Saturday, January 17, 2009

Visiting a Jewish cemetery: Experiences, emotions

Ruth Ellen Gruber's posting at JewishHeritageTravel covers emotional and mystical experiences at Jewish cemeteries, both her own and of others.
Visiting a Jewish cemetery in Europe, and particularly in East-Central Europe, can be an emotional experience.

This holds true whether you go there as a volunteer helping clean up an abandoned cemetery overgrown by weeds and trees, or as someone on a roots trip looking for a long-lost, or long-forgotten, family grave, or as a "straight" tourist interested in history or the powerful imagery of tombstone art.

In the introductory chapter of
Jewish Heritage Travel: A Guide to Eastern Europe I addressed these emotions, describing how I myself felt when I began exploring these sites.

I became absolutely mesmerized, even a little obsessed with what I was seeing. I wanted to visit, touch, see, feel as many places as I could. I almost felt it a duty. As I entered broken gates or climbed over broken walls into cemeteries where a Jew may not have set foot in years, I wanted to spread my arms and embrace them all, embrace all the tombstones, all the people buried there, all the memories.

In the first editions of the book, I added a further sentence, describing how I projected my thoughts toward these all so often forgotten places:
I'm here, I told them mentally; SOMEONE is here.

Back then, my trips were voyages of discovery. Everything was new; there was little literature on the subject, few visitors had made their way to such sites, and there were few efforts to preserve, maintain or restore them. But even today, after scholars and genealogists and tour guides have studied and mapped and documented almost everything -- I still feel the pull.
Ruth continues on to detail a Jerusalem Post story by Jonathan Gillis who took part in a restoration project of the Czestochowa (Poland) Jewish cemetery and his experiences. She includes photos (1991, 2006) of the old Jewish cemetery cemetery in Nazna, Romania - near Targu Mures - and describes her almost mystical experience there.

Read Ruth's complete post at the link above.

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