s Tombstones Reveal
By MIRIAM WEINER
For centuries, Jews have made the traditional pilgrimage to cemeteries
to honor and remember their loved ones during Elul, the month preceding
Rosh Hashanah. When you find the gravestones of your ancestors, paper
and microfiled records about the individuals become more meaningful. You
even may discover previously unknown relatives buried nearby.
The stone markers, matsevot, frequently carry precise dates and
information on relatives that are not preserved by any other means.
Because these stones are vulnerable to tine, vandals and in some cases,
the land developer, it is essential that the data be compiled and carefully
preserved for future generations.
Tombstones make biographical statements as they reflect family life.
Our Jewish heritage is reflected in gravestones all over the world dating
from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.
In the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, the tombstone was very symbolic
and included more information than the name and date of death. Often a
description of a man's life, his occupation, his town and other interesting
items would be included. A woman's tombstone would include such
information as name, date, mother/wife, name of father, a woman of valor
and a symbol.
In earlier times, symbols played an important role as tombstone
markers. The earliest markers are in the Roman-Jewish catacombs, a rock
In addition to the valuable data found on
tombstone inscriptions, mortuary records,
obituaries and governmental archives for military
burials should not be overloaded.
vault burial chamber with a painted ceiling, pagan symbols and a menorah
The inscriptions are in Greek and Roman.
Up until the 20th century, tombstones were written mainly in Hebrew
and sometimes in Yiddish. The trend in 20th-century America is to have
bilingual or all English inscriptions giving an impersonal characterization to
the stone. One might see only the words mother or father with no names,
or very simplified versions of what used to be documentation. There may
be a headstone with only a family name and an abbreviated version on a
footstone with very little information.
Various symbols have been used over the years. Among them are a ,
pitcher or jug (Levite), blessing hands (Kohen), books or an open book (a
learned man or author), an ark with Torah (a rabbinic authority), menorah
(female), and a Star of David (male). In some cemeteries, children are
buried in a separate section and the symbolism used there might be a
lamb, a broken tree trunk, or a bed.
Animals usually stand for a name: dove (Jonah), bear (Dov), lion
(Aryeh, Judah, Leo); fish (Fischel), eagle (Adler), rooster (Hahn).
Other symbols include birds (soul), broken liliet (young child), broken
candle (early death).
The epitaph could be a sentence, a poem or a brief biography. Some
expressions denote the nature or position of the deceased within the
Cemetery records are among the most important genealogical sources.
In addition to the valuable data found on tombstone inscriptions, mortuary
records, obituaries and governmental archives for military burials should
not be overlooked.
Some sources for mortuary names are death certificates, synagogue or
burial society records, family interviews, cemetery records, newspaper
clippings and a listing of mortuaries near "the old neighborhood" in the
local telephone directory. Mortician's records are indexed in several ways:
some by last name, others by date of death and still others by burial plot.
The Jewish Funeral Directors of America Inc. publishes a roster of
members indexed by state and is located at 122 East 42nd Street #1120,
New York, New York 10168 (212/370-0024).
Whether you are visiting the graves of immediate family members or
your ancestors in the "old country," discover and preserve your family
history as it is revealed on the tombstones.
Rosh Hashanah Match-Up
Can you indentify these customs and facts associated with Rosh
Hashanah? Match the item from Column A to their description in Column
A. Days of the week on which the
1. Rosh Hashanah
fist day of Rosh Hashanah
B. "Day of Judgment," another
2. Tekiah, Tevarim, Teruah
name for the holiday
C. First month of the Hebrew
calendar and the month in which
Rosh Hashanah falls
D. Symbolic act of throwing one's
4. "L'shanah Tovah Tikateyvu"
sins into the water
E. Traditional New Year greeting
F. "Yom Harat Olam," the birthday
6. Apples and Honey
of the world
G.A white garment worn by some
Jews on Rosh Hashanah
H. Sounds of the Shofar
I. The "book" in which the future
of the world is written on Rosh
J. Ram's horn and special symbol
10. Sunday, Wednesday, Friday
of Rosh Hashanah
K. Traditional food eaten to ensure a
11.Sefer Hayim—The Book of Life
L. High Holiday prayerbook
12. Yom Hadin
(Answers on Page L-7)
TOYS AND GAMES
The Mentchkins Puzzle, age 3 and up, 54 and 100
pieces; Around the Year Come Pair matching game, age 3
and up, both at Borenstein's.
"Reb Yitzchak's Jewel: Rashi's Father Gets a
Reward," by Rabbi Nosson Scherman; "Arrogant Ari
Learns a Lesson," Goldie Golding; "The 10 Plagues of
Egypt," Shoshana Lepon; "Color Me Brochos" coloring
book; The Ruach Ami Series: " The Marrano Prince,"
Avner Gold; "The Shanghai Connection," Rabbi Chaim
Lipschitz, all at Borenstein's. "Tales of the Tzadikim Vol.
5"; "The Secret of Jewish Femininity," Tehilla Abramov;
"Times of Challenge — Inspiring Stories of Triumph Over
Fear," Seryl Sander; "Bamboo Cradle"; "Collected
Writings of Samson Raphael Hirsch," edited by David
Bechhofer; "Selected Writings" by Rav Shimon Schwab;
all at Spitzer's.
"Dance With Neginah"; "Torah Avenue — Eight
Songs for the Seasons"; "A Wedding Celebration,"
featuring Dov Levine; "Yadayim L'mala (Hands Up)," sing-
along, play-along book and cassette; "Beautiful Israel,"
various artists (three cassettes), all at Spitzer's. "Yanky
Strudle's Kosher Kitchen," songs and stories; "The Return
of the London School of Jewish Song," all. at Borenstein's.
Spitzer's is located at 21770 W. 11 Mile, Southfield.
Borenstein's is located at 25242. Greenfield, Oak Park.
Miriam Weiner is a syndicated columnist and geneaologist.
THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS