* shlep– (Yid.) to proceed or move especially slowly, tediously, awkwardly, or carelessly
As a child I remember going to the Jewish section of the cemetery with my Mom. She knew where the Engel family was buried and would lead the way. We would gather small stones as we approached so that we could carefully place them on the headstone. It was not until I was much older that I realized that this is a Jewish custom. When I asked my mom why we did that she gave me the explanation that we were showing our relatives that we cared and remembered them. Recently I revisited this custom and found a number of explanations, but my favorite is by Rabbi Andrew Straus who says,
“Ritual is a way of expressing our emotions and spiritual needs. We need physical acts to express these things for us, to make them concrete.”
Placing a stone on a grave does just that. It works in several ways:
1) It is a sign to others who come to the grave when I am not there that they and I are not the only ones who remember. The stones I see on the grave when I come are a reminder to me that others have come to visit the grave. My loved one is remembered by many others and his/her life continues to have an impact on others, even if I do not see them.
2) When I pick up the stone it sends a message to me. I can still feel my loved one. I can still touch and be touched by him/her. I can still feel the impact that has been made on my life. Their life, love, teachings, values, and morals still make an impression on me. When I put the stone down, it is a reminder to me that I can no longer take this person with me physically. I can only take him/her with me in my heart and my mind and the actions I do because he/she taught me to do them. Their values, morals, ideals live on and continue to impress me – just as the stone has made an impression on my hands – so too their life has made an impression on me that continues.”
After placing the stone on the headstone it is a wonderful opportunity to examine the writing on the grave. You may find that there is Hebrew writing on the headstone along with the English name and dates. For example, here is my great grandfather’s headstone.
You can see that his name was Myer Krueger and lived from 1885-1934. Although I am Jewish and had some education in Hebrew, I don’t remember enough to be able to interpret the writing. From what I have come to learn the Hebrew engravings often include the full Jewish name and the name of the person’s father. With any luck this opens up a new branch on your family tree!
There are a number of options to get the Hebrew translated, but probably the simplest is to find someone who knows the language. This could either include a visit to your local synagogue, university’s Jewish studies department, or look online for possible translation. What I’ve found to be easiest was to turn to Jewishgen’s members to assist in translating the Hebrew writing. If you are not already a member, I recommend that you sign up so that you can post and images or documents that you may want translated eventually. Once you have logged in click on the “Research” menu and choose “Viewmate” from the drop down menu.
After I uploaded the photo of Myer’s headstone I got the following responses.
The first JewishGen member response: “Hebrew says: Here lies Mayer son of Eliyahu Kriger, died 24 Cheshvan 5694 = Nov 13, 1933 May he rest in peace”
Another response was: “note: died in Hebrew is NIFTAR with the letter TET. Here it is with the letter TAV, a misspelling.
Finally another response: “Assuming that the engraved year 1934 is correct, the Jewish date is not 5694 but 5695 and that would change the civil date to Nov 2, 1934.”
Now, if you didn’t already know the date of his death this could open up some avenues to research obituaries. The real revelation was that his father’s name was Eliyahu Kriger! I was so excited to have a name for my great great grandfather! In later articles I will reveal how I discovered Myer’s place of birth and proved that Eliyahu was in that town at that time.
In the meantime I have been trying to find Myer’s sister who lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The only clues I had were from my grandmother’s biography,
“Dad’s sister married a Mr. Frame, moved to Milwaukee and had two sons, Alex and Maurice. After her husband left her, Dad would send her money to tide her over.”
On a recent search on JewishData I found headstone for Fannie Frame and Alex Frame. I’m not totally sure that Fannie is Myer’s sister, but it’s certainly worth a try to get the Hebrew translated.
The first JewishGen member response: Here Lies (two-letter acronym surrounding the star)
Shayna Faygel, daughter of Eliyakim
Died 22nd of Tishri, 56?? – she’d be 89, but that’s not what the numbers appear to be.
May her soul be bound up for life eternal.
Another response was: here lies
Shayna Feigel daughter of Elyakim
died 22nd day of Tishrei 5690
(acronym meaning) may her soul be bound in eternal life
A third translation: Here lies Sheina Feigel,son of Rabbi Eliakim (Eliakum)
Died in 22 Tishrei 5690
The final response was: Shayne Feigel is without any doubt a woman’s name.
The acronym after her name and before her father’s – ב”ר – stands for “bat reb” i.e. “daughter of reb” (“reb” is an honorific, more or less the equivalent of Mr.”. The first responders are are right.
This should not be confused with the Aramaic word בר which does indeed mean “son”.
The father’s name on the gravestone is Elyakum.
She died on 22nd Tishrei 5690.
As you can see, translations can vary a good bit so be sure and pay close attention to the responses you get. Based on this information I can’t completely rule out Fannie as a match as Myer’s sister. Eliyahu and Elyakum are fairly similar so it’s possible that it could be the same person. I will continue to hunt for more information, but we’ll see if it pans out. Now that I have approximate birth and death dates for Fannie I will check the census, directories, and immigration records to see what can be found there. Be prepared to hear more about this hunt in the future. In the meantime, shlep on over to the cemetery and get pictures of your ancestors’ headstones. There might be a clue that you did not even realize was hidden there.
This blog entry was originally written for “The In-Depth Genealogist”.