Pebble for your thoughts

Pebbles on a headstone at a Jewish cemeteryRecently I attended a Jewish funeral and was touched by the tradition of leaving small pocket-sized stones on headstones. I remember seeing it at the end of the movie Schindler’s List but it never struck me as something many families did until just recently. I remember flowers always being such a big tradition in my own family. My mother would make it a point of never visiting a graveyard without something to leave as a marker of her visit, but it does strike me that those flowers die and wilt and look sad and often even leave a mess for the caretakers to clean up afterwards. Just strange to me that flowers are never part of the Jewish mourning process. I wonder though, do the pebbles just pile up and end up making a mini-cairn that overflows the headstone? Or do they too get removed by the groundskeepers so that more can be left another day?

There are other fascinating Jewish mourning traditions that I wish more of us would adopt. The idea of “sitting shivah” is something so valuable that I’m surprised more cultures don’t emphasize it more. Here is what that site has to say about it,

People pay “shivah calls” to fulfill the mitzvah of nihum avelim, comforting the mourners. These visits demonstrate community concern at the time of loss. The visits help the mourners over the feelings of isolation or desertion, both of which are natural feelings after the death of a loved one. Even if many people have gathered, those present should be sure a party-like atmosphere does not develop. Conversation should center on the life and memories of the departed. Contrary to popular belief, talking about the deceased is helpful to the mourner. Such conversations help the mourner to begin the process of getting over their grief. If you have been through a time of personal grief and the mourner asks you how you felt or how you managed, share your own experience. Mourners often take comfort in knowing that others have experienced similar feelings.”

A mitzvah is a commandment, and a physical act of kindness. It is as important a commandement as the rest of those you hear so much about. Pretty different from sending a sympathy card and I’m sure very difficult for any of us to do this busy day and age.


One Comment

  1. Whereas some people leave stones, others leave flowers. Now I would be interested to hear the feedback of other bloggers to this site who would be willing to state their opinion concerning a small controversy we discussed a few months back: The Stolen Geranium. At a small back-country cemetery, in an extremely rural area, upon the grave of someone named Edith who died in 1935, just before winter set in, I found a plastic pot of flowers that had been left earlier in the summer. The pansies and petunias were long since dead of drought, since the cemetery had no groundskeeper, no sprinkler system, and no visitors interested in keep the planter watered. But the geranium tenaciously clung to life– barely. With the first killing frosts just around the corner, I felt I was doing Edith — and the geranium — a favor by taking that pot with me, bringing it home and keeping it in a warm sunny window with a wealth of water. My horrified husband said this constituted theft, and warned that the spirit of Edith would haunt me for robbing her grave. I reasoned that Edith had already gotten her share of joy out of these flowers, even if all she did from her grave was watch them slowly die, and that she (not to mention the geranium, if anyone were to ask its opinion) would appreciate the plant’s timely rescue. This is assuming, of course, that the spirit of Edith even hangs out at this lonely graveyard or has any opinion on the matters of earth any longer. Truly, the flowers we leave at cemeteries are more for the living than for the dead, aren’t they?

    The geranium has flourished in my home, leaping back into life as only a creature can after surviving a near-death experience.

    I know that Native Americans traditionally leave offerings of tobacco, brightly colored cloth, and other sacred objects at places of spiritual significance, and those who commit the blunder of burglary of these items are considered to be cursed. Still, I have not felt the irritated spirit of the doomed Edith hovering around my house, and I feel much joy and pleasure when I see the geranium hogging all the sunlight heaven has to offer.

    So, I put this question to other visitors: Did I do wrong by taking this flower from the gravesite? Would I have been demonstrating more respect for the departed Edith if I had left it to die in the winter wind?

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