By Zevi Rosenblum
Three years ago, I was sent on Merkos Shlichus to Jacksonville, Florida, with my chavrusa, Benyamin Lezak. After spending 3 weeks of searching unsuccessfully for Jews, I was ready to give up, and sat in our parked car searching for flights back to New York.
That’s when I saw Max Ilano.
He was taking his dog for a walk and I jumped out of the car hoping to give my Shlichus prospects one last chance.
I asked the young man if he was Jewish. He replied, “I’m half Jewish.” His mother is a Jew and his Hebrew name was Amichai Mordechai.
Did you ever put on Tefillin?
No, came the reply.
Then and there, I helped him put Tefillin on for the first time, celebrating his Bar Mitzvah, I then invited him to join us on Shabbos.
Before heading back, I met Max at a Starbucks coffee shop for a goodbye chat. Without giving it much thought, I asked him out of the blue if he would like to join a Yeshiva.
What’s a Yeshiva? he asked, shocked by the very concept that I later explained to him.
He eventually agreed to come up to New York for a week to check it out. Sure enough, Max fell in love and stayed for a full year, growing in Judaism and imbuing the Yeshiva with his energetic and burning soul.
This week, I received the horrible news that Max passed away.
Through the pain and grief, I quickly called his father to offer my condolences and ask about the funeral. When he responded that Max would be cremated, I burst into tears.
I pleaded with the father to honor Max with a proper Jewish burial. It was a very hard conversation, but I insisted that this is what Max would have wanted. Max’s father finally agreed.
Immediately, I made a few phone calls and found out that a Jewish burial in Jacksonville would cost $10,000, a sum I had no idea how to find.
After speaking with Dovi Katz, a senior member of the chevra kaddisha in Miami, we were able to get Max’s body sent to New York where Chesed Shel Emes assisted me with arranging Max’s levaya. The levaya took place on Thursday in Woodridge, NY.
I’ve learned the tremendous lesson that each of us has the power to take a seemingly impossible challenge, and turn it into an opportunity to help a fellow yid.