The cemetery was not something that God made when God created the world. It was a human invention. We wanted a place to come. A place to speak with our loved ones, to visit with them, to sit quietly with them, to laugh with them and cry with them. But when we come to visit them, we do what Jews have always done when they visited relatives, we do not come empty handed. We bring many different things when we come to the cemetery.
We bring stones. The stones we bring are worn smooth by the caresses of our hands as we stand vigil over the grave of our loved ones. No amount of stones can make the experience of death any kinder, but we take comfort in the pebbles we see near our loved ones’ names that let us know that they are remembered. We look around and see other stones, symbols of God’s presence, shells a reminder of a loved one’s fondness for the ocean; hand painted rocks with sweet nothings written on them by children. We recall that one of the names for God is tzur Yisrael and as we gaze upon the stones we are reminded that God continues to look after our loved ones long after we leave the cemetery. We bring our sorrow and our tears. The ground in the cemetery has soaked up the tears of many people over the years. Among the sounds that echo here is that of weeping, the tears cried silently or wailed out loud at a loved one’s grave. We proudly bring those tears for they are a sign of the love we had for the one that death has taken from us, they show people that we are feeling sorrow or grief. The ground of the cemetery will be stained with more of our tears over the years. Our sorrow and tears are constrained to neither season nor time. They bathe us in love and we walk proudly from the cemetery with streaked faces, tears yet another monument of our love. We bring our memories. The death of someone we love or someone with whom we struggled brings to mind the memories of our relationship with them. We remember what they said in life. We replay in our minds conversations and we bring to mind memories of moments we shared that we recall with affection. Our memories are ours to keep and ours to share. As family members and friends we support our loved ones who are grieving by bringing our own memories of the departed to share, memories that might otherwise have been forgotten. We bring to the cemetery memories to remember, and to cherish in the mist of our sorrow. We bring questions. We know that death is the end of a life but not the end of a relationship and for some of us there is great comfort to be found in the cemetery in that we find it to be a place where our conversations with our loved ones can continue. A place where we may bring questions, things we need answered and things that can never be answered. If we come here unsettled, we may leave the same, but we may also leave with more peace and more direction. As Jews we question, it is what we do and here we bring some of our most difficult questions: Why did this happen? What will become of me now? Where is God? This is a place that does not fear the questions we bring it. In fact, is asks questions of its own.
Stones. Tears. Memories. Questions.
We come here today with pockets and hearts full. To this place that we created out of our own need to be with our loved ones at this moment as the New Year begins.
Rabbi Wechsler has touched the lives of many members of our community through her intellect, warmth, compassion and commitment to the ideals of Conservative Judaism. As the first woman to serve as rabbi of Chizuk Amuno Congregation, her impact and accomplishments are demonstrated in our successful b’nei mitzvah, adult learning programs, gemilut hasadim efforts, and many learning and life cycle experiences. Her communal work includes service on the Executive Committee of the Baltimore Board of Rabbis, the Grant Review Committee for the Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Fund of The Associated, and the Teacher Certification group of the Center for Jewish Education. She has published sermons and opinion articles in The American Rabbi, The Orchard, and the New York Jewish Week. Debi received her rabbinic ordination, as well as an M.A., from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York City where she also served on the Board of Overseers of the Rabbinical School.