Abby and I met 40 years ago through a mutual babysitter. Our daughters were infants and we lived in very close proximity to each other. It was a time in our lives when we needed company, needed to vent about sleepless nights with teething babies, and needed some intelligent conversation while pushing our daughters on the swings in the park. We kept in touch over the years, even after my family moved to another suburb.It was a time in our lives when we needed company

In 2004, Abby’s mother-in-law passed away. I, along with three other women, performed the taharah, the ritual preparation for burial. After the funeral, Abby and I spoke about many issues related to Judaism, including why a taharah is performed, some of the details involved, and Jewish life in general. On that day, Abby learned that just as the Torah gives us instructions on how to live as a Jew, it also gives instructions on how to die as a Jew.

In May of 2014, I received an urgent phone call from Abby. Later, we both recognized that our friendship—all the words, all the time spent together—was distilled in that phone call.

Abby told me this story: She had a brother from whom she was estranged for decades. He had fathered five children with three women and was, for all intents and purposes, an absentee father, brother and son. At one point, he was on the wrong side of the law and spent some time in jail.

Abby’s brother had been living in Malabar, Spain, for the past four or five years and had recently been diagnosed with both pancreatic and bladder cancer. As he did not have enough money for long-term care in the hospital, he was discharged. Several months after the diagnosis, on a Friday, a friend found him dead in his apartment.

When Abby heard the news, she said she was very sorry, hung up the phone and went on with her day. She had not seen her brother in decades, and now she would never see him again. As far as she was concerned, it was the end of a very sad life filled with bad choices.

That night, Abby could not sleep. How could she leave her brother alone in a morgue in Spain, to be buried as a ward of the state? She thought of her beloved, sweet mother, who had passed away many years earlier. How could she do this to her mother? Or to her father, who had tried so hard to rehabilitate his son?

By Sunday afternoon, she decided that she would try to find a way to bury him via a Jewish funeral parlor in Malabar, but where to start? Suddenly, she remembered our talk after the passing of her mother-in-law and called me, hoping I would know what to do.

Although I was just as in the dark as she was, I told her I would see what I could do. Thus began the involvement of many people on both sides of the ocean to bury a Jew whom no one knew.

Sleuthing

We made a series of phone calls to Malabar, New York, Madrid and Gibraltar, yielding no results. Time was an issue, as Abby’s brother was in a morgue and we did not know how long they would keep him there. On Monday afternoon, I decided I could not handle this alone and called Paperman and Sons, the local Jewish funeral home. I explained the situation and said, “You are in the funeral business. Call a funeral home in Malabar and get him buried.” This was easier said than done, as we were seven hours behind Malabar and language was proving to be a huge barrier.We made a series of phone calls, yielding no results

On Tuesday morning, Mr. Paperman called to tell me that he had a Spanish-speaking employee who had lived in Malabar. The employee called the funeral home there and was able to get through right away.

The next issue was money. Abby was willing to contribute $2,000 CAD to the burial, but the funeral home wanted 16,500 euros—that’s about $25,000 CAD. Well, that was not happening, or if it was, I would be raising lots of money very quickly. Mr. Paperman and I decided to try to bargain them down, and in the end we settled on 5,000 euros, including transport, preparation, the plot, burial and the tombstone.

Abby’s Question

In the end, the compassionate people in the Jewish communities of Malabar, Malaga, Tourmalines and Montreal took it upon themselves to raise money for the funeral of a total stranger.

After hearing about the compassion and generosity of these Jewish communities, my friend Abby had a big question: Why, if her brother had caused so much heartache to others during his lifetime, did he merit to have so many people involved in making sure he was buried as a Jew? What did he do to deserve the kindness of so many strangers?

I explained to her that giving money for the burial of a destitute stranger is a great mitzvah, since the kindness can never be reciprocated. Total strangers generously participated in this mitzvah, knowing how important it is that a Jewish body be treated with dignity and buried according to Jewish law. Whether or not her brother lived a life of righteousness, he was part of a people that, in the end, are united as one.

There Are No ‘Accidents’ in This World

Abby’s brother was buried on Friday at 3:00 PM in Malabar, Spain, five days after she had called me. On Monday evening, there was a minyan (prayer service) in her home for Leizer ben Moshe. Although he was G‑d knew about Abby’s brotherestranged from his family, many family members came to the minyan. They, as did my friend Abby, needed closure. After all is said and done, there are no atheists in a foxhole. They needed to put their father and brother to rest in a Jewish way.

Forty years ago, G‑d made sure I met my friend Abby via a third party. Forty years ago, G‑d knew about Abby’s brother. He knew that one day this sad, lonely man would need to rely on the kindness of strangers. And so He put Abby and me together to make sure that would happen. There are no accidents in this world. Everything, from the fluttering of a leaf to the burial of a Jewish man in a faraway country, is divine providence. Often, we don’t see the hand of G‑d. This time, He was there for all to see.