Half Karmiel turned out on Wednesday last week to attend the funeral of one of our new friends here.
This was a mark, not only of the deceased’s popularity or the graceful charm of his widow, but of how our small, close-knit community shares personal sorrow as well as joy.
The funeral was the first we have attended since emigrating from the U.K. and much of it was startlingly different from any I had previously witnessed.
I was astounded moreover by the sudden appearance of a woman in full Arab-dress. She emerged from the crowd as though from nowhere and even as the rabbi spoke, approached and embraced the mourners with great tenderness and had her affection returned.
Even more remarkable was that she washed her hands in the Jewish manner as we vacated the cemetery after the service.
The deceased was buried only in a shroud; some well-wishers brought flowers and the rabbi circumvented the tradition forbidding graveside tributes during Passover by giving an eloquent ‘address’ in which he named the dead person – several times – occasionally accompanied by fond laughter!
The cemetery itself reflects the town’s pretty, cosmopolitan air with headstone memorials etched in Russian, Spanish, French and English as well as Hebrew.
Some headstones are quite wonderfully sculpted, others carry photographs of the deceased and more include slots for memorial candles.
Some of these customs would be strictly censored by the British rabbinate who are quite painfully rooted in particular traditions and never consider, for example, how the present European form of headstone unveiling ceremony is barely 150 years old.
During the 1990s, I was deeply indignant when having spent hours composing a tribute to my mother for her tombstone ‘unveiling’, the presiding rabbi not only forbade me to read it – I am a mere woman after all! – but also refused to read it himself as he considered it inappropriate.
I sometimes wonder – in the U.K. at least of which I can speak with some knowledge – if religious ceremonies are performed for the benefit of the congregation or the greater glory of a particular rabbi.
(The pictures were taken last summer at the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery, Jerusalem).