Previously Published at Our Salon (by a few minutes)
Last Sunday was my son's Unveiling, a Jewish ceremony where we reveal the gravestone. It's tyically (but not always) done about a year after the death. The anniversary of his death, at least according to the Roman calendar, which is the one we're using, was Tuesday.
There's a tradition at Jewish gravesites. We don't do flowers; for one thing, too temporary. So, to indicate that someone visited, we leave a pebble or rock on the gravestone when we visit so there's some sign for the next person that this grave was visited. One of these rocks was sent to my wife. J attended summer camp on Martha's Vineyard for most of his life because there's a camp there for special needs people, mainly with cerebral palsy or Downs' Syndrome, and the camp has the unusual quality of allowing people who start there as kids to continue going as adults. So, someone sent her a rock from the Vineyard to place at the grave.
It was a sunny afternoon and the ceremony took a little over half an hour. My parents and my sister drove in from out of town. One old friend, who used to take care of J, flew in, which sort of surprised us. After all, it's kind of a minor ceremony, but she loved the kid.
The Hebrew at the bottom says, per our request:
Oseh shalom bimromav, hu ya'aseh shalom aleinu v'al kol Yisrael
That's explained in my original post about his death: http://www.open.salon.com/blog/koshersalaami/2012/02/02/reply_to_a_...
It's a relief to have a stone. Visiting a grave with nothing but overturned dirt felt kind of strange, and leaving rocks in the middle of unmarked dirt felt just as strange.
So we were at Temple last night. I finished playing piano at the service over at the old age home, then headed home to pick up my wife and daughter, then went to Temple. I was going anyway, because the Shabbat (Sabbath) after the yahrzeit (anniversary of death: "year time," pronounced "Yor tsite") is the service at which they commemorate the yahrzeit. The regular pianist got sick, so I got asked to play. That's fine with me; I'm comfortable at the piano, they have a really nice grand in the main sanctuary, and the rabbi has a tendency to call a lot of audibles, so I have to pay attention. Friday night services are pleasant and not generally long, followed by kiddush (blessing over wine), motzi (blessing over bread, in this case always a Challah except on Passover), then an oneg (table of snacks - basically a few things to eat, usually cookies, maybe fruit and cheese, brownies, whatever - people hang out and socialize). During the service, they give out Hershey's kisses to the congregants, which we exchange just after blessing each other with the Priestly Blessing (May the Lord bless you and keep you....).
The first yahrzeit is important because it marks the end of the year of mourning, during which we said the mourner's kaddish, our main prayer for the dead (which actually doesn't mention death at all), a minimum of once a week in the company of a prayer quorum of ten adult Jews over the age of thirteen, otherwise known as a minyan. Wherever we were, we'd find a service. Though I was going to services at the old age home once a week, most of the time they didn't have a minyan so I'd go to a second service. Incidentally, the first week after death, saying kaddish with a minyan is a daily requirement.
We have a tradition at our Temple. Apparently, back in 2004, whichever network Ted Koppel was at refused to carry a special where he read the names of the 750 or so American casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan so far. This is before we moved here. So, the rabbis decided to read the names of that week's dead every week, to be included in the mourner's kaddish part of the service. (There's another kind of kaddish earlier in the service, which is why I specify Mourner's.) Every week the names are read, and sometimes the names aren't available, so the list would finish with something like "and two others whose names have not been released pending notification of next of kin."
Last night, at the service where J's yahrzeit was observed and announced, something different happened, something that felt a bit like a miracle:
For the first time since the tradition started in 2004, a tradition which has been observed weekly since then,
There were no war dead to announce.
Blessings sometimes appear in very strange ways.
Have a good week.