Graveyard

Graveyard
Cedar Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Aninut, Shivah, Sheloshim, Yud-bet Chodesh, Yahrzeit, and Tree Stumps

Lamb Cemetery, Jackson, PA


(Note:  If the pictures are not big enough, click on it, and it will pop up bigger.)

 
If you're not Jewish, the only words you probably recognize in the title are "tree stumps."  The remaining words stand for the process of traditional Jewish mourning.  Before we get to the graveyard tree stumps, let me give you a brief explanation of how the death of a Jewish loved one affects the lives of his loved ones left behind.

 
Aninut means "deep sorrow" and describes the period from death until burial.  According to religious dictates, Jews must be buried within 24 hours of death.

 
Shivah, from the word "sheva" meaning "seven," is the seven-day period of mourning that takes place after the burial; the day of burial is day one.  The family of the deceased "sits shiva" in the home of the deceased, where the spirit is still powerful.  Traditional Jewish families do not go to work during this time, and receive visitors who come to pay their respects. (It is not considered proper to offer condolences to the immediate family at the grave site; you wait until you visit their home.)

 
Sheloshim describes the first 30 days from the day of burial, including the shivah.  This is the complete mourning period for the deceased, unless he was a parent.

 
Yud-bet chodesh means "the year of mourning," the twelve Hebrew months following the death day.  This time period is the complete mourning period for a deceased parent.

 
Yahrzeit is the Yiddish word for the anniversary date of death, from two German words, "yahr"---year, and "zeit"---time.  This date is important to Jews as they believe this is the day the soul left the physical world and entered the spiritual world.  The yahrzeit of loved ones is remembered with reverence every year because Jewish tradition states that each year on this day, the deceased's soul is elevated to a higher level in the spiritual world.  Since elevation may mean more testing and pain for the deceased, it is important that the living family members pray for a peaceful elevation each year.  This is a popular time for visits to the graveyard to pray and to remember the accomplishments of the deceased.  A lovely Jewish tradition is to leave a rock on the gravestone, as a symbol of the visit.  This custom seems to have stemmed from the Holy Land's desert custom of piling stones on a gravesite, to keep it from animals and grave robbers.  As a recovering florist, I am all for placing stones on graves.  Much less wasteful!

 
You might think these Jewish traditions of mourning are complex and strange.  But every religion and civilization have "strange" customs for dealing with death and mourning.  In 19th-century Victorian times, the mourning period for women especially was very "strange," complex and inflexible.  Widows had to have special mourning cloths in blacks and greys (even their underclothes had to be black). The first year for a widow were one of intense "full" mourning, where she practically did not leave her home, except for church.  Mirrors were draped in black crepe, the front door had a floral wreath with black crepe on it, and the children and servants were also dressed in mourning.  (Widowers, on the other hand, mourned for about a month, and then wore a black arm band for a few months.  The menfolk had to get on with things.  Ahem.  They could also remarry quickly without society looking askance at them.)

 
After a year, a widow could wear lighter clothing, more grays and lavenders.  She could re-enter society, and after a few years, could remarry.  These restrictive customs trace back to Queen Victoria of England.  When her husband (and cousin) Prince Albert died in 1861 from typhoid, Victoria, who had always been madly in love with Albert, went into full mourning for three years, and insisted her court do the same.  She remained in mourning for Albert for the next 37 years, until her own death.  Great Britain in the 19th century was THE world power, and Victoria's court influenced behavior around the globe.

 
So I don't know about the underwear requirements of Jewish mourners, but I do know that they memorialize those who died too young with elaborately carved tree stumps, with all the branches cut off....symbolizing a life ended much too soon.  There was a tree stump gravestone that I found in Susquehanna County this summer (at the top of this blog), and it had a Jewish Star of David on it.  I thought perhaps the deceased young men might have been members of  Woodmen of the World, but they weren't; the tree stump is a Jewish symbol of a man who died very young.  The following pictures are from Mount Sharon Cemetery in Delaware Co., PA.  They are memorials for Jews who died usually before the age of 30...the family tree, struck by lightning, alive no more. 

