Eddie Ford, a ninety-year-old Holocaust survivor, never married and had no children. Born in Budapest and living in Toronto for many years, he had little connection to Yiddishkeit; he did not keep kosher and did not even have a Jewish name.
As reported in Yediot Achronot, Ford had been hospitalized over the past several months in the oncology ward of Sunny Brook Hospital, a large Jewish facility in Toronto, and during this time he began returning to his roots. As his end neared, Eddie asked to meet with a local rabbi, and the hospital arranged for Rabbi Zale Newman to visit with Eddie.
Ford was apprehensive about what type of response he would get from Rabbi Newman. He was anxious not about his demise, but about not having a Jewish burial after his passing. In addition, he wanted to adopt a Jewish name. Together with Rabbi Newman, he chose the name “Ephraim ben Dov”, who reassured him that he would receive a proper Jewish burial.
Ephraim Ford passed away during one of the coldest spells recorded, making the task of gathering a minyan for his funeral a daunting task. On the evening before the funeral was scheduled, Rabbi Newman’s post on social media read, “Please note, members of the Jewish community in Toronto, we need a minyan to be present tomorrow afternoon for a charming Holocaust survivor who passed away. We will gather tomorrow, January 31, in the Pardes Chaim cemetery to accompany him on his last journey. This is a great act of kindness. Please wear warm clothes.”
This request was more challenging than it sounds. As a blizzard raged, the temperature was expected to plunge to minus 25° degrees Celsius. He did not receive any responses to his post, and the rabbi was afraid that he would not be able to provide a proper funeral with a minyan as he had promised Ephraim.
Little did he know that his post had been shared and distributed amongst the caring members of the Toronto Jewish community. Over 150 Jews braved the subzero weather to attend the funeral. None of them knew the deceased, but everyone felt an obligation to come and honor the dying request of a lonely Holocaust survivor.
Ronen Yisraelski, a filmmaker living in Toronto, who is currently working on a documentary about the Holocaust-related CBC network, was one of the people who came to the moving ceremony.
“When I saw the post, I was editing my work,” said Yisraelski. “I left everything and just flew right over, [since] my father is a Holocaust survivor and I could not bear the thought that this person would be buried alone.
After the funeral, Rabbi Newman posted: “My friends, yesterday I was afraid that I would perform a funeral for a charming Holocaust survivor without a minyan, in fact, without anyone else … I sent a post and two emails to different groups. When I arrived at the grave, I found 150 people in a huge warm circle … which was fitting to escort Eddie in a proper and loving way to the next world. I, in tears, think how sad and amazing it is to be part of the Jewish people who, at short notice, would leave everything, go a long way, stand in an open field in a freezing wind to accompany a small Jew from Budapest, who was unknown to most of you, on his last journey. So, tell me, “Mi k’amcha Yisrael—Who are you like Israel?”
The story made its rounds and was called “the story of the day”. Yisraelski related that according to a recent study, “Over sixty percent of Canadians do not know of the Holocaust, do not know what Auschwitz is, and are not aware that six million Jews were murdered. This is the human story that all of Canada is talking about. In the shadow of rising anti-Semitism and the trend of Holocaust denial, the story gets attention, the average Canadian does not know such gestures, leaving everything on a day of blizzard and reaching the funeral of someone you do not know.”
Mi ke’amcha Yisrael.