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PostPosted: Wed Jun 03, 2009 3:15 am 
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Lali Beag Bídeach
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This should be an easy answer, I think.

I rode with Freddy for a while tonight, and he took me to the Jewish cemetery at the northern edge of Kettering. I'd never been there before, and it really is a lovely setting.

Anyway, the tombstones had rocks on top of them. Freddy had asked someone before and was given a short answer that it was a sign of mourning or respect. Can anyone give a more complete answer?

Also, the tombstones were very close together. Not to be morbid, but do you think the deceased are buried vertically? If so, is that normal?

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 03, 2009 5:42 am 
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I always understood that as a kind of respectful marker that you had visited the grave and were remembering the person.

I found more explanations here.

The pebbles are very moving, I think. Solid somehow and moving, both.


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 03, 2009 6:52 am 
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I remember from my trip to Europe at age 10 that it as not uncommon for several coffins to be laid in one grave, not just in Jewish cemeteries but in all of them. Not at the same time, of course. If each such coffin had its own marker, that might place them densely enough that it might seem as if people had to be "planted" vertically to fit.

I remember being fascinated by the cellars of the cathedrals in Italy, with the piles of (neatly separated) bones and skulls removed from the graveyards to make room for new people to be buried. Of course the space under a cathedral is also consecrated ground, so there was nothing disrespectful in moving bones from the graveyard to there. But of course the identity was lost.

I tend to think it doesn't matter. When the last person who remembers me is gone, there is no reason to have any actual space on earth reserved to my memory. If I'm lucky I will live on, in a way, in better books that I haven't written yet, and in grandchildren who tell stories about their weird science-fiction grandma to their own grandchildren. But if not, that's fine, too.

Cemeteries are for the living.

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 03, 2009 6:55 am 
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Lali, I've never heard of anyone being buried vertically. I did hear about leaving rocks on the grave. It may be a Eastern European thing*. In Ukraine, people used to leave candy on the graves, a leftover from old pagan times.

ETA: speaking of leaving things on the grave - an acquaintance went to visit a German town where his family originated. In the cemetery, he found a gravestone marked with his last name, which was obviously well tended. He left his business card with a note explaining who he was, and shortly received a call from what turned out to be the German branch of his family.

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 03, 2009 12:39 pm 
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Lalaith wrote:
Anyway, the tombstones had rocks on top of them. Freddy had asked someone before and was given a short answer that it was a sign of mourning or respect. Can anyone give a more complete answer?


A British Jewish writer named Michele Guinness says that the rocks symbolise eternity. 8) Flowers fade and wither. Rocks, obviously, don't. :)

Frelga wrote:
I did hear about leaving rocks on the grave. It may be a Eastern European thing*.


Oh, that's interesting. :) I had always assumed the custom was a global one.

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ETA: speaking of leaving things on the grave - an acquaintance went to visit a German town where his family originated. In the cemetery, he found a gravestone marked with his last name, which was obviously well tended. He left his business card with a note explaining who he was, and shortly received a call from what turned out to be the German branch of his family.


How wonderful for him. :)

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 03, 2009 1:08 pm 
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I left a small green stone on Tolkien's grave when I visited ;).

I also remember people doing something with stones/pebbles at Dachau.....


Last edited by MithLuin on Wed Jun 03, 2009 1:09 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 03, 2009 1:09 pm 
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At the end of the movie "Schindler's List" (when it finally goes to color) they show a long line of people from Schindler's "Ark" (as they called it) lining up to pass by his grave and each placed a stone on it. The music used in the background was |a very beautiful, fairly contemporary piece called "Jerusalem the Gold."

It was almost unbearably moving, especially after the film.
Here's a video of the ending.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMB00MsJ ... re=related

It is sometimes known as the "second national anthem of Israel" and was originally composed by Naomi Shemer in 1967

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 03, 2009 3:16 pm 
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Lali Beag Bídeach
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Thank you all. That's really a lovely tradition.

