Before I begin writing this article, I must refer to the two great losses the Kew Gardens Hills community suffered last week that were very respectfully covered in last week’s QJL: Dr. Majer Rosenfeld and Dr. Allen Bennett zichronam li’vrachah.
I am not here to deliver any lengthy obituary of my own. I wish, however, to add a personal touch to both men, whom I knew well.
Dr. Rosenfeld and tbl”ch his wife Judith were longstanding members of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills. For a background of Dr. Rosenfeld, I refer you to last week’s paper and the article by Shabsie Saphirstein. I recall very distinctly Dr. Rosenfeld’s davening. He was very intense and often could be heard all the way up to the bimah where I davened. Davening played a very serious role in his life. So did Judaism. I would often hear from him after davening his anguish with the situation in Israel and the political landscape in America.
On a very personal level, I probably owe Dr. Rosenfeld my life, or at least my quality of life. About 19 years ago, during an electricity blackout in the Northeast, I suddenly began to hemorrhage, due to the extra strain I exerted at the time and having had a specific surgery just two days before. All I can say is the experience was as frightening as it was excruciating. I needed emergency help to rid me of my pain and stop the bleeding until I could get to Mount Sinai, where my surgery was performed. My father zt”l drove me to Dr. Rosenfeld’s office in Forest Hills, which he opened just for me at the time. I do not know how I would have gone on another ten minutes without his medical attention. I am forever indebted to him for that, as well as to Judith, who paved the way for me. May the many z’chuyos they both have serve him well in shamayim and to Judith here in good health.
Dr. Bennett was one of those personalities that when he was in the room, you knew it. He was much larger than life. He was overjoyed when doing good things for people. When he would stop by our house every Motza’ei Pesach with a can of Heineken beer to make Havdalah, you could see the glee all over his face. A trip with him to the city was an experience, as he knew all the police officers at the Midtown Tunnel entrance who let him use the express lane. We have a precious picture of my father writing a letter in his sefer Torah that he celebrated in his house as Dr. Bennett beamed. He will be sorely missed.
Now back to Earth. Literally. Last week, the great governor of New York signed a bill that a person may sign an agreement that, after death, his or her body will be used as compost. Yes, compost to fertilize a garden. I guess she is taking the verbatim meaning of the pasuk in B’reishis (13:19): “For you are dust, and to dust shall you return.”
Compare this attitude to that of the Torah, drawn from this past week’s parshah (B’reishis 47:29). Yaakov bids his son Joseph, “Please do a kindness and truth with me and bury me not in Egypt.” Rashi famously comments that the kindness that we perform with the dead is the ultimate kindness, as we can never look forward to being repaid by the deceased.
My sister Vicky and her husband Rabbi Meyer Berglas, who currently reside in Israel, are friendly with a Jewish convert named Rose from their days in Toronto. Rose, born a Catholic, was a student of nephrology, who studied at a major hospital in Toronto. She observed that the Jewish religious medical students were the ones who treated the dead, whether a deceased patient or a cadaver, with the greatest respect. That inspired her to investigate the Jewish religion. Today, Rose is Shoshana, happily married to a wonderful Jewish man, living in Upstate New York, and has three wonderful children, all shomrei mitzvos.
It has been said that you can judge the living by how they treat the dead. Now our society has reached a new low.
Rabbi Elchonon Zohn, Executive Director of NASCK (National Association of Chevra Kadisha), held a Zoom-based workshop on Motza’ei Shabbos on the crisis of cremation. Rabbi Zohn reported that in Florida and elsewhere, over 50 percent of Jews are opting for cremation rather than in-ground burial. Their reasons may be financial, emotional, or even environmental, but Jews are voluntarily committing the ultimate offense against their holy bodies. To try to persuade them that the Nazis cremated our bodies no longer works with today’s Jewish generation. It is beyond awful.
The signing into law that a person can request to be used for compost is about as low as you can go. Do you recall, following the destruction of the World Trade Center, the painstaking efforts that were expended to find any body part of human remains? Then through DNA, the attempt was made to identify the miniscule part so it could be given the dignity of some form of burial.
The fact that, today, zero dignity is assigned to the human body and fetus is an indication that society no longer has respect for life. That is why murder is rampant. Six-year-old children shoot their teachers. That is why a 12-year-old is authorized to radically mutilate his/her body. Nothing means anything. He is she. She is he. Right is wrong, wrong is right. Now you know why the Torah forbade tattoos.
Years ago, noted Israeli-American author and columnist Ze’ev Chafets, who is generally to the right politically, wrote a column in which he condemned yeshivah students for not being able to do anything. “Can they grow a tomato?” he asked with dripping sarcasm.
Rabbi Berel Wein at that time responded to Chafets and pointed to his journalistic career, which relies on brain and no brawn.” Can Mr. Chafets grow a tomato?” he shot back.
Can Governor Hochul and those who follow this bill grow a tomato? The answer is, quite literally… Yes!
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld is the Rabbi Emeritus of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, President of the Coalition for Jewish Values, former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link.