Q. How do you select a proper memorial?
A. History reveals that the erection of monuments is as old as civilization. In fact, it is a measure of civilization. The higher the cultural and intellectual attainments of a people, the more beautiful and expressive were their memorials and cemeteries. A true memorial should be so designed that it has a two-fold purpose: First it should express your love, affection and admiration of one whose life was deeply woven with your own. By the use of interpretative ornaments and commemorative symbols, you can perpetuate precious personal and family ties. Secondly, it should endeavor to reflect something of the personality, achievements, ambitions, avocations or credo of the departed one. This is memorialization in its truest sense.
Q. Where are the components found in a fine memorial?
IN THE LETTERING. Be sure the lettering is deep and legible without the use of black paint, which will eventually fade away or streak the monument.
IN THE CARVING OF THE ORNAMENT. Pay particular attention to the shape of ornamental leaves or flowers. Are they crude and shapeless? Careful comparison can distinguish artistry from crudity. Is the background of the design darker than the leaf itself? This is an indication of quality craftsmanship involving several detailed processes.
IN THE FINISHES. Do polished surfaces have a high deep shine or are they dull and lusterless? Does a deep and dark polished area or a weak grey polish that is hardly different from the face border the lettering surface?
SIZE IS NOT A MEASURE OF VALUE. Granite for monumental purposes of any size from the same area can vary greatly in color, purity and cost. Furthermore, the craftsmanship on a small monument can exceed that of a larger one.
Q. How soon after death should a monument be ordered?
A. Monuments should be ordered at the time of funeral arrangements, since it requires considerable time to manufacture. The granite must first be quarried, after which it goes through many processes. However, the most time consuming element in the erection of a monument is the building of the foundation. Some cemeteries will not pour a concrete foundation until nine months after the burial. Please consult with our Monument Department concerning such questions and regulations. The winter months prevent the construction of foundations because concrete cannot be mixed during freezing weather. If an unveiling is planned for the early spring, arrange to purchase the monument no later than early November. The foundation can then be finished during December before the frost sets in. Foundation construction is usually halted in winter until late March or April after the ground has thawed. The average time is 2 to 4 months for the memorial to be in place at the gravesite.
Q. How soon after death should an unveiling be held?
A. Although it has been the general custom to unveil the monument around the eleventh month after death, Traditional Jews frequently have their unveiling any time after Shloshem (30 days) have elapsed. To accomplish this they purchase their monument immediately after the Shivah period. At the present time, custom seems to be divided between the two practices. Unveilings are held during periods that are most convenient, taking into account the weather, the summer vacation periods, expected births, weddings, and bar-mitzvahs, so as not to conflict with these more joyous occasions.
Q. Does Jewish custom permit the visiting of the cemetery before the erection of a monument?
A. Most rabbis advise that the unveiling should be the first occasion for visiting the grave. A more liberal opinion expressed by some rabbis is that extenuating circumstances can exist to warrant visiting an unmarked grave. It is a custom among Orthodox Jews to seek spiritual guidance from a visit to the grave of a deceased parent or spouse. Should such an occasion arise prior to the erection of the monument, a rabbi may be consulted to gain permission to visit the grave. This is called "asking a shalah".
Q. How is an unveiling ceremony conducted?
A. The immediate family should be at the site of the grave before the others arrive. They can then be sure that the unveiling cloth covers the monument. This cloth is given to the family when they receive the unveiling cards from our Monument Department. The family and friends gather around the grave. The rabbi begins with the recitations from the book of psalms (Tillem) and then he follows with the eulogy in English or Yiddish. After this he recites further psalms and ends with the Kaddish prayer in which the family participates. The veil is removed immediately before recitation of the Kaddish.
Q. Is it absolutely necessary for a rabbi to officiate at the unveiling?
A. While religious law does not require it, a rabbi is best acquainted with the ritual of an unveiling and the appropriate prayers. In choosing a rabbi it is preferable to choose one who was personally acquainted with the deceased. It would also be wise to choose a rabbi who practices the same type of Judaism as the family or the deceased.
Q. How soon before the unveiling are notices mailed to family and friends?
A. Cards should be mailed two weeks or ten days before the unveiling. Unveiling invitation cards along with directions to the cemeteries are available through our Monument Department.
Q. Is it customary to have refreshments at the unveiling?
A. The cemeteries look with extreme disfavor on the custom. Years ago, cemeteries were difficult to reach and transportation was an all day affair. It was therefore, an obligation on the part of the family to see that their friends were fed. At the end of the day the cemetery had the appearance of unkempt picnic grounds.
Nowadays most people invited to unveilings still expect something to be served, as if by tradition. Brandy may be distributed in miniature paper cups with honey cake or sponge cake cut into small pieces.