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Therefore in our day one tends to stick a pebble on top of the tombstone as a relic of this ancient custom, and it is still clear that the more stones a grave has, the more the deceased is being visited and is therefore being honored. Each small pebble adds to the cairn - a nice moral message. This has become slightly spoiled by the cemetery authorities clearing accumulated pebbles off when they wash down the gravestones and cut the grass.


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Ritual is a way of expressing our emotions and spiritual needs. We need physical acts to express these things for us, to make them concrete.

Placing a stone on a grave does just that. It works in several ways:

1) It is a sign to others who come to the grave when I am not there that they and I are not the only ones who remember. The stones I see on the grave when I come are a reminder to me that others have come to visit the grave. My loved one is remembered by many others and his/her life continues to have an impact on others, even if I do not see them.

2) When I pick up the stone it sends a message to me. I can still feel my loved one. I can still touch and be touched by him/her. I can still feel the impact that has been made on my life. Their life, love, teachings, values, and morals still make an impression on me. When I put the stone down, it is a reminder to me that I can no longer take this person with me physically. I can only take him/her with me in my heart and my mind and the actions I do because he/she taught me to do them. Their values, morals, ideals live on and continue to impress me - just as the stone has made an impression on my hands - so too their life has made an impression on me that continues.


It's very moving.
(Those quotes are from Teremia's link.)

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PostPosted: Thu Jun 04, 2009 2:31 am 
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Rocks or pebbles on the grave speak back to ancient times, even desert times. To ensure that the body was not desecrated, rocks were placed over the top of the soft earth or sand, creating a rock tomb.

Then, over the years, passing folk who remembered the deceased would add a rock or pebble, both in remembrance and to enhance the security of the tomb. It was a true mark of respect, taking care of the grave and ensuring it endured.

When I go to the cemetery (alas, more frequent these days as so many of my mother's and in-law's contemporaries are dying), I always take some small pebbles with me, usually selected with thought and care, pretty ones, that I can leave on the top of the graves of friends or acquaintances long gone.

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PostPosted: Thu Jun 04, 2009 3:17 am 
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Lali Beag Bídeach
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That really is just very beautiful.

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 14, 2010 2:46 am 
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Lali Beag Bídeach
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One of the last times I was at Lake Erie I picked up some beautiful small pieces of slate, perfectly rounded and smoothed by the water. I put them in my jacket that I was wearing at the time, and I ended up leaving them in there, as they were soothing to me whenever I'd need something to fidget with. (I wear a jacket quite often, as I'm always cold. And I tend to fidget with my fingers.)

Anyway, I'd begun to think of them as my "special rocks," and put one in another, lighter jacket I often wear. Three rocks altogether--two rocks in two jackets and one rock here by the computer.

Sadly, the rock in the lighter jacket started falling out all of the time. It got chipped, and now it's disappeared altogether. But I still had the nicer rock in my heavier jacket.

Yesterday, I visited my maternal grandmother's grave. It's the first time in many, many years, as she is buried in a part of Ohio I don't visit very often. Suddenly, I remembered the rock in my jacket. (This is actually when I discovered that the rock in my lighter jacket had gone missing, but I knew I should have the nicer rock still in my green jacket.)

So I put my favorite rock on my grandma's headstone. It looked nice there, and it made me smile and cry all at the same time. Sarah said, with wide eyes, "Mom, you're going to leave your special rock?"

I said, "Yes, I loved my grandma more than any rock."

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Last edited by Lalaith on Mon Jun 14, 2010 10:48 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 14, 2010 3:42 am 
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:hug: That resonates for me.

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 14, 2010 12:52 pm 
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At least in many European cities the gravestones in jewish cemeteries are so close because the space granted to jews to bury their dead was so small that it was the only way. I saw it in the ancient ghetto of Prague and also in Vienna. People are not buried vertically but very deeply.

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 14, 2010 10:00 pm 
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Lali Beag Bídeach
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Thank you, Impy. :hug:


Nin, that's interesting and also sad as it once again highlights the discrimination Jews have faced over the years (and continue to face).

ETA: I added a picture. I was too tired last night to do it.

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