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The Jewish unveiling ceremony is the physical act of erecting and unveiling a monument, which allows for the expression of the sad and painful emotions of grief. Family members gather together, often from cities that are miles apart, and continue their mourning as a family, lending each other comfort and support in dealing with their grief. For individuals who were not able to attend the funeral or shiva, the unveiling ritual provides yet another opportunity to grieve and to acknowledge one’s loss. Although painful, this realistic experience of grief can, over time, be very healing for mourners.
During the unveiling of a monument, as one sees the name of a beloved family member etched in stone, there is a stark realization of the finality of death. The impact can be quite jarring to some, and yet, at the same time, can provide a further opportunity to accept the reality of the loss. Thus, the unveiling ritual allows mourners to face death and loss realistically, and to affirm a commitment to life and to living. The unveiling also allows the bereaved family members to honor and to recall the memory of their departed. It is a chance to continue to reflect upon the significance of that person’s life, his or her accomplishments, and the people who were important. In a sense, through the unveiling, the memory of a person’s life is etched permanently into the collective memory of the Jewish community.
Rabbi Jason Miller is available to lead the unveiling ceremony for your deceased family member or deceased friend. Rabbi Jason has a customized booklet for everyone in attendance to use at the unveiling service and then keep to commemorate the life cycle event. If you are interested in ordering a customized unveiling booklet without having Rabbi Jason officiate at your unveiling, please contact him to arrange this service.
To contact Rabbi Jason Miller to inquire about a Jewish funeral service, call Rabbi Jason at 248-535-7090 or use the contact form. The honorarium (fee) for a local unveiling service is $200. The honorarium (fee) for unveiling services outside of Michigan are based on travel distance.
Baruch Dayan Haemet – My deepest condolences on your loss.
Barbara Binder Kadden explains the Jewish unveiling ceremony on MyJewishLearning.com:
Customs surrounding the Jewish grave show honor toward the deceased and reflect the teaching that all are equal in death. Since ancient times, it has been the custom to mark the grave with a stone or monument. After Rachel died, “Jacob erected a monument on Rachel’s grave” (Genesis 35:20). The marker or monument serves to identify the grave so that relatives will find it when they visit, honor the memory of the deceased, and identify a place of burial so that kohanim (priests) will avoid it as required by Jewish law.
Jewish tradition makes no stipulation as to the size or type of marker or monument, but most cemeteries have specific guidelines. The Jewish teaching that all are equal in death often serves as a guide to choosing an appropriate headstone.mourning quiz
The marker usually includes: the English and Hebrew name of the deceased, the dates of birth and death in English and Hebrew, and the relationship to other family members (i.e., father/mother, husband/wife, grandfather/grandmother, sister/ brother, etc.). Also, one often finds the Hebrew letters pay nun, standing for “po nikbar(ah), here is buried,” and the letters tav, nun, tzadee, bet, hay, standing for the phrase “May his/her soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life.”
It is customary for the grave marker to be put in place and for an unveiling ceremony to be held after the Kaddish period [11 months for parents and 30 days for other close relatives] is over, but no later than one year after the death. While many families wait until almost the full year has passed to do the unveiling, it may be done sooner; in Israel the stone is usually placed soon after sh’loshim [the first 30 days of mourning].
The unveiling ceremony consists of the recitation of Psalms, a very brief eulogy encapsulating the most salient characteristics of the deceased, removing the cloth covering the headstone, the El Maleh Rahamim [God full of compassion–a prayer], and the Mourner’s Kaddish [a prayer in praise of God recited by mourners]. Traditionally, Kaddish is not recited aloud if no minyan [quorum of 10] is present.
It is customary, before leaving the gravesite, to place a small stone on the marker to indicate that someone has visited the grave. This tradition may also reflect the biblical practice of marking the grave with a pile of stones. Or, it may be the end result of the custom of writing notes to the deceased and pushing them into crevices in the headstone just as notes are pushed into the Western Wall in Jerusalem. When no crevice could be found, the note was weighted down with a stone. In time, the paper disintegrated or blew away leaving only the stone. Thus, some began to think that the leaving of a stone was the custom… and so it became the custom.
Visiting the Grave
While visitation of the grave is permitted at almost any time, excessive visits are discouraged. “The rabbis were apprehensive that frequent visiting to the cemetery might become a pattern of living thus preventing the bereaved from placing their dead in proper perspective” (The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning, Maurice Lamm, p. 192).
It is considered especially appropriate to visit the graves of loved ones on the last day of shiva [the first seven days of intensive mourning] and the last day of sheloshim, on Yahrzeit [the yearly anniversary of a person’s death], on Jewish fast days, and before or between the High Holy Days. Traditional Jews will often recite psalms while visiting, study a short passage from the Mishnah [an early rabbinic legal code], or recite “El Maleh Rahamim.”