Once upon a time, not long ago, an elderly couple experienced cascading health emergencies; fortunately, they found a health care aide who provided the support they needed at each stage of their inevitable decline.
Now this was not an ordinary couple. Though they did not talk about it, they consistently took care of the needs of people they met. Individuals or families in trouble could turn to this couple for support; they also quietly built systematic structures to enable Jews to observe the commandments. They kept quiet about their good deeds the way most of us keep quiet about our most embarrassing bad habits. Even so, people knew. In the neighborhood and in their family they enjoyed a kind of fame as exemplars of goodness in practice.
And this was not an ordinary caretaker. He attentively adjusted medical service as circumstances changed; meanwhile, he consistently projected sensitivity, concern, affection, and support for his charges. A non-Jew in an observant Jewish household could experience or cause discomfort, but this caretaker related to Jewish observance in appreciative and knowledgeable way, even singing “Shalom Aleikhem” on Fridays nights, answering “amen” to Kiddush, monitoring the dairy and meat silverware, and so forth. He had apparently worked with observant Jews before he met this couple.
You could say that this couple, who scrupulously did the right thing in the right way through their lives, were blessed to have a caretaker who did the right thing in the right way in their last years. This blessing did not just happen.
On Rosh Hashanah some years earlier, one of their daughters looked down from the women’s gallery in her shul and saw a touching sight. An old man, somewhat afflicted with dementia, struggled to follow the once-familiar prayers. Sitting next to the old man, a young man quietly helped, observing the page read by the seatmate on the other side, and turning pages in the old man’s prayer book to match.
The daughter made a mental note of the quietly helpful man in the shul. She would not try to hire him away from his charge, but when the time came . . .
Some months later, the daughter made a point of looking for the caretaker at the shivah for the man. She recruited him to him to help her work with her parents. The caretaker eventually moved in with her parents as their needs grew.
Now the parents have passed away. Remembering them reminds those who knew them to try to do the right thing in the right way, without boasting about it at all. The caretaker has to move on, too. As it turns out, the caretaker will be moving with his spouse to Chicago. Someday, probably soon, a frail member of the observant Jewish community in Chicago will need a little more personal support than family can provide, and the caretaker will begin a new project.
The new client will be blessed.