Confirmation class gives poor man honor in death

When the stone was unveiled weeks ago at Colma's Eternal Home Cemetery, Rabbi Gerald Raiskin — in his 40th year at the synagogue — reflected on how much the gift would have meant to Share, and how happy Share would have been that the unveiling was so well-attended.

In life, Share was what Raiskin calls "a loner," with no family and very little money.

Like many ailing seniors, Share feared death as his illness worsened and he grew unable to tend his small apartment, shop for food or even take his medication. But Share's overriding fear about his own death was that there would be no funds to pay for his interment.

"Whenever he spoke to me, he always expressed a fear that he wouldn't have a Jewish burial. I assured him, `There will be a Jewish burial for you,'" says Raiskin.

Share was finally placed in a Millbrae convalescent home, where he died last November at the age of 85. When Raiskin heard the news, he alerted Sinai Memorial Chapel in San Francisco, which provided a free burial plot and coffin — a service the chapel traditionally provides for indigent Jews.

But there would be no gravestone to mark Share's grave. That is, not until Raiskin talked to the Burlingame confirmation class about Share.

After telling them that the grave at present had no stone, the rabbi said: "The greatest mitzvah you can do is to do something for someone who cannot repay you. Immediately, they said, `This is what we want.'"

The students raised $25 each to pay for the $500 stone. At the unveiling, 10th-graders' reserved allowance money and profits from candy-bar sales were manifested in a simple tombstone with two menorot, a Star of David and, in delicate lettering, "Sol Share, Apr. 29, 1909-Nov. 30, 1994."

Jackie Quickert, 16, was in the confirmation class that bought the stone. She attended the unveiling.

"I didn't know him. I don't think any of us did. But if he did have any friends, now they will be able to recognize his grave. There's something of him still here," says Quickert, a junior at Mills High School in Millbrae.

For 35 years now, Raiskin has taken both 10th- and fifth-grade students on field trips to the cemetery, teaching them about Jewish rituals surrounding death. This year, however, he also added a lesson about mitzvot.

"I told them the story of Sol, how good he would have felt" that so many attended the ceremony. "He was alone a great deal of his life. At least at this point, he wasn't alone," Raiskin said.

When 16-year-old Emily Rosenthal saw the stone unveiled, she was happy the class hadn't bought a "more fun" gift like the cow a previous class had purchased for a kibbutz in Israel.

"I thought this was better, because he couldn't give anything back to us. I think if I didn't have any family, I would like someone to make sure my grave was marked," said the Burlingame High School junior.

As the students stood quietly and respectfully at the grave, Raiskin decided the tombstone was the most emotionally gripping gift any of his classes had left behind.

Raiskin admits that he had a personal stake in properly putting Share to rest.

"I was able to finally fulfill a promise I made to a very worried man."