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The Man I Never Met
By Shmuel Marcus

The term ďAfterlifeĒ is a tragic misnomer. Perhaps, ďContinues LifeĒ would be a more accurate description, since Judaism teaches that life does not begin with birth nor end with death. So says King Solomon in Ecclesiastes, ďAnd the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to G-d, who gave it.Ē

The Lubavitcher Rebbe would often note the basic law of physics (the First Law of Thermodynamics) that no energy is ever ďlostĒ or destroyed; it only assumes another form. Now certainly when we talk about the soul, or the spiritual energy that animates us, it cannot disappear merely because the body has ceased to function; rather, it passes from one form of existence to a higher, exclusively spiritual form of existence.

by Rabbi Shmuel Marcus

Itís early and cold as I step onto the black school bus in Kharkov. True, school buses with noisy kids tend to shine lemon yellow, but a school bus with a coffin in it turns instantly black.

Two fellow yeshiva students and myself sit on one side, two old women sit on the other. The shorter woman repeatedly touches her eyes with a wet handkerchief. I figure itís her husband on the floor between us in the box.

I am thankful for the fact that itís a school bus and not a hearse. This way, we arenít riding with a dead man; he is getting a ride with us.

Nowadays, many Russians cremate their dead because itís simpler and cheaper. But to me, a cremated Jew is the saddest thing. Thereís nothing you can do. Eternity has already happened.

Kharkovís very own Rabbi Moshe Moskowitz says, ďIn the former Soviet Union itís hard to live as a Jew, and even harder to die as a Jew.Ē Today, a traditional burial is almost reason for celebration.

Baruch Israelnaya is the man in the box and family cannot afford to bury him in the Jewish way. Rabbi Moskowitz is doing a true kindness for Baruch, and I notice that about once a week Baruch shows up with a different name and face, and Rabbi Moskowitz does the same kindness every time.

But this winter morning is the first time Iím asked to help, and Iím sitting on the bus trying to focus on what has to be done and not on what Iím doing.

The school bus stops and we get out. Thinking I was too young to know, fresh snow had intentionally covered most of the graves.

My friends Yossi and Yefim carry the wooden box to a small gated area marked with a Star of David. There, Rabbi Moskowitz and a few others wait silently in front of open earth.

On the other side of the pit, four Russians dressed like railroad or construction workers look me up and down. I try not to look back. Gravediggers have no family or friends, and please, never mistake them for one of us.

Rabbi Moskowitz says a prayer about being tied in the bond of life. Kaddish is said for the first time. The handkerchief is still wet, and Iíve become a gravedigger. And death has become eternal life.

( Excerpt from Chicken Kiev available at www.kehot.com )

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