Posted by: geolocke | 2017/01/16

The Ultimate Act of Loving Kindness

One of my hobbies is genealogy, the act of tracing one’s family history. Actually, it is more than a hobby for me, but something less than an obsession.  I’ve been conducting genealogical research for more than 20 years now and, although I’m not what I would call a professional genealogist, I do know my way around the typical records used in the research.

Late last year I was asked by a friend to help  try to solve a mystery in their family.   Their father had been deposited in an orphanage shortly after his birth in 1914 in New York City. The story they had heard was that their father’s mother had died giving birth to her only child and the child’s father had disappeared after that.  My friend’s father was eventually placed with an aunt and uncle and grew up with their family, but he never heard more than rumors about his own parents.

My journey through the records led me to discover that the parents were Hebrew immigrants from Hungary living in Harlem  down near the Harlem River. The child was born in Harlem Hospital, almost a mile and a half from the parent’s home, and the mother had died given birth, and that the father disappeared from the records. This all seemed to match what I had expected to find, as it usually turns out that the germ of truth lives on in the stories that are passed down through the family members. But what I discovered next was unexpected.

I verified that the boy was placed in the Hebrew Orphan’s asylum and lived there for over a year. But I also found out that the mother’s body remained in the Harlem morgue for over a month until a group called the Hebrew Free Burial Association  came and took her body and buried her in Mount Richmond Cemetery on Staten Island.  What’s more, this organization and cemetery is still existing and active today, still performing this sacred duty.

The description of the service they have been providing since the 1880’s, according to their website ( is “performing chesed shel emet (the ultimate act of lovingkindness- for the deceased who are unable to repay the kindness)”

Now, I do not claim any knowledge of Jewish burial rites or customs, but I do recognize this as a sacred act of charity. I am also reminded of the actions of Tobit as described in the book of the same name in the Christian Old Testament. This one act of charity performed over 100 years ago still pay dividends today, as my friend now has a place to go and visit and pray for the repose of their grandmother’s soul, which is itself an act of Charity.

Even though we are people of many different faiths and denominations, we can all find common ground through the acts of burying and praying for the dead. And in that common ground we can begin to see that we are all truly sisters and brothers, each and every one of us children of one glorious and loving Creator who made us and cares for us all in the ultimate act of Loving Kindness.



  1. Magnificent!!!!!

    Sent from my iPhone



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