SEPTEMBER 21, 2017 – Where once I found visiting the cemetery a somewhat frightening experience, I now feel it is a place of comfort, of memories and of peace.
When I walk among the graves of those I loved, respected and admired, I don’t see gravestones but loved ones. I read the names in English and in Hebrew; I ponder the birthdates and death dates and I realize how many years have gone by since they passed. I speculate on information revealed on these monuments, tributes to beloved parents, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, husbands and wives. They remind me that these were people who lived, who loved and who were loved.
I enter the Beit Chaim, the House of Life where many of the people who worshiped together at the Anshai Sfard synagogue on the Lynn Commons, who shared simchahs and sadness, now share this sacred resting place. I see generations of family members, crying over graves, praying, and reaffirming their faith in God. I hear their prayers, I feel their tears as they remember – so do I.
As David McKenna, president of John Ross & Son cemetery management says, “The cemetery is a place where we preserve memories one day at a time.”
Sadly, not as many people visit the cemeteries now. Some are interred here, others have found resting places elsewhere. Years ago Route 114 leading to Cemetery Road was unbelievably busy on three consecutive Sundays. Some folks were local, others came from far away. Quite a few were making this pilgrimage before going to Florida for the winter. So many people, so many voices, so many families.
McKenna recalls, “There were so many people those Sundays we had to have three police officers directing the traffic.”
As a child growing up in Mattapan, I knew that the second Sunday before the holidays meant my mother’s family and extended family spanning several generations would meet at the cemetery. Everyone knew the day; its choice made perfect sense. If it rained that particular Sunday they still had another chance. I always thought this must be some sacred place that drew families together each year. It was, however, off limits to pregnant women and children who had two living parents. Unfortunately, too soon I was inducted into the congregation allowed on these hallowed grounds.
When I was married and living in Danvers, my husband and I would join my mother in the annual trek to the Anshe Sfard cemetery, a far different place than it is today. In deference to my mom, we still kept the tradition of planning the cemetery visit according to her schedule.
Each year the same crew sat in the little house you had to pass through on the way to the graves. The volunteers chatted with each other, stopping to greet the visitors; so did the unmistakable smell of corned beef and half sour pickles. Numerous little dishes sat on the table filled with change and bills reminding visitors of their obligatory tzedakah donation. Later we discovered all the money went into one collection bag.
Mr. Singer sat in a chair near the entrance to the cemetery, ready to make a “ha mulah” they would say in Yiddish. I don’t know how many years it was before I realized that for a few dollars per grave, he was actually chanting the El Moleh Rachamim inserting the deceased’s name. In later years, my husband took over and now my son Matt does the honors. Unfortunately, he has become quite good at it. Our first stop is always at Temple Beth Shalom cemetery to visit the graves of his father and brother, my husband and son.
Then Matt, his wife Jackie, and I drive up the hill where our visit is much longer. Our first stop is at Uncle Jake Finkle’s grave, a wonderful man who served as a role model for my children. Their own grandfather died before they were born. After intoning the Hebrew prayer, we pay our respects at the graves of aunts, uncles and my grandparents. We stop longer at the double gravesite of my mother and father, Rose and Max Liftman, for whom Matthew was named. My son delivers the El Molay Rachamim two more times. Then he searches out the grave of his great-great grandmother, Baile Lipsky, who died in 1914, at the age of 55. For some odd reason, my mother could never find it, but my husband did. Now it’s Matt’s responsibility. In fact, I leave this entire legacy to my son. Here he can find his roots, know where he came from. And so we leave the cemetery together for one more year, each of us with our own thoughts, each of us knowing we will never forget.
“As long as we live, they, too, will live, for they are now a part of us, as we remember them.”
Myrna Fearer writes from Danvers.