“This is the easiest funeral you’re ever going to do,” the funeral director told Rabbi Elchanan Weinbach, a local rabbi in Rockland County, New York. There would be no friends or family, the director explained. The rabbi and the funeral director would be the only mourners present.

“I had never officiated at a funeral where I was the only mourner,” Rabbi Weinbach explained in an Aish.com exclusive interview. “This would have been a first.”

All Rabbi Weinbach knew about the woman who had passed away was her name, age (83), and the fact that she’d once taught piano at the prestigious Juilliard School in New York. Her name was Francine Stein and she’d lived in a local Jewish nursing home for the past ten years.

“But as I thought about the idea of a woman dying alone," Rabbi Elchanan explained, "it went from being the easiest funeral to a very difficult one. It just seemed so sad. I asked myself, 'How can I give Francine Stein the dignity she deserves at her funeral?'"

Driven to do something more than merely officiate, Rabbi Weinbach called up his daughter Ora Weinbach, a high school teacher in the New York area who teaches about Jewish life cycle events.

“He told me I’m doing this funeral tomorrow and there’s literally no one there,” Ora said to Aish.com. “He was talking, trying to figure out how he could make this a dignified funeral. He asked me if I would come and I said of course.”

When she teaches kids about Jewish views on death and funerals, Ora stresses that the acts we perform on behalf of the deceased are considered completely selfless; there is never a chance to be thanked by the recipient of our kindness. “It was an amazing opportunity for me to live what I preach,” Ora explained.

As she brainstormed with her father, Ora posted a message on Facebook. “Huge mitzvah opportunity. A woman is being buried tomorrow who has LITERALLY NO ONE attending her funeral, other than the funeral home director and the rabbi (my father). Who would like to join me at the funeral? I will be leaving Teaneck at 10:45....”

One of the people who saw Ora’s post was Amitay Stern, a digital marketing professional in Monsey, New York. “I saw this post,” Amitay explained to Aish.com, “and as you can imagine, it’s something that’s heart wrenching. I just had to do something.”

Even though Amitay saw the post the night before Francine Stein’s funeral, he called up one of his clients, Bassie Friedman, who works at a company that provides home health aides in the area and asked for help. “'We need to do something,' she said right away," Amitay recalls, “and we got to work” pushing the call for mourners on social media.

Bassie recalls being “overwhelmed with sadness. I work with elderly people, and I thought what if one of the little old ladies we knew died, with no body knowing about their amazing accomplishments. It was so tragic.” She immediately posted the call for people to attend Francine Stein’s funeral on her company’s website, and even offered the use of the company minivan, driver, and water to anyone who wanted to attend.

Francine Stein’s funeral procession

The morning of Wednesday, August 17, 2016 was hot. Francine Stein’s funeral was scheduled for 11:30am, in the middle of the workday.

“We didn’t even know if we were going to have a minyan, or how many people would show up,” Amitay said. But as he waited for the service to begin, people started arriving at the cemetery. “There was a car, then another car, then another…. People kept on coming. It wasn’t just the Monsey area… people came from Teaneck, 40 minutes away.”

Approximately 30 people showed up, from all walks of life. Men and women. Orthodox Jews and non-religious Jews. One woman came with her baby. One man told Rabbi Weinbach afterwards that although he was raised Jewish, he considered himself an atheist. He came because he believed it was the right thing to do. Many had taken time out from their jobs to attend.

“When we got there, the rabbi instructed everyone how to carry the coffin: six men stepped forward and did it. People were very emotional,” Amitay recounted. “Anyone walking by would have thought that we were burying our grandmother or our mother,” Bassie Friedman said, remembering all the people crying. Francine Stein’s burial

When it was time to deliver Francine Stein’s eulogy, Rabbi Weinbach had almost no personal details to mention. But as he gazed out at the dozens of people who had turned out to attend her funeral, Rabbi Weinbach realized one central, towering fact about this remarkable woman. “This woman must have had some sort of zechut avot, merit of her forefathers” Rabbi Weinbach explained, using the Hebrew term for gaining good things in the merit of those who’ve gone before.

After the funeral, some of those who attended have said they’ve been looking at the world a little differently.

Rabbi Weinbach is thinking of planning a memorial service at the nursing home where Francine Stein lived so that staff and residents can attend.

“The idea of not being able to be paid back from a chesed (act of kindness) you perform is something I’ve been thinking of a lot,” Ora Weinbach explains. “Maybe she knows on some level what happened at her funeral."