Some families prefer to gather at the home of the nearest kin, after the unveiling, where refreshments are served.
Q. Is a minyon necessary at an unveiling?
A. The family should consult with their rabbi.
Q. What is the significance of an unveiling cloth over the monument?
A. In early times it was the family who physically erected the monument to its loved ones. The monument might have been a pile of boulders surmounted by a crudely lettered slab of stone bearing the name of the deceased. All the kin participated and witnessed their completed handiwork together. In present society it became necessary to delegate this task to others and dedicate the monument on a day convenient to family and friends. It is desirable that their tribute to the deceased's memory be revealed by the removal of the veil or covering, simultaneously to all, and that its full significance be adequately interpreted by the rabbi.
Q. During what periods are unveilings prohibited?
A. Since unveilings are solemn occasions they are usually not held when they conflict with the occurrence of a Jewish festival holiday such as the period of Nissen. They are also not held during the Rosh Chodesh period, the occurrence of the new moon. While unveilings are definitely prohibited on high holidays, which usually occur in September (Elul) they may be held between holidays, before and after them due to the solemnity of these holidays.
Q. What is a yahrzeit?
A. Following are the rules for Yahrzeit:
- For Traditional Jews it is in the same (Hebrew) month in which the death occurs.
- If death took place the last day of the month (the 30`") which is Rosh Chodesh, or the first day of the following month or on leap year (which has 29 days) then the yahrzeit is held on the 29th day.
- If the death occurs in the Hebrew month of Adar on a leap year, when there are two Adar months, the yahrzeit is kept both times to avoid confusion.
- When the exact day of death is uncertain, one may choose a day close to what the day seems to be and hold that day as yahrzeit from then on.
- The yahrzeit candle or light should be kindled on the eve of yahrzeit day (the evening of the day before).
- Any member of the family may light the yahrzeit lamp.
Q. If the yahrzeit is overlooked, how can the oversight be remedied?
A. The oversight may be remedied by immediately lighting the Yahrzeit light and making the proper prayers. (Complimentary Yahrzeit calendars are always available through our funeral home).
Q. When is it best to order a double grave monument or a single grave monument?
A. If there is a reserve grave adjacent to the burial, a double monument is preferable. In addition to giving assurance to the survivor that the reserve burial site will not accidentally be used for another burial, there is some comfort in the knowledge that it is at the side of one's lifelong companion.
Other situations where double monuments are used (subject to the rules and regulations of the Burial Society/Cemetery) are:
For a mother and daughter
For a father and son
For a mother and son
For two brothers
For two unmarried sisters
The sentiment "united in life-inseparable forever" is fulfilled in the selection of a double monument.
Q. If a double monument is purchased and the surviving spouse remarries, may he or she be buried beside the first wife or husband?
A. According to Hebrew custom the first marriage is the significant one, especially if there were children from this marriage. If a double stone is erected and the place reserved for the surviving spouse whose expressed wish is to be buried on the site of their first wife or husband, the wish must be granted. According to Biblical precedent Jacob had four wives but was buried next to Leah, his first wife.
Q. Why do Jewish monuments bear the Hebrew name of the deceased's father and not mother?
A. This custom originated in biblical times before the adoption of family names. At that time when it was not uncommon for a man to have more than one wife, it established the identity of the father for heredity purposes and to carry on the lineage. To place the mother's name on the monument instead, is to imply a question as to the legitimacy of birth or the identity of the father.
Q. What facts and information should you take with you when purchasing a monument?
- The name of the cemetery where it is to be delivered.
- The name of the congregation or Burial Society that sold you the grave or a deed to the plot.
- The correct English name of the deceased.
- The correct birthday.
- The day of death and hour of the day.
- The age (if the birthday is not exact).
- The relationship to the family (Example: should a monument for a young husband also say "dear son, brother"), even if purchased solely by the widow.
- Was the deceased (men only) a Koen, or a Levi or an Israelite.
- Do you want an emblem such as Masonic, Knights of Pythias or Holocaust Survivor on the monument? A caduceus for a doctor.
- The deceased Hebrew name (not Yiddish).
- The deceased father's Hebrew name (usually not the mother's).
- Any Hebrew name given during life, as during severe illness and recovery.
- Do you want some expressive epitaph such as: "Forever in Our Hearts", "Forever Cherished", "Loved by All".
Many families purchase the monument at the time of funeral arrangements since all the above information is available at that time.
Q. Does the cemetery have the exclusive gardening rights? Can you engage an outside florist or do the gardening yourself?
