When a Jewish woman who had no family passed away in Los Angeles, different segments of the Jewish community came together to ensure that the woman received a proper Jewish burial.
Elizabeth Pick was 88 years old. She lived at the Olympia Convalescent Hospital (OCH) in Los Angeles for the past four years. Then she fell ill and was taken to the hospital. Miriam Vargas, an employee at OCH, would visit her in the hospital. One day, she found out that Elizabeth had passed away. Ms. Vargas contacted Yanky Lunger, corporate VP of human resources at OCH, who immediately set to work to arrange a Jewish burial for Elizabeth.
There were many obstacles to overcome. Since Elizabeth’s body remained unclaimed, the hospital intended to release it to the county, which would have cremated it. Frantically, the OCH employees began the search for some family members who could claim the body. There were two contacts listed in Elizabeth’s files at OCH. One of them turned out to be a casual acquaintance who was not interested in getting involved, and the other one could not be located. Another clue in the files was a mention of Mt. Sinai Memorial Park in Los Angeles.
Mr. Lunger contacted Naomi Silbermintz, who works for Mt. Sinai Memorial Park. “From the moment I heard about the situation – a woman with no family – it was my goal to get her buried,” says Ms. Silbermintz. She searched through the cemetery’s records and found that Elizabeth’s parents were buried at Mt. Sinai and that Elizabeth herself owned a plot at the cemetery. However, she did not leave any money for funeral expenses.
Ms. Silbermintz assured Mr. Lunger that Mt. Sinai, in conjunction with Jewish Family Services (JFS), would cover the cost of the burial, in accordance with their policy that every Jew is entitled to a Jewish burial. Mr. Lunger contacted the JFS, which verified the situation and offered to help with the funeral expenses. Mt. Sinai administration, however, declined the offer and assumed all the costs.
The next hurdle was getting the body released to the Mt. Sinai Mortuary. Mr. Lunger had to go to court, where he was appointed to take care of the burial. The process took several weeks.
Finally, right after Rosh Hashana, the paperwork came through. Mt. Sinai Mortuary prepared the body for burial according to halachah, which included taharah, shmirah, and tachrichim. The funeral was scheduled for Thursday, the 4th of Tishrei, at 12:30 p.m.
Mr. Lunger was worried that there would not be enough men for a minyan at the funeral. He contacted Hillygram and the Valley community email list and posted notices asking community members to come. To his amazement, about thirty people showed up. Several employees of Mt. Sinai Memorial Park also attended the funeral, including Ms. Silbermintz. “I’d like to thank the community for coming together on such a short notice, in the middle of a weekday,” says Mr. Lunger.
“People came from all walks of life,” says Ms. Silbermintz. “It was a tremendous chessed from everyone.” Rabbi Bruce Bloom performed the funeral services. Two employees of OCH spoke about Elizabeth. One of them is not Jewish, and it was her first time at a Jewish funeral. “She was extremely touched by the kavod [accorded to the diseased],” says Ms. Silbermintz.
Complete strangers attended the funeral because they were touched by the story. “They heard about the body languishing so long without being buried, and they felt the need to come,” explains Ms. Silbermintz. “It is the story of the Jewish community coming together to take care of our own.”
Mt. Sinai will continue to take care of the grave and will assume the cost of a monument for Elizabeth.