It takes a shtetl. Thanks to the caring of a few, a 54-year-old man down on his luck received a full Jewish burial and funeral last month.
“He was buried as a Jew,” Rabbi Herzel Kranz of Silver Spring Jewish Center declared. “The point I am making is how we Jews take care of our own.”
Steven Klein was striving to get his life together and was working as a waiter, but homelessness and previous drug use had taken its toll. He grew up in California, “raised by his bubbe and went on to have a family of his own,” said Kranz.
His life took a turn for the worse. Alone, he came east about three years ago where he first met up with Kranz and other people connected with the Jewish Social Service Agency. He admitted to having “showered in the river and sleeping on a bench in the park,” said Rabbi Yaakov Greiniman, associate rabbi at Silver Spring Jewish Center and Kranz’s grandson.
For a short time, Klein lived at the Hebrew Sheltering Home, which is run by the Silver Spring Jewish Center and located a short walk from the synagogue. It was established more than 80 years ago to “sustain people in times of crisis, providing them with temporary shelter, food and clothing,” says a statement on the Silver Spring Jewish Center’s website.
Chaya Kranz, manager of the home, described Klein as “a very pleasant, soft-spoken, kindhearted person.”
Unlike many homeless people, Klein was “a clean person. His shirts were all dry cleaned,” she said, adding that Klein was neither intense nor angry. “It’s just that his luck was done and out.”
Klein found a job and the Jewish community gave him enough money to move to an apartment, Greiniman recalled.
About a year later, Klein showed up at the Hebrew Sheltering Home again, and once again, stayed for a short time.
“People down at the bottom, we take care of them,” said Rabbi Kranz. “We live up to our responsibilities.”
“We’ll do anything for any kind of Jew. He doesn’t have to be part of the congregation,” added Greiniman. If the homeless person works to get his life together, there is a lot of support.
But if not, that person is kindly sent on his way.
Once again, Klein moved on with his life, only to reappear at the Silver Spring facility again last month.
Rabbi Kranz welcomed him in and gave him some money to buy a jacket and to pay for his Metro fares as he had found work as a waiter in D.C. But on his way out of the Wheaton subway, right before his 55th birthday, Klein died of an apparent heart attack.
Normally, an autopsy would have been undertaken, but the police at the scene scanned through Klein’s cell phone address book and, finding Rabbi Kranz’s name, called him. The rabbi immediately took steps to make sure an autopsy was not conducted and that the Jewish community could take over.
Klein’s body was transported to Danzansky-Goldberg Memorial Chapels in Rockville, where it was taken care of according to Jewish law at no charge.
“I would say we probably do 12” charity burials a year, said Edward Sagel, who is in the process of acquiring the funeral home.
“Everything that is needed, we do,” he added. “We just always felt it was the right thing to do.”
Greiniman officiated at the March 26 funeral, reciting psalms and talking about how Klein never asked for money. He recalled that Klein, who has two adult sons, had been a constant smoker but had stopped smoking toward the end of his life.
Klein was then buried by the Hebrew Free Burial Society at its cemetery in Capital Heights. There, he is entitled to a plot, headstone and the opening and closing of the grave, explained Phil Goldman, vice president.
“We can do 10 burials a year,” he estimated.
In the end, only six people attended Klein’s funeral, two grave diggers and a limousine driver, Greiniman, Goldman and Chaya Kranz.
But to Rabbi Kranz, it was a proud moment.
“Thank God for the community,” he said.