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Mama Deb
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Mama Deb [userpic]
Gravestone Setting and other things

Last August, my husband's beloved uncle died at the age of 75.

It used to be called an "unveiling", and the gravestone would be covered over with a pillowcase or something, but that's just an American custom, and they're trying to phase that part out. Having a ceremony about a year later and formally "setting the gravestone" (actually done professionally and in advance) - that's still a mitzvah.

It was just the five of us - Jonathan, his parents, his brother, me. Jonathan did the service, saying the appropriate prayers and a couple of poems and a brief sermon and then we put stones on all the stones in the family plot that had meaning for us. We also spoke to the family in the plot across the way and I looked at various gravestones. Most were what you'd expect "wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother". Others, though - "son and uncle." "Son, grandson, nephew." "Wife and sister." The ones who never married or never had children. The ones who died at the age of 31, with the inscription "At rest at last", and you want to know the story. Or the thirty-five year old with a small boy's nickname. You want to know that story, too, and you can probably guess.

My husband's family has ivy planted over the graves. The longest planting belongs to Jonny, who died before the age of four. So there's sadness there, too.

I find gravestone settings to be important - they give a sense of closure. Mom began the setting crying about how her brother shouldn't be there yet, but by the end, she was relaxed and even laughing. Dick is gone and we miss him terribly, and the world is a poorer place without this brilliant polymath, but life goes on, and the time for mourning is past.

Afterwards,we took my inlaws to one of our favorite restaurants, a brick-oven pizza place. It proved to be just the right place. M the veggie found a wonderful ravioli dish, Mom, who is low carb for health reasons, had a salad with carmelized onions and blackened tuna and Dad will eat anything. Afterwards, I went with my inlaws to the local kosher supermarket and helped out as they bought enough meat for part of the summer.

It proved to be a lovely day.


A couple of other things

1) Another group showed up at the plot across the path. I asked if they were Rottenberg descendents, and when they answered "yes", said we were Cohens and that, even though they were big rivals in life, in death they were right oppsite each other. My great-grandfather had founded a synagogue (whose area of the cemetery this is) in 1918, putting up $1500, as an Orthodox synagogue. 18 months later, S. Rottenberg put up $2500 and decided to affiliate Conservative, and so it was. When the building went up, Rottenberg was president, and Great-Grandpa Cohen was 2nd VP. He wasn't particularly doctrinaire, so Conservative was as good as anything.

The Rottenberg group hadn't heard the story, and thought that their great-grandfather had founded the synagogue.

2) I found a couple of personally interesting graves during my stroll through the cemetery.

a) Rabbi Israel H. Levinthal, founding rabbi of that same synagogue, from 1919 to 1982 (he was in his 90s when he died).

b) Barnett Newman, my favorite 20th-century artist. I did a project on him in high school, and went with my brother to see his last major retrospective 3 years ago in Philadelphia. As befits his huge canvases of a single color, his headstone is a large plain polished dark-grey slab.

All in all, an interesting and pleasant day. The weather cooperated.