The images you can see in old Jewish cemeteries – fallen tombstones, cracked monuments, overgrown shrubbery – provide proof that we have forgotten.
On a sunny May 4, nearly 30 youth along with 8 adults spent the entire morning learning about “Beit Ha’Chayim,” meaning the House of Life, which is the traditional Hebrew word for “cemetery.” We visited National Capitol Hebrew Cemetery in Capitol Heights, Maryland to study the monuments, and using special carbon paper, took rubbings of the inscriptions.
The students shared their thoughts about the trip on paper, and their insights are fascinating. Here are a few samples:
Michelle Milstein, an 11-year-old, wrote:
Things I’ve learned at the cemetery were that you should never walk right on the grave. When you see a grave without rocks on the gravestone, that means that people related to the person who died don’t come to see the grave often, but when you see a gravestone full of rocks that means that people related to that person come visit very often.
Gloria Milstein, an eighth grader, explained the process we used to preserve an inscription for posterity:
If you want a copy of the description on the monument you lay a piece of special carbon paper on the monument (and someone has to help you hold it tight) and you wrap a dollar bill around your finger and you rub the paper on the monument and the words get traced onto the paper. And if you’re in the cemetery you should be polite because it is a holy place. Gloria
And Marta Ressin, an 8-year-old, shared with us:
I learned you should not sit on the monuments because it is disrespectful. We saw big monuments and little monuments. You should come to the cemetery even if you don’t know someone buried there. Marta
Jewish R.E.A.C.H. provides an important role to our communities by reconnecting the generations.
Because we should care. We should remember. We should visit. Too many Jewish cemeteries are falling into disrepair or abandonment.
Ask the elders in your family: Do you know where your family members are buried? Have you visited their grave site? What is the condition of the cemetery?
It is called our generational responsibility.