Why Do We Place Stones At A Grave?

The Symbol of the Stone at the Grave

Have you ever wondered why Jews leave stones at the graves of their loved ones? Our Jewish faith teaches us to respect, mourn, remember, and care for the dead. Leaving stones at your loved one’s grave is a way of doing just that, for long after they have left this world.

StonesFrom the moment someone passes away, we go to great lengths to care for them. Not only in memory, by planning a respectful funeral that reflects the kind of life they lived, but also physically – as some opt for the ritual ceremony of Taharah (please see our previous blog post here) – and spiritually, by having a Shomer sit with them, ensuring they are never left alone. Visiting a loved one’s grave offers you time to reflect, meditate, and remember them. Leaving stones there commemorates those you’ve lost, as well as your visits.

So, why do we leave stones rather than flowers that you may see in a secular cemetery? There are two reasons for this. The first one being that the stone symbolizes permanence. We wish for our loved one’s soul to live eternally in the world to come. Flowers may be beautiful, but they do not last – their beauty fades, and petals fall – while a stone remains sturdy even against the elements. The second reason being that in life, flowers symbolize luxury, a prize or even status. Judaism tells us that in death, like in birth, we are all equal. We are all rocks against the elements to stand the test of time.

 

Honoring a Memory by Planting Trees

In the Jewish faith, there are many ways to celebrate, honor and commemorate the life of a loved one and perpetuate their legacy for future generations. Planting a tree in their memory is a time-honored tradition that is symbolic and heartfelt, and a very common and appropriate way to show your support. Tree planting ceremonies may help a mourner fill a void felt after the funeral and shiva period have ended. Alternatively, it is very common to make a donation to a tree-planting organization such as Jewish National Fund, in someone’s memory.

Traditionally, a fruit tree is planted because it symbolizes continual nourishment by the fruit it bears. A story is told of a man named Honi, who encountered another man planting a carob tree. “How long will it take to bear fruit?” he inquired. “About 70 years,” the man replied. “So you think you will live long enough to taste its fruits?” The man explained, “I have found ready-grown carob trees in the world. As my forefathers planted them for me, so I plant for my children.”

This is a great way to teach younger generations about the circle of life and the beliefs we hold regarding life and death in the Jewish faith. The life cycle is not only about raising families and participating in your community, but teaching the reasons why we take care of one another, and providing for future generations as was done for us.

Many families are thankful for the visual reminder of how their loved one made a positive mark on the community, and it is uplifting to see a beautiful tree adorn the community in a loved one’s name. It also gives a place to visit, when perhaps the memories associated with visiting the cemetery may be too painful.

The options available to those interested in planting a memorial tree are many. While it is common to plant a tree in the yard of the mourning family, there are many places, such as a park, synagogue or school where family members and friends could remember and reflect on this symbol of a life well lived. The family’s rabbi may even conduct a small service.

 

Debbie Taylor’s Passover Kugel Recipe

With Passover quickly approaching, here at Levinson’s we’ve been sharing recipes and family traditions. Here is a recipe from one of our “family members”, Debbie Taylor:
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Passover Matzoh Kugel Recipe
2 cups matzoh farfel, softened in boiling water for 15 minutes then drained well
4 large eggs, beaten
1 lb cottage cheese
1pt. sour cream
1 large can of crushed pineapple(with juice),optional
3/4 cup sugar.
Mix all ingredients
Pour into a greased 8×8 Pyrex dish
Bake at 350 for 1 hour

FAQ – Who Gets Funeral or Shiva Thank-you Notes?

One question we are often asked is who should formally be thanked after a funeral. It is important to note that the answer to this, as with most other things in Jewish tradition, often varies.

It is most common to write thank-you notes for donations or contributions that were made in a person’s memory, or to people who may have sent food to the family. It is also common to thank anyone who was exceptionally helpful in organizing shiva, etc. It is not expected that you should write a note to thank every person who attended the funeral.

However, in the more observant community it is NOT expected that thank-you notes be written, as that community views helping with shiva or making contributions in someone’s memory something that is a mitzvah – a commandment, not just a good deed – and, therefore, does not require thanks. Another part of the reasoning is they feel that grieving families should do just that – focus on their grief and not have to spend their time obligated to the duty of writing thank-you notes.