“From cradle to grave” pretty much encapsulates how Judaism takes care of its
own and, in so doing, provides an exemplary model to the rest of the world.
We are often faced with the seemingly paradoxical. Take the Jewish cemetery for
example. While on a functional level, a place to which Jews bring their dead,
the Jewish people regard it as a “bais ha chaim”, a house of life, an amazing
example of which is Waldheim Cemetery, located off Harlem Avenue in Forest Park,
nine miles west of Chicago’s Loop, http://www.waldheimcemetery.com/
Actually a collection of some two hundred and fifty smaller cemeteries organized
around the plethora of nineteenth century Jewish fraternal organizations,
landsmanschafen and synagogues, any and all Jewish geneology and history buffs
will be utterly amazed at the wealth of information one can glean while
carefully and respectfully walking in and around the thousands of graves in one
of the largest, oldest but still active Jewish cemeteries in the country.
Many graves have porcelain photographs of the departed attached to the headstone
reminding us that below one’s feet lie the earthly remains of zayde, bubbie,
father, mother, aunt, uncle, son, daughter, baby. Interestingly, there are many
graves of babies at Waldheim Cemetery, reflective of a time when many diseases
for which we’ve now vaccinations or cures took many young lives generations ago.
Much can be learned about Jewish values by visiting a bais ha chaim. Like the
Mourner’s Kaddish (http://www.jewfaq.org/prayer/kaddish.HTML) whose recitation
is a reaffirmation of life rather than a prayer about death or for the dead (as
so many mistakingly think), the Jewish cemetery is a ” makom zikaron” a place of
remembrance wherein we, the living, are reminded of the temporal nature of our
lives. Tehilim (Psalms) teach us how few are our days, that man who believes in
his own strength, is as a blade of grass. We are but visitors whose length of stay we
measure by the few days given us.
Jewish souls live on in perpetuity in the world of truth. Although we mourn the
loss of our loved ones, the essence of Jewish mourning and grief unfolds in the
leviathan struggle between the pain of our loss and our belief that death exists
within a transition of time from this world to the next when, in time of Moshiach,
there will be “tehias ha mesim”, the resurrection of the dead.
We set a headstone recording the fact that Gershon is the son of Moshe (Gershon
ben Moshe) or Sara, the daughter of Avrum (Sara bas Avrum).
A Jewish cemetery is an open book of genealogy in which all are linked through the generations and whose primary purpose is to enable the living to reaffirm their faith in The One G-d. Everyone is the child of his father.
There is no “tomb of the unknown” in a “bais ha chaim”.