The email arrived in the Inbox of our Chabad House’s email account on the morning of a typical day in October, a few weeks after Sukkos. As a Chabad shliach in Rochester, Minnesota, home to the famed Mayo Clinic, I was accustomed to receiving messages from all sorts of individuals: doctors, interns, and patients visiting the Mayo Clinic for the treatment of various diseases.
This particular email was short, but it grabbed my intention immediately.
My name is Carol Jenkins and I’m a social worker at Hiawatha Homes. We operate several residential homes in the greater Rochester area for disabled adults. We have a Jewish woman in one of our homes and I would like to know about the Jewish burial options for her. Can you connect me to an appropriate contact or a funeral home in Rochester that services your community?
Carol Jenkins, LCSW
Something was peculiar about the email and I scanned it again, looking for clues. As I composed a message back to Carol, it suddenly hit me. In usual circumstances, when a person dies, the burial happens immediately. If this disabled woman had just passed on, surely there would be no time to send out emails to local rabbis and wait for their responses. On the same website where Carol found Chabad’s email address, she should have seen our telephone number and she likely would have called if the matter was urgent.
I deleted my draft and changed it into an invitation for Carol to come to the Chabad House to talk. We settled on a date in several days’ time.
Three days later, two women stood framed in the entrance of my office, modestly dressed but clearly not Jewish.
“Hello,” I said, “Come right in.”
“Thank you. I’m Carol Jenkins* and this is Sally Barton.*”
Carol and Sally settled themselves into chairs opposite my desk and Sally placed a file folder on my desk. She explained that she was the legal guardian of a severely disabled Jewish woman named Rachel Mammon.*
“Rachel Mammon,” I repeated. I’d been a shliach in Rochester for over 20 years and I hadn’t heard of her, or anyone with that last name. “Who is she? I’ve never heard of her.”
Sally and Carol glanced at each other. Carol spoke first. “Rachel was born with a condition called microcephaly, which essentially means a shrunken head. In addition to this, she is also blind and deaf.”
“She was born to Israeli parents who came to the Mayo Clinic in the 1970s with a three-year-old son. Dr. Mammon, her father, was completing a medical residency program at the time. When Rachel was born, the doctors evaluated her and were frank with the Mammons about what to expect. They told Dr. and Mrs. Mammon that their child was mentally retarded. She would never talk, she would never walk. She would never feed herself. She would need to wear diapers her entire life. She would never understand the world around her.”