 
You will notice there are carvings of a dove with a laurel branch in its mouth---a reference to the dove Noah sent out to see if the floods had abated, and the dove brought back the laurel branch, a sign of growth.  A dove flying downwards is also a symbol of the Holy Ghost.   These pictures are a mere sampling of the hundreds (seriously, there were hundreds) that I found in this one medium-sized cemetery.  So many people cut down in the prime of life.  I've written before that it was not hard in the 19th century to live into your 80's---you just had to make it past 30.  I guess the same could be said about the early 20th century, when polio and typhoid and small pox were everyday words. 

 
There's a line from a country song:  "I still remember when 30 was old."  But it's not, is it??

Mount Sharon Cemetery, Springfield, PA

Mount Sharon Cemetery, Springfield, PA

Mount Sharon Cemetery, Springfield, PA

Mount Sharon Cemetery, Springfield, PA

Mount Sharon Cemetery, Springfield, PA

Mount Sharon Cemetery, Springfield, PA

Mount Sharon Cemetery, Springfield, PA

Mount Sharon Cemetery, Springfield, PA

Mount Sharon Cemetery, Springfield, PA

Mount Sharon Cemetery, Springfield, PA

Mount Sharon Cemetery, Springfield, PA

Mount Sharon Cemetery, Springfield, PA

Mount Sharon Cemetery, Springfield, PA

Mount Sharon Cemetery, Springfield, PA

Mount Sharon Cemetery, Springfield, PA

Mount Sharon Cemetery, Springfield, PA

Mount Sharon Cemetery, Springfield, PA

Mount Sharon Cemetery, Springfield, PA

Mount Sharon Cemetery, Springfield, PA

Mount Sharon Cemetery, Springfield, PA

Mount Sharon Cemetery, Springfield, PA

Mount Sharon Cemetery, Springfield, PA

Mount Sharon Cemetery, Springfield, PA

Mount Sharon Cemetery, Springfield, PA

Mount Sharon Cemetery, Springfield, PA

Mount Sharon Cemetery, Springfield, PA

Mount Sharon Cemetery, Springfield, PA

Mount Sharon Cemetery, Springfield, PA   (note the stones on top)

Mount Sharon Cemetery, Springfield, PA

Mount Sharon Cemetery, Springfield, PA

Mount Sharon Cemetery, Springfield, PA

Monday, November 21, 2011

Let Us Give Thanks For the Hand Carved Tombstone


Deep Run Mennonite East Cemetery, Bedminster, PA



South Montrose Cemetery, South Montrose, PA

Looking at late 19th-century tombstones with their elaborate carvings does mesmerize me. But the artwork of those memorial markers were made with mechanized tools---pneumatic chisels run with steam, after man learned to harness the power of heated water droplets.  Yes, they still needed a creative human hand to guide them, and there was a great deal of skill needed to handle the tools.  But the amount of time needed to labor over the engraving was cut down dramatically.  And in doing so, some of the "craft" in the craftsmanship was diminished.  I think that is why I feel very drawn to the truly hand-carved tombstones that can only be found in the very old cemeteries of eastern Pennsylvania.  Not only do you get a glimpse into how the deceased was viewed by their loved ones that remained.  But you also can almost see the carver, be he a highly skilled mason or a simple farmer wanting to make sure the dead were not forgotten.

Late 18th-century and early-19th century stones in eastern Pennsylvania were carved  from whatever was handy:  slate, red sandstone---any stone that could be taken out of a local quarry.  Some of the carvings on the stones below are extremely simple:  the stone remains in its original found shape; the letters are crude, some block-like; and many did not have a "trial run" sketched out on a precious piece of paper first.  So the carver ran out of room and just continued on the next line, regardless of the rules of "proper English."  (or in many cases, "proper German.") 

