Inspirational Stories

At the Last Minute The Cremation Was Averted


י״ז במרחשון ה׳תש״פ (15 בNovember 2019)


Who is Michael Osborne? He must have had tremendous merits as yesterday his body was saved from almost certain cremation by the Church, after he died in the remote Negros island where he had travelled seeking medical treatment. In the end the intervention of the head of Zaka, an Israeli organization whose goal is to protect the dignity of Jewish dead people, as well as the Chabad representative who lived on a nearby island was what saved his body from the degradation of cremation and enabled him to receive a Jewish burial.

The story began on Motzaei Shabbat when Yehuda Meshi Zahav, head of the Jerusalem-based Zaka, was notified about a Jew named Michael Osborne who had been admitted to the hospital in Dogmati, Negros for medical treatment. Osborne had died during the treatment and appeared to have no known family who could pay for his treatment. The local church therefore decided that in a few days his body would be transferred for cremation in accordance with local custom.

Thus began a race against time, as Osborne's body had already been transferred to the morgue of the local church and would soon be cremated. Firstly Meshi Zahav sought out relatives of Osborne who would pay his medical costs. He was told that the Jew had a daughter living in London but could not locate her.

Meshi Zahav tried desperately to find another solution and tried to contact the local Chabad representative but then discovered there wasn't one on the island. “On the island of Negros there is no Jewish community or Chabad house. After much searching I found a savior called Rav Nir Donenfeld who was the Chabad emissary on the island of Sabo which is ten hours travel and boatride from Negros” said Meshi Zahav.

However the hospital still refused to release the body since there was no family member who would pay the medical fees. The body was already about to go through a process of blood removal and embalming, so Rabbi Donenfeld spoke with the relevant authorities and tried to prevent the body undergoing the debasing and halakhically forbidden process. Yet the hospital still refused to release the body without a death certificate which could only be issued after payment for the hospital treatment.

Eventually a businessman from Hong Kong named Raffi Aharoni donated the money required to save Osborne's body and bring it to Jewish burial. Aharoni paid from his own pocket tens of thousands of dollars which included hospital expenses, as well as the expenses of storing the body in the morgue, preparing it to be flown for burial and the actual flight to Manila, the capital of the Philippines, where it was to be buried for free.

In the meantime Rav Donenfeld arrived but not before he experienced a grueling and eventful journey. “I had two difficult days where I hardly ate or slept” he related. “The trip to Negros was supposed to take a little over ten hours by bus and ferry. However the bus got stuck in the middle of nowhere and it took hours for an alternative bus to arrive, by which time I missed the last available ferry and since there is no accommodation near the port I had to spend the night at the port”.

Thus, after obtaining all the permits and after all technical details were arranged, Osborne's body was flown the next day to the Jewish cemetery in Manila where it was buried in accordance with Jewish law.

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