Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Mordechai and his wife Liora were visiting her mother’s grave on Har Menuchot in Jerusalem, as was their custom on her yahrzeit. After saying some Tehillim Liora stayed to clean the sand and dust that naturally accumulates on the stones in the Jerusalem cemetery. Mordechai turned around and noticed, for the first time, an almost bare gravestone just opposite his mother-in-law’s.

The first thing that made it stand out was the fact that there was only English writing on it, nothing at all in Hebrew. For a long time English wasn’t even allowed on gravestones in Jerusalem, but as so many non-Israeli people from all over the world were buried there now, the chevra kadisha had relented and allowed non-Hebrew lettering to be used as well as Hebrew.


But the other unusual thing was the bareness of the stone. The stone simply stated Betty Usatin Koff 1929 – 2012. Nothing else. The very basic headstone with the bare minimum of information and no names of any members of her family gave Mordechai the impression that she was alone in the world and he felt sure that her grave probably wasn’t visited frequently. So he said a few perakim of Tehillim and laid a stone on the grave as is the Jewish custom.

His curiosity aroused, Mordechai decided to Google her unusual name but all he could discover was that she had spent her childhood in New York and trained to be a nurse and earned her master’s degree from the University of Arizona.

He thought little more of it, but that evening as he was servicing an elderly couple’s computer in his neighborhood, he happened to tell them of the sparse gravestone that had presumably been situated just by his mother-in-law’s for some time but he had only just that afternoon noticed it.

To his utter amazement, as he came to the part where he had felt that the woman was alone in the world, the man who was sitting next to him suddenly burst into tears. Mordechai was horrified. He hadn’t intended to upset him with this story; he was just passing the time in conversation.

“But I knew Betty Usatin,” the man exclaimed. “She went to school with my wife.” It appeared that he and his wife had even been to hear one of her medical lectures after she made aliyah and they had assumed from her additional name that she had married at some time although there didn’t appear to be a husband around at the time. “She never mentioned any children in our conversations and we didn’t see any sign of children or indeed of any family in photos or anything like that at all when we visited her in her apartment.”

They had no idea that she had passed away. And he was deeply saddened by the thought of her going to her final resting place alone and that it appeared as if she knew no one and had no family who cared about her. He asked Mordechai if he would please take him and his wife to visit the grave.

So because of that chance glance at the bare tombstone, Betty Usatin Koff, who may not have had any visitors to her grave for a long time, was privileged to have three visitors who all said Tehillim in her memory and who all intend to continue the mitzvah. If she did indeed go almost unaccompanied to her final resting place, at least something would be done to elevate her soul in the Next World.

Postscript: Despite contacting many of their acquaintances back in America, Mordechai’s friend could not find out any more about Betty. Some time after this took place Mordechai was once again at the cemetery and went also to visit his mother-in-law’s grave. He was astounded to see a totally new matzevah at Betty Usatin Koff’s grave. This one had her name, birth and passing dates in both Hebrew and English and the traditional tav-nun-tzadi-beis-hei acronym, as well as the words Beloved Mother and Grandmother. Checking the dates it appeared that her third yahrzeit had just passed. Had some family member been to visit and felt that her headstone needed replacing? It certainly no longer looked like the stone of someone who was completely alone in the world.

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Ann Goldberg and her family made aliyah from the UK over 30 years ago and live in Jerusalem. She is a web content writer and writing coach and runs writing workshops and e-mail courses. For more information visit