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An Unforgettable Kaddish

Margie Pensak

Baltimore community honors unusual case of “meis mitzvah”

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

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FINAL HONORS Lillian, who was awarded lifetime membership in the Jewish War Veterans of the United States organization upon turning 100 just a month ago, was to be buried the next morning in a graveside ceremony complete with military funeral honors — but no minyan

Y ehudis Barer of Baltimore hesitated to open her door for the man who rang her doorbell. However, the stranger looked trustworthy enough.

He introduced himself as Ben Dubin, the accountant of their next-door neighbor, centenarian Lillian (nee Polis) Rosen. After breaking the news that Rosen had just died, Mr. Dubin told a tale that made Mrs. Barer realize this was a case of “meis mitzvah.”

Lillian, who was awarded lifetime membership in the Jewish War Veterans of the United States organization upon turning 100 just a month ago, was to be buried the next morning in a graveside ceremony complete with military funeral honors — but no minyan. She and her predeceased husband, Paul, both older when they married, were childless. With no surviving siblings, there would be no shivah and no one to say Kaddish for her.

“I spoke to my husband, Dovid, about it, and then called Rav Dovid Heber to ask him what we should do,” recalls Mrs. Barer, a neighbor of 20 years. “The Rav said it would be very chashuv to get a minyan together in Lillian’s house, where people would have been sitting shivah, so Kaddish could be said and Mishnayos could be learned in her memory.”

Mr. Barer simultaneously arranged, through former Chaverim volunteer Dovid Weingot, for Chaverim members to attend Lillian’s funeral. A one-time Maariv minyan on Wednesday evening was also organized. Despite the frigid, rainy day, with 45-mile-per-hour wind gusts, people came to complete the minyan and help fill in the grave. In addition to Chaverim, Ben Dubin, Mrs. Barer, a great-niece, and a handful of volunteers were witness to a very touching Honor Guard ceremony.

Lillian, a native of McAdoo, Pennsylvania, served as an army nurse during World War II, from May 1944 until she was relieved from active duty in the Rhineland, in February 1946, with the rank of first lieutenant. She was awarded the American Campaign, World War II Victory, and European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medals.

Per US law, a military funeral honors ceremony, led by two members of the armed forces, is mandated for eligible veterans. A bugler played taps, before the Army service representative folded the American flag — which had been draped over Lillian’s casket — into a triangle. He presented it to Marie Jones, who cared for both Lillian and her mother over a span of 40 years.

After leaving the military, Lillian worked for the Maryland state health department, providing services to special-needs children. Her Jewish former coworker, Ilene, told her small, shivering audience — most of whom knew nothing about the woman they had come to honor — how seriously Lillian took her job.

Mrs. Barer, who was very moved by the funeral, was duly impressed by the volunteers who participated. “While we were at the cemetery, a member of Chaverim told the officiating rabbi that he would say Kaddish for Lillian the entire year.”

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