| Shul with a View |


“Mr. Lawrence Stein requested a Jewish priest to perform last rites. When can you get here?”


IT was early on Tzom Gedaliah when I received the call.

The screen displayed “Saint…Healthcare.

“Am I speaking to Father Rabbi Eisenman?”


“This is Monique from Saint…Healthcare. Mr. Lawrence Stein requested a Jewish priest to perform last rites. When can you get here?”

“I’m on my way.”

The nursing home called him Lawrence Stein.* However, I knew him as Laibel. And while driving to South Jersey for more than two hours, I reminded myself about Laibel, picturing him in my mind.

He would come to shul only on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

He was childless and was born in Dej, Transylvania, in 1929.

When he waxed nostalgic, he would regale me with stories of his childhood mentor, the eventual Rebbe of Dej, Rav Tzvi Meir Paneth, known as the Imrei Tzvi.

However, that was years ago, and both men took divergent paths that would never converge after the war.

Laibel was a broken man when he came to these shores after the war, the sole survivor of his entire family.

All the rest were sent to Auschwitz.

Laibel was determined to become a good American. Along with his peyos, he shed his Yiddishkeit. Except for three days a year, he never returned to shul. He never lived too close to Passaic but would drive in for the High Holy Days. Eventually, he moved to a retirement community, and we lost touch.

When I arrived, I couldn’t help but notice the recognizable Catholic icon perched on top of the building.

Laibel was almost skeletal in appearance, and I had to control my shock.

“Rabbi, thank you so much for coming. I must speak with you. I know I don’t have much time to live. I need one favor from you.”

Between sobs, Laibel explained that when he was a young chassidish bochur, his mother forbade him from going out with some friends at night.

“I was so angry with my mother. I told her the most terrible words a boy could say, and mind you, I was her only son. I screamed, ‘Mama, I will not say Kaddish for you when you die!’

“I immediately regretted my words. However, I could never take them back. Then war came, and life became a living nightmare.

“When the war ended, I realized my words were horrifically prophetic. I was still in a DP camp in Germany in October 1945, hoping she was alive, when I found out she was sent to the gas chambers in September 1944.

“My promise was, unfortunately, fulfilled. I never did say Kaddish for her as her first yahrzeit had already passed.

“I married, and until this day, have never said Kaddish for her, even on her yahrtzeit. Rabbi, I am filled with guilt and can’t leave this world with this guilt. Please help me! I know she was killed on September 20, 1944. Can you promise me you will Kaddish for her on her yahrzeit?”

I promised.

Laibel stopped crying.

“Thank you for lifting a big burden from my shoulders. Now I feel I can leave this world in peace.”

Laibel closed his eyes. His final mission had been completed. I left him sleeping and asked the nurses to let me know if anything happened.

On the way back to Passaic, the call came.

“Hello, Father, this is Monique from Saint…Healthcare. Mr. Lawrence Stein expired at 1:22 this afternoon.”

I cried for him and for all the other Laibels in this world.

I arrived back in Passaic for Minchah. Before going to the shul, I checked the Hebrew date for September 20, 1944.

The date was Gimmel Tishrei.

Tzom Gedaliah.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 983)

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