For Syuzanna Alexander and Iolana Klotsman, family is everything. The two sisters and their mother had been inseparable since they emigrated from Ukraine to the U.S. in 1979. Syuzanna describes their relationship as “beautiful and special,” and says their mother, Alexandra, was “embedded in our lives in every way.” The three even lived together as adults.
So when Alexandra developed Stage IV colon cancer, the three women cherished every moment together. Alexandra spent her final days with her daughters by her side, under the care of Gilchrist’s Jewish Hospice program at Gilchrist Center Towson.
Appreciating Their Jewish Faith
As descendants of Russian Jews who perished in the Holocaust, the family had a special appreciation for the history and traditions of their faith. Syuzanna and Iolana remember their grandmother praying often and telling stories about her own parents who faced anti-Semitism in Ukraine. When their grandmother died, she was buried with a traditional Jewish ceremony at Baltimore Hebrew Cemetery.
Syuzanna and Iolana knew that that was where their mother would want to be buried—next to her own mother. But the cost was more than they could afford. The sisters were distraught, and had no other family or friends who could help. Though there were local nonprofits that could provide a free Jewish burial, none could offer it in the cemetery where Alexandra’s mother was buried.
A Community Comes Together
When Rabbi Adam “Avi” Sharfman of the Gilchrist Jewish Hospice program heard of the family’s struggle, he began making calls to other rabbis, friends, Jewish organizations, funeral homes—anyone he could think of to help. The Ahavas Yisrael charity agreed to donate funds for the burial and Sol Levinson funeral home donated its services. Rabbi Sharfman planned, organized and officiated the ceremony.
Syuzanna and Iolana were deeply moved by the ceremony and everyone who came together to make it happen. No other family or friends were in attendance—just a few good Samaritans who wanted to help. “It was touching and heartfelt,” recalls Syuzanna. “There was so much emotion…. It was so dignified, so honorable. If Mom saw this she would have said this is exactly what I want,” adding “I don’t know what we would have done without Avi.”
Alexandra was buried next to her mother, and the sisters were grateful that their mom was laid to rest in a beautiful, meaningful way in the Jewish tradition. “Thank you to everyone who came into our lives during the darkest moment and brought light to our world,” they said. “Mom was honored in a dignified way, full of love and prayer.”
Learn more about Gilchrist’s Jewish Hospice Program at www.gilchristcares.org