Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Dear Mrs. Bluth,

I don’t know if you remember me, it’s been fifteen years since I came to you with my eighty-year-old father who had suddenly stopped speaking, and seemed to have gone into a deep depression, not eating or sleeping and sitting all day in a catatonic state. I write to you now because we had to move away over ten years ago and my father is now at death’s door and I lost your phone number! Please help me locate an Orthodox rabbi who will give him his last rights, officiate at his funeral and a cemetery that will bury him as, I’m sure you recall, we are Catholic and my father, with your help, has reclaimed his Jewish identity and faith and wishes to be buried amongst his people.


Thank you ever so much for helping him find peace in these last fifteen years of his life.

Theresa DeBello


Dear Theresa,

I do, indeed, remember you and your dear father and your story is one that my readers deserve to hear. So since I’ve already spoken to you after receiving your letter and helped you get in touch with a rabbi, chevra kaddisha and Jewish cemetery in your city, I know your father will receive the burial he is entitled to, as per his last wishes. It brings me much peace of mind that we were able to bring him back to his roots and give him fifteen more years to entrench himself in his Jewish heritage. I am saddened to hear he is being called home, but at least his Jewish soul will return to his Heavenly Father in purity.



Dear Readers,

Fifteen years ago, a close friend of mine, who worked as a teacher in a public school, gave my number to a fellow teacher who had a father who was in what appeared to be a deep depression. She just wanted to let me know that these people were not Jewish but she thought that this mattered little in respect to the problem. She also apologized for not checking with me first and asked my forgiveness saying they might not even call. But call they did. And on the designated day and hour, Theresa DeBello brought her father, Angelo DeBello, to visit me.

Theresa sat beside Angelo who seemed not to see or hear anything, just stared straight ahead, an eighty-year-old gentleman, bent and broken by a sudden mental affliction. I asked Theresa the usual litany of questions as to what her thoughts were for her father’s sudden catatonic onset, but she was as mystified as I was. I suggested she leave her father with me and go to the Dunkin shop a block away and check in with me an hour from then.

I could not recall any one way to approach this case from my schooling, but one thing I did recall is that the client owns the hour and I must take my leads from him or her. So there I sat, facing this old man who was obviously deeply affected and hoping for a miracle, just one tiny squeak from Angelo that would give me some indication on what path to take to help him. And a miracle happened, just when I had given up hope that I could help this man, his eyes wandered across the room to the seforim shank behind me. I followed his stare and became alarmed when he started to weep and wail, I was afraid he would have a heart attack!!! I ran to get him a cold glass of water, when he started to jabber what sounded like “….semah,” repeating, it over and over, his eyes wildly searching the bookcase…., and by sheer guess I began to say the “Shema Yisrael….” and he said it with me, word for word.

We sat there stunned, both of us. How does an old, Italian gentleman know the Shema? Very slowly I questioned him about his childhood and enough food for thought came out to make me believe that he was one of the lost children of the Shoah, perhaps put into a convent and then adopted by Catholic parents in Italy who came to the United States after the war. His daughter was stunned when she returned and heard him speak through his tears he was rattling off names he knew from another life when he was a little boy ripped away from his parents and siblings in Poland.

What transpired afterwards was equally as traumatic for him. He had bits and pieces of memory that were jumbled and what was happening now was so confusing as to how to deal with the present. He had a wife, five adult children (three men, two women) and fifteen grandchildren… all devout Catholics, as was he until now, how was he going to break it to them? How was he going to explain this to them? What was he going to do now? I tried to calm him down and asked him what he wished to do. His answer was simple, he said “my name is Levi, not Angelo!”

I took Theresa aside and asked her what she thought to do and she said she would talk to her siblings and inform them of this revelation, her mother was already in the throws of Alzheimer’s disease so she wouldn’t be a problem. She said she would call everyone together and hope for the best. I gave her the name and number of two organizations that worked with chozrei b’teshuva and unusual cases, which this definitely was, and I worked with her over the next three months of upheaval and torment of a different kind.

In the interest of saving time and space and the need to condense detail and so many intricate occurrences I must bring us up to date. At the meeting of the family in Theresa’s house, she gently broke the news to the family about their father’s heritage. The three sons walked out as soon as they heard that their father was a Jew, the youngest daughter stayed and Theresa kept her father living in her home, but changing what she fed him (everything for Levi, as he wanted to be called, would have to be kosher). She bent over backwards to accommodate all the changes that her father was undergoing, i.e., a young rabbi coming over each day to put on tefillin for Levi and slowly teaching him the alef bais…). As time went by, I lost track of them until I got the letter from Theresa.

At this writing, Levi ben Yoel Yitzchak HaLevi, a”h, has gone to his eternal rest with everything and in every way befitting a Ben Yisrael, just as he was born a Jew so was he buried as a Jew. There is definitely a book to be written about this incident, and I may well write it one day. Baruch Dayan HaEmes.


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