When Hilda* died last summer at age 75, no one came to claim her. The formerly homeless woman had struggled with mental illness for decades and spent her final days in a nursing home, paid for by her social security checks. Her case manager could find no living relatives. With no one to bury Hilda, her body lay in storage at a funeral home, embalmed and alone, for nine days. Then her case manager remembered something important: Hilda had been Jewish.

Burying the dead is often called among the greatest mitzvot, because it is a favor that can never be repaid. Yet each year our communities experience the deaths of several indigent Jews — people who cannot afford the cost of a minimal dignified Jewish burial, which can cost between $5,000 and $7,000. Our Jewish Federation-supported Jewish Family and Children’s Service (JFCS) has also noticed a rise in the need for burial assistance. For those reasons, last year our Jewish Federation, JFCS and the Jewish Federation-supported Female Hebrew Benevolent Society (FHBS) created a coordinated plan, along with local cemeteries and funeral homes, to provide dignified Jewish burials for those in need. The plan came together just as we were notified about Hilda.

On September 25, 2018, Hilda was buried in a donated plot in Montefiore Cemetery, with all funeral arrangements handled at a reduced cost by Goldstein’s Rosenberg’s Raphael-Sacks Inc., and the fee split between JFCS, FHBS and our Jewish Federation. For our part, funds came from our newly-established Dignified Burial Fund, which began with a $10,000 donation and is now supplemented by purchases of our Memorial Tribute Cards. From now on, when you send a Memorial Tribute Card, you will not only be comforting a friend in their time of need, but also contributing to a very special tzedakah. As it now says in recipients’ cards: These contributions help to ensure proper burials for members of our Jewish community for whom this would not otherwise be possible — a mitzvah of the highest order.

To send a Memorial Tribute Card and support the Dignified Burial Fund, click here.

*Not her real name.