Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Man rescued from cremation and Jewish burial in the New Mexico desert

(Chabad.org/News) –

Friday, December 31, 2021 at 11:29 am | 27 Tevet 5722

Rabbi Bery Schmukler and Pinchus Sudak, a rabbinical student from London, drove hundreds of kilometers to provide a proper Jewish burial for a homeless man who was about to be cremated.

When Rabbi Chaim Schmukler of Chabad, New Mexico, Albuquerque received a call from a Jewish man saying that his homeless brother was waiting for the cremation at the city’s morgue in Amarillo, Texas, the rabbi knew he was going to be quick had to act.

He called his brother, Rabbi Bery Schmukler, in Las Cruces, New Mexico, 225 miles south and only 45 minutes from the Texas border. The clock was ticking as the time for the cremation drew near and Rabbi Bery took action.

“The man thought we might say Kaddish to his brother,” Rabbi Bery told Chabad.org. “He didn’t expect us to actually bury him.” But the rabbis knew that a proper Jewish burial was essential. Rabbi Bery called a funeral home in Amarillo to have the body transferred to the Jewish section of a natural burial site in Belen, New Mexico – a 5-1 / 2-hour drive. Then he made the 3 hour drive from Las Cruces to meet the hearse driver.

Schmukler, Co-Director of Chabad of Las Cruces with his wife Chenchie, sees Divine Providence at work throughout the process. Pinchus Sudak, a yeshiva student from London, spent a few days with the Schnuklers on the way to the national parks. The rabbi included the young man in the Chesed-Shelemen mitzvah. “We packed the car with 20 gallons of water, cloth, a shroud, and soil from Israel – everything needed for a kosher burial – and set off for the 230-mile drive,” said Schmukler.

The rabbi notes that people often choose this burial site because it does not require a coffin, it is in a natural desert setting, and the cost is lower. The deceased was buried in the Jewish part of the cemetery.

“We did the cleaning on site, cleaned the corpse and made the taharah on the desert floor,” says Schmukler. “We dressed him, said the prayers and buried him in a shroud and tallit. The driver watched in awe. He just had to see what we were doing. He even took my cell phone with him to take photos. “

While this was the first time the rabbi oversaw a funeral in the desert, he organized funerals for elderly Jews in Las Cruces, a senior community known for its warm weather and affordable living. “We have a lot of seniors here and we saved some from cremation.”

Schmukler estimates that there are 1,000 Jewish families in Las Cruces, a city of 110,000. The Jewish community includes retirees, professors from New Mexico State University, and medical students from nearby New Mexico State University’s Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine. Tourists also often stop by when traveling to the Southwest.

Schmukler’s Chabad House is one of four in New Mexico. In addition to the Chabad House of his brother Rabbi Chaim Schmukler in Albuquerque, which he runs with his wife Devorah Leah, there are also Chabad centers in Santa Fe and Taos.

“It felt like we could help a Jew when no one else could,” said Rabbi Bery Schmukler. “It’s about being there for another person. I hope it will inspire people to know that there are mitzvah opportunities. “

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