Rabbi Moshe Margereten, a prominent Jewish community activist known for work on prison reform, received an urgent call on Sunday. A Jewish man, R.L., passed away and his remains were already loaded onto a flight to Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI).
The problem was there was a delay due to flight cancellations and the flight he was placed on was scheduled to arrive after the cargo operations would close for the evening, leaving a meis overnight with no shoimer – a person to ‘watch over’ the deceased, which is done according to custom.
He quickly called his friend Rabbi Levi Shemtov, Shliach to Washington, DC and Executive Vice President of American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad) to help find a solution.
Implementing crisis protocols, Rabbi Shemtov immediately contacted Rabbi Chezki Tenenbaum, a Shliach in Baltimore who runs the Jewish Uniformed Services Association of Maryland, which supports Jewish men and women in uniform in the State of Maryland, the Maryland Guard and several State and Federal law enforcement and First Responder agencies.
Time was running out as the cargo operations would be closing for the night in under one hour and the plane was just departing from Florida. Unable to fathom a deceased being left alone overnight, Rabbi Tenenbaum dropped what he was doing and his team immediately swung into action. Due to the delay in flight arrival, there was also the concern that there was a risk the body could possibly get lost at that hour.
Accessing his extensive law enforcement contacts, Tenenbaum got a special tarmac access waiver with police escort, for the deceased to be transferred to the hearse which he had dispatched from the local Jewish funeral home.
The deceased was removed from the plane with dignity and transferred to the custody of the Chevra Kadisha for proper burial while maintaining respectful Jewish ritual practices.
“Under normal circumstances, this would have been routine,” Rabbi Shemtov told COLlive.com. “Considering it was a Sunday evening in middle of the Covid-19 epidemic, with airport operations severely curtailed and most people working from home, this was an extraordinary feat of coordination between Rabbi Margereten, Rabbi Tenenbaum and his team, law enforcement, and airline personnel. They are to be commended.”