu.

We finally arrived. She invited us in, offered us drinks, and we started talking. We all know the saying "It's a small world," but sometimes you have to travel all the way to India to really experience that. While discussing her Jewish upbringing in the States, it turned out that J. was born and bred in Natick, MA, the very town where my partner, Mendel Fogelman, lives with his family as emissaries of the Rebbe! What a fascinating display of divine providence! We had traveled 15 hours and across 10 time zones, only to meet a Jew from our own backyard.

Towards the end of our visit, we discussed the importance of lighting the Shabbat candles, which she agreed to do, starting this Shabbat.

With no time to spare, we said our goodbyes and dashed off to the airport, thankful to have met such wonderful people.

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