Elul 8 5776
Today includes a pilgrimage to the burial place of my maternal ancestors on the outskirts of London. Three generations, spanning a century, welcome us in silence. I was here exactly a year ago with my mother, placing stones on the graves of her parents and grandparents, siblings and cousins and friends. Another aunt has died since then, now more of that generation on that side of life than ours. On this, the 8th day of this journey to renewal, I represent my mother in honoring the ancestors as is the custom during these days of Elul.
I stand here among my dead relatives and think about those who have no grave.
My father’s parents, brother and so many other family members who perished in the Holocaust. And I think about all those whose ashes were scattered all over New York City on this day 15 years ago today. I was there on 9/11 and those ashes are as tangible and memorable in my heart as these engraved grave stone that I have come here to see, and touch, and take a photo of, as if to say: Remembered.
This becomes the day on which I pause to think of what other graves I’ve stood by this past year, who among my family and friends is no longer living? What legacy have they left behind? What stories and teachings are left? What secrets and songs we will never know?
Honoring the deceased and marking death with dignity allows us to refocus on the gift of life. What will my legacy be? what matters most when all is said and done? What will be written on my tombstone?
May the souls of deceased rest in peace, grave or not. May memories be blessings, today and each and every day of precious living.
To my ancestors, a simple stone of gratitude for the gift of legacy and life.
PREPENT: Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie’s annual journey to the new year, with 40 ways in 40 days to reflect, refocus, recharge and restart life. This year features daily love letters inspired by Lab/Shul’s theme for the High Holy Days, “וְאָהַבְתָּ re:love.”
This story "Prepent Day 8: Honoring the Dead" was written by Amichai Lau-Lavie.