Entry for March 04, 2007

Cover art from The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

Today at the “consolation meal” after the funeral at Temple Emanuel and burial at the cemetary, Steve, Harriet’s son, told us what he really had told the reporter about his mother: In Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, which chronicled the book tour for Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion, there was a banner with a slogan on the bus, “Transcend the b.s.” Of course, Steve said the whole word, but the cyberpatrol at the Roanoke City Library will ban this page, if I write it here. The reporter parahrased it as “”My mother could cut to the chase as fast as any human being. ” That’s true, too.

Jill and Gary, Alice and Joe, Ruth, and Paula all attended.

I didn’t even know where the Jewish cemetary was. (It’s out Orange Avenue east of town. Here’s an interesting description from “Cultural Expressions of Nature in Sacred Contexts: Documentation of Family & Community Cemeteries in Roanoke County, Virginia” by Thomas S. Klatka of the Roanoke Regional Preservation Office of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources” (2000, pp 27-30)

[The] two Jewish cemeteries were established shortly after the reform synagogue Temple Emanuel was founded in the late 19 th century and the conservative synagogue Beth Israel was founded in 1900….

Cemeteries for the Temple Emanuel and Beth Israel synagogues were started on adjacent parcels and together form a rectangular shape. Salient geometric design elements shared by the cemeteries impart an image of a single large cemetery, while more subtle attributes differentiate one from another.

An ornate stone wall marks a unified southern boundary and gates provide entrance to a driveway that encompasses the two cemeteries. The cemeteries are covered with grass while trees and shrubs accentuate the overall perimeters of the cemeteries. A shared border between the cemeteries is marked in muted fashion by a shrub and a few trees. Straight walkways connect the orderly rows of graves marked with large headstones and monuments. The use of geometric design elements and sparing use of plants to define space between and within the cemeteries reflects traits common to lawn or park cemeteries that were enjoying rising popularity in the nation. However, the large headstones and monuments in these Jewish cemeteries provide bold statements of individual identity that are incongruent with the concept of a lawn cemetery where individual identity was masked. Burial in a Jewish cemetery is not a prescribed practice so Jews may be buried on private land. However, burial in a Jewish cemetery is strongly preferred to permit a burial service officiated by a rabbi. Jews are not buried in caskets constructed with metal parts and vaults are not used. Caskets are constructed of wood that are often ornate, attractively finished, and fastened with wood pegs. This material practice is guided by the desire for the body to complete the sacred cycle revealed in the biblical teaching, “for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Genesis 3:19).

Each cemetery was designed with both individual and family plots. Similar to the Protestant practice, Jewish burials were also oriented with the long axis of the grave shaft oriented in an east to west direction. The deceased were placed in graves with their heads to the west and feet to the east. Following Jewish custom, this orientation would permit the dead to face Jerusalem. Personal preference governed the placement and orientation of markers on a grave, but headstones were usually placed at the head of a grave. Most of the grave markers in the Beth Israel and Temple Emanuel cemeteries are oriented to permit easy viewing of headstone inscriptions by visitors using the internal driveway and walkways.

In these cemeteries it is customary for visitors to place small pebbles on grave markers as a sign of remembrance and visitation. This traditional practice presumably developed when burials took place in arid regions where rocks were piled on the tops of graves to hinder disturbance by animals. All headstones were inscribed in English, but in the Beth Israel cemetery headstones or footstones were also inscribed in Hebrew. This practice represents the exception in the reform Temple Emanuel cemetery. The Beth Israel cemetery is also differentiated from the Temple Emanuel cemetery by its rear row of graves where infants and sacred items were buried.

Conservative and orthodox Jews do not discard sacred objects or texts, such as Torahs and prayer books. Sacred items heavily worn through extensive use receive respectful burial with the grave capped by a marker inscribed with contents of the grave. These practices serve to differentiate the two cemeteries.

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