A time-traveling housefly, transported back to the mid-1980s and spending a Sunday afternoon lazing high on the wall of an ornate living room in a stately home on the fashionable East Side of Providence, Rhode Island, would behold an unusual sight.
Below him would be a group of Jewish children, ages ranging from around three to eight, each holding a stuffed animal. The matron of the house, a meticulously dressed lady of a certain age and the manor’s sole permanent resident, would preside, beaming, over the gathering, and ask the children to put their furry companions on chairs arranged around a table brimming with kosher cookies, chips, and candy.
The fly would be witnessing one of Mrs. Dorothy Fox’s “stuffed-animal parties” (at which festivities whatever the animals didn’t eat would become fair game for their caretakers). After refreshments, Mrs. Fox, a divorcée of many years and someone whose love for children was joyfully reciprocated by the little ones, would take the crew of kids and creatures for a tour of her back yard, which was graced with statues and other interesting things. Leveraging even her name to please her young visitors, Mrs. Fox would encourage them to edit it and call her by more imaginative animal appellations. “Mrs. Aardvark!” they would squeal, or “Mrs. Porcupine!”
From her smile and manner, neither the fly nor the children would ever have guessed that Mrs. Fox (later, Levenson) was facing a most unpleasant situation, the misappropriation of her grave.
What had happened was that the cemetery plot she legally owned, alongside the burial place of her beloved mother, had been used by another relative. A local Conservative rabbi had given the cemetery the go-ahead for the illicit burial. When Mrs. Fox became aware of what had happened, she was devastated. She spoke with her relatives, to no avail. She spoke with the chairman of the Historic Cemetery Commission for the town where the cemetery lay; he investigated the situation, discovered that Mrs. Fox was entirely in the right, and confronted the lawyer for the literal grave robber, who summarily rebuffed him. She wrote to a relative who was chairman of one of the state’s largest companies and well known for his social conscience and philanthropic undertakings. He wrote back that he had his “own problems and opportunities to deal with” and declined to become involved in the “situation.”
Mrs. Fox then wrote to a renowned rav in New York, who immediately called the adversarial lawyer. The latter was forced to admit that his client had done something wrong but sent the rav the language of a Rhode Island statute stating that when an illicit burial has taken place, “after burial there is a marked reluctance on the part of courts to remove” remains.
The rav wrote Mrs. Fox to reassure her that her parents’ souls were in no way “unhappy” with the course of events and that, on the contrary, Mrs. Fox’s own unhappiness was of concern. “Serve Hashem with joy,” he quoted from Tehillim, and reminded Mrs. Fox that the Talmudic sages considered it meritorious to not react negatively when one feels wronged.
It took Mrs. Fox some time to fully absorb the rav’s advice—although her pain didn’t prevent her from hosting stuffed-animal parties—but eventually she did. In fact, several years later she left Rhode Island, where she had been born and raised, and moved to Yerushalayim. She spoke no Hebrew and knew few people there. But she said that her “precious Yiddishe neshamah” was impelling her to make the move.
Over ensuing years, my wife merited to travel to Israel three times, after the births of grandchildren to our daughters then living there. Each time, she saw Mrs. Fox. Three of our daughters, either living, studying, or visiting Israel, visited her on occasion too. All reported that the Providence-to-Yerushalayim transplant was greatly enjoying her life in the Holy Land. She had, she happily expressed, “come home.”
Mrs. Fox, active until virtually the end, returned her precious Yiddishe neshamah to her maker this summer (15 Tammuz). She had made plans, “in the event Mashiach doesn’t arrive first,” for her interment. And she was buried in holy soil. v
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