By Harriet P. Gross
People send me things. I have just received The Extraordinary Death of Eddie Dinkowitz from a distant cousin.
The events it tells took place over a year ago, but I hadn’t heard the story before. If you have, please forgive me for repeating, because it is worth repeating …
During a meeting in his Los Angeles synagogue, writer and film director Salvador Litvak’s rabbi announced the death of a mentally disabled man who had lost his parents during childhood and spent almost all his life in institutions. His Jewish Family Services conservator used to bring him to the synagogue occasionally, but not for a long time due to his failing health.
The next morning, Litvak posted on “Accidental Talmudist,” his Facebook page, “A man has died with no family or friends to mourn for him. Edward Dinkowitz will be buried today at noon at Mt. Sinai cemetery …” When he got to the cemetery, he found the conservator, the JFS rabbi, and a crowd of people who had come to pay their respects. Since this was during the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the rabbi made a point: “Don’t just reflect on what you’ve done wrong in the past year, but also remember what you’ve done right — like showing up for a man who cannot thank you.”
It was a reminder, with an especially intense meaning under the circumstances, of what a mitzvah it is to attend to a person at the time of death — one worthy of spiritual rewards both in this world and in the next.
Eddie was given a page at the cemetery website. After Litvak’s post, which drew 500 responses itself, it was filled with hundreds of prayers and blessings from people around the world. The messages were touching: “You will not be forgotten,” said one; ‘In your memory I will perform acts of charity and kindness.” Another: “Shalom, Edward. Know that you are not alone. God bless…” Then there was this: “This world may have treated you cruelly, Mr. Dinkowitz, but now you are in the care of the All-Carer, who never turns his back.” And, finally, this: “I honor Mr Edward Dinkowitz, but most of all, God honors him!”
Litvak could hardly believe the outpouring of love for a man so many had never met.
“That night,” he said, “my wife Nina and I reflected on the day’s events. We wondered if Eddie was somehow aware of all the messages he’d received. We mourned that he had died, and worse, that he had died alone. We prayed that this unexpected send-off would comfort his soul.” And then, he continued, “being a perpetually unrealistic optimist, dreamer and mystic, I said, ‘Eddie, if you are receiving these messages, please send us a sign.’ And we went to sleep.”
A few hours later, the two were awaked by an ear-splitting blast from their house alarm; something had activated the sensor in the office behind their garage. “I went out there with a golf club in my hand, like a schmuck in a bad comedy,” Litvak said.
But he found nothing. No intruder. Everything was in its proper place. Not even any insect near or inside the sensor. They tested the alarm, which they’d had for seven years, but there was no malfunction. Nothing like this had ever happened before.
Litvak concluded, “Even if there was some rational explanation for the alarm, it was a huge coincidence that it sounded on the same night we asked for a sign.”
So here is Litvak’s conclusion: “It’s lovely that we sent Eddie off with hundreds of prayers and blessings, but he should not have died alone. If this story has moved you, please visit someone who is ill or alone. We have received a wake-up call from Eddie Dinkowitz on behalf of the sick and lonely everywhere. Time is precious. The seconds are ticking away, and tomorrow is not promised. Let’s answer it.”