But other tombstones were obviously carved by a skilled mason, someone who knew his way around a chisel and a hammer, and who could add artistic touches...an urn under a graceful willow, a decorative border, or pretty designs to fill in the blank spaces.  These carvings took time---a LOT of time.  These are the stones that really make me catch my breath when I uncover them.  They are treasures, most over 150 years old, and some will turn 200 years old long before I retire.  They are susceptible to breakage (because they are so thin and usually tall), erosion (most are shallowly carved), mold (seems to really like slate), and bird crap (I really need to start traveling to cemeteries with a chamois and warm dishwater).  But on occasion, I can find one that is pristine, looking like it was carved just a few years ago, sitting next to a much younger marble stone that has deteriorated beyond recognition.  And then, I pay my respects to the deceased one that it memorializes, but I also pay homage to the craftsman and his "craft" that lives on in a little rural cemetery somewhere in Pennsylvania.

Darling Cemetery, Cherry Ridge, PA

Deep Run Mennonite East Cemetery, Bedminster, PA

Deep Run Mennonite East Cemetery, Bedminster, PA

Deep Run Mennonite East Cemetery, Bedminster, PA

Deep Run Mennonite East Cemetery, Bedminster, PA

Dillsburg Cemetery, Dillsburg, PA

Dillsburg Cemetery, Dillsburg, PA

Doylestown Mennonite Cemetery, Doylestown, PA


Durham Cemetery, Durham, PA

Evergreen Cemetery, Gettysburg, PA

Evergreen Cemetery, Gettysburg, PA
Forks Cemetery, Stockertown, PA
Forks Cemetery, Stockertown, PA
Forks Cemetery, Stockertown, PA
Forks Cemetery, Stockertown, PA
Forks Cemetery, Stockertown, PA
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Forks Cemetery, Stockertown, PA
Forks Cemetery, Stockertown, PA
Forks Cemetery, Stockertown, PA (look at the face)
Forks Cemetery, Stockertown, PA

Franconia Mennonite Cemetery, Franconia, PA
                       Franconia Mennonite Cemetery, Franconia, PA
 











Immanuel Leidy's Cemetery, Souderton, PA

Immanuel Leidy's Cemetery, Souderton, PA

Immanuel Leidy's Cemetery, Souderton, PA

Indian Creek Christ Reformed Cemetery, Indian Valley, PA

Indian Creek Christ Reformed Cemetery, Indian Valley, PA

Neola Methodist Cemetery, Neola, PA

Pleasant Hill Cemetery, Pleasant Valley, PA

Pleasant Hill Cemetery, Pleasant Valley, PA


Lynn Cemetery, Lynn, PA
Lynn Cemetery, Lynn, PA


Lynn Cemetery, Lynn, PA

Lynn Cemetery, Lynn, PA

Lynn Cemetery, Lynn, PA

Lynn Cemetery, Lynn, PA

Lynn Cemetery, Lynn, Pa

Jackson Cemetery, Tunkhannock, PA

Jackson Cemetery, Tunkhannock, PA

Jackson Cemetery, Tunkhannock, PA

Union Cemetery, Blakely, PA

Maplewood Cemetery, Carbondale, PA

Mountainview Cemetery, Upper Exeter, PA

Mountainview Cemetery, Upper Exeter, PA

Mountainview Cemetery, Upper Exeter, PA

Mountainview Cemetery, Upper Exeter, Pa

Marcy Pioneer Cemetery, Tunkhannock, PA


Hickory Grove Cemetery, Waverly, PA

Darling Cemetery, Cherry Ridge, PA

Darling Cemetery, Cherry Ridge, PA


Montrose Cemetery, Montrose, PA

Old Brooklyn Cemetery, Brooklyn, PA

Dixon Cemetery, Tunkhannock, PA

Marcy Pioneer Cemetery, Tunkhannock, PA

Urn?  Hell, this is my Holy Grail!!  Montrose Cemetery, Montrose, PA