Mrs. G was a Hasidic Jewess who weighed about 100 pounds and was seated at a messy desk.
She was wearing a wild, red wig which was balanced crookedly on her head. I knew it was a requirement for all married women to cover their hair but this wig was obviously too big for her.
My dear sister in law, Evelyn, who was only 45, had advanced MS. She was almost totally paralyzed. We could no longer keep her in her home, even with full time help.
Mrs. G’s nursing home was my fifth stop of the day. So far, I had no success in finding her a place.
She was blunt.
“You will have a difficult time placing her. Nursing homes do not want a seriously disabled person who is young and is mentally alert. They require too much care. I cannot take her.”
She added, “They will tell you they are full but you might as well know the truth.”
Dejected, I gathered all my papers and was preparing to leave, when she said.
“Wait. I want to ask you a question.
Your sister in law. She has a Jewish name.
But I am looking at your face. You look Irish. Are you Jewish?”
“But you are willing to help her.”
I could not understand what she was saying. What difference did that make?
There was a silence for what seemed a long time.
Then she said, “I am thinking about this.
I want to tell you a story.”
I was a young girl in the Dachau concentration camp when the Americans liberated us. The German guards had fled and left behind hundreds of bodies.
They had no option but to gather them up and pile them onto open trucks for burial. I was one of those bodies.
As the truck was pulling out, an American soldier thought he saw my eyelid blink. He stopped the truck and pulled me off.
For years, I have searched for the young man. I wanted to thank him and reward him for saving my life.
All I could find out from the hospital where he took me is that he was young and had an Irish name.
This debt has been with me all these years. I am finally going to pay it. Because you are Irish and Evelyn is Jewish and you are willing to help her.
I will take Evelyn into my nursing home.
Mrs. G. took tender care of Evelyn for two years.
She placed her bed close to the nurse’s station.
When the “insurance police” came in to advise that a “sitter” we had hired was not allowed, Mrs. G. said she was told it was a devoted relative.
We had bought Evelyn a tiny refrigerator for cold drinks. Also, not permitted. Mysteriously, it was covered with a pile of clean linens and not noticed.
I was a frequent visitor and we became friends. I got to know her whole family. An unusual occurrence as Hasidic Jews do not usually have relationships outside of their community.
They shared their joy in the upcoming marriage of their beautiful young daughter. It was an arranged marriage, as was their custom.
The couple had met only once and the rest of the courting was on the telephone. The bride shyly told me he was “handsome, kind, and a successful partner in his father’s business in Brooklyn.” Everyone was pleased with the match.
I was honored when Mrs. G invited me to her bridal shower. I was the only one there without a wig.
After Evelyn’s funeral, I went to the home to pick up her few possessions.
I stopped into Mrs. G’s office to say good bye and to thank her for her extreme kindness.
She was still wearing that terrible red wig.
She got up from her desk and embraced me. We would probably not be seeing each other often again.
Then, intently, she looked into my eyes.
Her last words were-
“I was glad to repay my debt.”
And then she added her greatest compliment –
“I know you are not Jewish. But you have a Jewish heart.”