TEL AVIV – Israel’s first coronovirus fatality, 88-year-old Holocaust survivor Aryeh Even, was buried Sunday in Jerusalem with 20 mourners at his funeral.
Even’s family said they were sorry that they could not be by his side at the end.
“He was a dear and beloved man, living a full life, devoted to his family, a strong man until the end. We are sorry to have passed his last days and moments at a time when his family members were prevented from being by his side,” a statement from the family said.
Even was hospitalized in Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center after contracting the virus from the assisted living facility where he resided. Several other residents of the Nofim Tower home were also diagnosed with COVID-19.
Even had multiple pre-existing medical conditions.
Even’s body was treated in such a way as to not endanger anyone who came into contact with it. For that reason, the Jewish purification process known as taharah was not performed.
Other, less critical, patients of Shaare Tzedek’s newly established COVID-19 ward recited the shema with Even as he took his last breaths.
According to Rachel Gemara, a nurse on the ward, due to the contagion hands-on care by medical staff is extremely limited, so many of the younger, healthier COVID-19 patients have taken it upon themselves to care for those in more critical condition.
Those patients, she said, felt Even’s loss on a “deep level.”
“It was difficult for them because they really are very much a family,” Gemara said. “When someone passes away it’s a huge deal for them.”
Gemara posted a moving tribute addressed to Even on her Facebook page.
“You’ve touched my heart, the staff, and the patients that surrounded you. I know your life will inspire the rest of Am Yisrael [the nation of Israel] as well. Go in peace, go to your resting place in peace. Look out for us from above,” she wrote on Sunday.
My dear Aryeh, you survived the horrors of the Holocaust, immigrated to Israel, established a magnificent family and your extraordinary journey ends here, in this new ward we hoped we would never have to open. The circumstances of your hospitalisation did not allow for your loving family and caretaker to be by your side. For us and them, this was heartbreaking. We did our best to go in as often as possible. From the outside, we monitored you as closely as we could. In the unit, we were in awe as we watched the other patients care for you, keep you company and helped you however best they could. They so badly did not want you to ever feel alone.
Aryeh, I want to ask you for forgiveness. I’m sorry for how we were required to handle your body, we did our best to preserve your dignity and respect you based on the circumstances. I know that it was done to protect us. It was a tremendous zechut and honor to care for you in your final days. You’ve touched my heart, the staff, and the patients that surrounded you. I know your life will inspire the rest of Am Yisrael as well.
Go in peace, go to your resting place in peace. Look out for us from above.
Twenty mourners gathered at Givat Shaul cemetery, standing two meters apart from one another as per the new regulations.
By Sunday, 1,071 Israelis were confirmed to have contracted the virus, 20 of whom the health ministry said were in critical condition.
Even arrived in Israel alone from Hungary in 1949. He left behind four children, 18 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.