It’s Friday, time yet again for another posting of Interesting Jewish Stories and Facts. Today we explore life, death and the inexplicable.
The entire Grebnief family will be visiting the ancestral burial site on Sunday, gathering for the unveiling of our mother’s matzevah – literally monument. She died last October and was buried next to my father in the family plot that is nestled comfortably under a towering oak tree.
The area, just off one of the major thoroughfares in Columbus, is a few hours south of the Land of Cotton. It’s part of a cemetery managed and maintained by Shearith Israel Synagogue, the shul we all attended decades ago when the Jewish community was large and vibrant, a piece of the cultural fabric of this west Georgia city. Much of that community – relatives and family friends – is now at rest here.
Judaism is an ancient religion filled with laws and customs that have evolved over thousands of years. Unveilings are relatively new, a practice that has become popular only in the last century or so.
There is no prescribed format for the ceremony which, according to Jewish law, can be performed by family. Typical services are short, somewhat informal and consist of Psalms, prayers, personal reflections, the Mourner’s Kaddish and El Malei Rachamim – the memorial prayer for the dead. Unveilings can be held as early as a month after the funeral. Tradition suggests, however, that the ceremony falls at least within 11 months of burial.
During minyon recently, a friend saying Kaddish for his father mentioned that his family had no plans to hold an unveiling. The ceremony, he feared, would simply toss everyone back into mourning and the world, once again, would turn bleak and gray. I imagine that’s a possibility.
I also think that the ceremony can serve as an exclamation point, a bit of emotional punctuation that brings an end to the mourning process. Judaism, I’d argue, gets the whole death and mourning thing right. It offers up a period for grieving and rituals to handle both the mundane and cosmic.
As we lift the veil from my mother’s marker, this last ceremony pulls us together as a family and community. We are given the opportunity to say a final goodbye. My mother is at peace, no longer suffering the pain and torment of a chronic disease, and we pray that she finds infinite rest in the sheltering presence of God.