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.