A Jewish unveiling is an event held by bereaved families up to one year after the death of a relative. The unveiling ceremony has a practical reason. According to Jewish tradition, burials take place as soon as possible, which makes it difficult to obtain a suitable gravestone before burial. A Jewish unveiling is a smaller event than a burial and includes adding a gravestone to a grave site. It provides another opportunity for family and friends to gather and remember their loved one as a group. Following a procedure will help you plan and conduct a meaningful unveiling.
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Things you need
- Siddurim (Jewish prayer books)
- Book of Psalms copies
Choose and order a gravestone. A simple gravestone with one or more Jewish symbols is traditional. The gravestone also shows basic information about the deceased person, including his Hebrew name, birth date and date of death. The same information in the local language is also common on a gravestone. Other inscriptions are usually in Hebrew.
Write a guest list. Traditional guests include immediate family members, other people with a close personal relationship and a rabbi. Some people choose to have an unveiling attended by only immediate family members.
Schedule the unveiling. The unveiling should be at least 30 days after the burial and before one year since the date of death according the Hebrew calendar. Customs regarding the timing of an unveiling vary by community. In the United States, for example, many unveilings are nearly one year after death. Unveilings in Israel tend to take place much earlier.
Notify guests of the unveiling date. If a rabbi will preside, call the rabbi as soon as possible to discuss needs, wishes or concerns. Provide directions to the cemetery.
Arrive at the cemetery on the day of the unveiling before the event's scheduled time to make preparations. Cover the gravestone with cloth.
Greet arriving guests. If you have not done so already, explain any special plans you have for the unveiling. Give guests any reading materials they will need, such as siddurim (Jewish prayer books) and copies of the Book of Psalms.
Gather the guests by the graveside. No set liturgy or order of events exists for an unveiling. Common activities for attendees include praying, discussing memories of the deceased and reading from the Book of Psalms. If a rabbi is present, the rabbi may lead the event.
Remove the cloth from the gravestone.
Place one pebble on the gravestone. Placing stones on graves is a Jewish tradition, showing the grave had visitors.
Tips and warnings
- If guests from different religious traditions will attend, explain to them in advance the purpose of the unveiling and what behaviour is considered inappropriate for the event.
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- Chabad.org: Jewish Calendar -- Jewish/Civil Date Converter
- Chabad.org: The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning -- The Unveiling; Maurice Lamm
- JewishGen: Reading Hebrew Tombstones; 1996, 2001
- "Teaching Jewish Life Cycle: Insights and Activities"; The Tombstone, the Unveiling and Visting the Grave; Barbara Binder Kadden