BLAUVELT, NY - About 30 people attended Francine Stein’s funeral Wednesday, none of whom she had ever met.
Her pallbearers were strangers — men and women who carried her simple casket and then lowered it, shoveling warm earth into the grave.
If those strangers had not attended Stein's funeral, nobody would have.
“For the people who attended, it was an assertion of human dignity,” Rabbi Elchanan Weinbach said.
Weinbach, who officiated the graveside service, said he was sad to learn Tuesday that nobody would be attending Stein’s funeral. Hellman Memorial Chapels had called on Weinbach's services; the rabbi at congregation Shaaray Israel in Montebello is on a short list of people the funeral home calls when there’s no clergy designated to handle someone's affairs.
Weinbach was told that only he and the funeral director would be attending Stein’s service.
“The funeral director said, ‘This is the easiest funeral you’re ever going to do,’” Weinbach said. But, “The idea of a woman dying alone, as I thought about it, it went from being the easiest funeral to a very difficult one. It just seemed so sad.
“I was pretty overwhelmed, actually,” he said.
Weinbach told his daughter, Ora Weinbach, about it. Like her father, she was unhappy to learn that “literally nobody” would be at Stein’s funeral.
“That really bothered me and I felt, like, 'how could that happen?'” she said. “I just felt if anybody could be present that would be a beautiful thing for this woman.”
So she posted something on Facebook asking if anyone was available to attend the service.
For Mindy Liebman of Monsey, who responded, it was a question of “human decency."
“To me it’s mind-blowing that a person can live an entire life and die and have nobody there who cares that they died,” she said. “It’s important to celebrate her life, to celebrate the fact that she even lived."
People shared her Facebook post again and again, and again. Ultimately, as many as 30 strangers were present Wednesday to pay their respects to Stein.