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An act of true loving kindness

Last week between 85 and 100 members of the Jewish community took part in hesed shel emet — an act of true loving kindness. What did they do? They attended a funeral for a woman they most likely had never met.


Holocaust survivor Ingeborg U. Lewis passed away on Jan. 23, 2017. A graveside service was scheduled for Jan. 25 at Rose Hill Cemetery. Arrangements were handled by The Louis Memorial Chapel and as is the funeral home’s custom, it placed an announcement of the woman’s death on the tribute page of its website, www.louismemorialchapel.com. Louis also sends an email blast to subscribers informing them of deaths in the community. The email blast for Mrs. Lewis contained an unusual request:

“Mrs. Lewis is a Holocaust survivor and has no known survivors. If time would allow you to attend her services, it would be greatly appreciated.”

This request gained the attention of dozens in the Jewish community. The tributes on the Louis website also are easily shared on Facebook. Many may not know you can do this — I didn’t know this was a possibility — and most of the recent obituaries have been shared only a few times. The link requesting mourners to attend Mrs. Lewis’ funeral was shared 211 times.

Since Mrs. Lewis was a Holocaust survivor, the Midwest Center of Holocaust Education also sent an email to members of its board of directors as well as to children and grandchildren of survivors informing them of the situation.

MCHE’s Executive Director Jean Zeldin said one of the responses she thought was particularly poignant came from someone who is not Jewish but who was planning to attend the funeral because he “didn’t want her to be alone.”

“I think such an outpouring of compassion says a great deal about our community. It is the ultimate mitzvah!” Zeldin said.

My friends at Louis told me they were amazed by the turnout. 

“Cars parked all over the cemetery and even in our parking lot. When we asked for help as pallbearers, at least eight men stepped forward. That is such a wonderful statement for the community. It was a request to the entire community that was well received and it was truly a mitzvah for everyone.”

Indeed, Jewish Community Chaplain Rabbi Jonathan Rudnick, who officiated at Mrs. Lewis’ funeral, described the whole thing as an “amazingly unexpected and touching story.”

“Having fully expected to have few people, if any, present other than myself and the deceased, I began to receive messages the morning of the funeral from a couple of people interested in helping make a minyan. When I arrived at the cemetery, I was overwhelmed with emotion and stunned to see so many cars and such a big group of people from virtually every congregation in town,” Rabbi Rudnick said.

“The Mishna teaches that all Jews are responsible for each other, each and every Jew. Our community demonstrated this commitment in a deeply holy and profound way last Wednesday afternoon. As Rabbi Rockoff communicated to me later that day, this was the epitome of a sanctification of G-d’s name, a kiddush Hashem.”

It is Rabbi Rudnick’s understanding that not only did Louis and MCHE put the word out that mourners were needed, but that JFS and the Rabbinical Association of Greater Kansas City helped as well. He said in cases such as this, our local Jewish cemeteries also often lend a helping hand.

“I believe what happened that day was the result of the best of community collaboration,” Rabbi Rudnick said.

Mrs. Lewis did have one friend, Jeff Cunningham, who was able to attend the service. He said her health over the past five years had not allowed her to develop or create many new friendships.

“I am sure that Inge was grateful for all those that came and paid their respects, but I am confident that Inge was more pleased with how I was treated by those in attendance. She would often call me her ‘guardian angel,’ as I had multiple opportunities to help over the past few years when she could not help herself. Because of this, she did what she could to protect me and my family in any way she could. The kindness and support shown by the Jewish community was a perfect gesture and gift given to me on her behalf,” wrote Cunningham in an email.

“Inge said we were a great example of how a Mormon and a Jew could get along and build a strong friendship. I not only felt that strong bond with Inge, but I felt it from the Jewish community at the graveside service. Thank you, and I know Inge would thank you too.”

In these trying times, when hateful speech and hateful acts seem to be the norm, our Kansas City Jewish community has shown its love for everyone, even those we don’t know. Let’s hear it for hesed shel emet!