A. A cemetery cannot legally prevent you from engaging an outside florist to do your planting, and/or care of the grave, but there is little to be gained by this practice. The cemeteries are better equipped than anyone else to do the planting and annual care. They know from experience which plants thrive best in their cemetery and maintain a year-around staff to attend to grave care. Furthermore, only the cemetery can provide the care allocated by the "Perpetual Care Trust Fund".
Q. What is perpetual care? Is it costly?
A. This is an optional service. Usually the Cemetery provides for the establishment and maintanance of a Perpetual Care Trust Fund, closely supervised by the State, wherein lump sums of money are deposited with the cemetery for perpetual care of graves. This does away with the annual care charge and assures that the interest on the original sum deposited will perpetually provide for the care and maintenance of the grave. The principal is never used up; it merely becomes part of a large fund. The cemeteries will readily furnish information on these funds upon request. Please check carefully with the cemetery as to other costs involved prior to the establishment of a Perpetual Care Account, initial planting on the grave, re-sodding, etc.
Q. Is there any significance to the custom of putting a pebble on the monument when visiting a grave? What is the origin of the custom?
A. According to the Bible the first monuments were merely mounds of stones or insides of natural rock caves, as was the graves of Abraham and Sarah. The early Hebrews were nomadic tribes and shepherds and were not skilled in the arts of quarrying and stone carving until their contacts with Babylon and Egypt.
It was the custom when passing by a mound of stones marking a grave to deposit one from the vicinity that may have fallen off. This became interpreted as a mark of thoughtfulness and regard for the memory of the person buried. These mounds of heavy rocks served to guard the graves from predatory animals and grave robbers.
Q. How does one commemorate a yahrzeit in a synagogue?
A. The family should consult with their rabbi. Traditional Jews would attend the Sabbath service prior to the yahrzeit and perhaps be called to the Sefer Torah for an Aliyah. On the day of the Yahrzeit, Kaddish should be said in the synagogue and a Kiddish of liquor and cake might be ordered for the minyan.
Q. What is the meaning of the different symbols used on monuments: lions, candelabra, Star of David, two hands, water pitcher, etc.?
A. The most frequently used symbol on a monument for a man is the Star of David. On a monument for a Koen, the symbol of the two hands with thumbs and forefingers touching, and on a monument of a Levi the symbols of a pitcher of pouring water are traditional. The lion is the "Lion of Judah" a symbol of courage, strength and superiority and carved on the shields and banners of warriors in battle. They gradually found their way into the temples of worship and were carved in relief over the cabinet where the Torah was held. There are emblems of fraternal organizations such as: square and compass (Masonic emblem), three links (Odd Fellows), shield and helmet (Knights of Pythias), etc. For the Medical profession the caduceus, etc.
On a woman's monument the menorah or Sabbath candelabra is most frequently used. This usually has five lights. The candelabra of the temple have seven lights and may be used on a family monument or mausoleum as a symbol of Judaism. The broken tree is a symbol of departed youth, male or female and is used in various ways on monuments for young people.
On a child's monument we frequently see the figure of a lamb or a bird, both symbols of innocence, purity and gentleness.
Q. What are monuments made of?
A. Until hardened steel and carbide steel tools became available to stone carvers, they used soft materials such as marble, slate and limestone for monuments. Now, most monuments are made of granites which come in many colors from quarries of the world.
About ninety-five percent of the monuments sold in New York City have been made of white (light grey) granites for the past sixty year's.
During the past decade several colored granites have become available for monumental use. Canada is the source of pink granite of fine workable grain. From Wisconsin has come a ruby red granite that can attain a glistening polish because of its amazing hardness. New eastern quarries have discovered granites that rival the famed Carrara marbles in variegated graining.
The light grey granites are most plentiful in the eastern part of the United States, from Maine to Georgia following the Allegheny and Adirondack Mountain ranges. Some black granites come from Pennsylvania, Africa and India.
Q. How should a monument be finished? Rock-hewn, smooth or polished?
A. While some prefer to have the top and sides of a memorial finished smooth, the majority select the "natural rock" appearance of the original granite and leave the top and sides rock-hewn.
Granite is quarried in huge blocks about twelve feet long and four feet square by a combination of techniques involving blasting and drilling. These blocks are then sent to the saw plant where they are cut into slabs from six to twelve inches thick by the use of multiple wire saws. These saws leave ridges on the face of the granite which are removed by rotating a heavy flat disk of steel on the surface of the granite with grinding grit under it. After many revolutions of this heavy, flat wheel, the ridges wear down and become smooth. To bring a high gloss to this surface, this process is continued with the use of felt and putty powder (polishing rouge) under the heavy rotating disk. The combination of the high speed of the revolving wheel (disk) pressing down on the surface together with the polishing agent, brings the granite to an everlasting gloss. Since granite is largely silica, the main ingredient of glass, the same gloss is realized.