Today we made the annual visit to the cemetery. It’s about a mile from our home. Before the dawning of a new year it is a must. We have stories to tell those beloved who lie there. We have hopes and prayers for them to whisper to the Almighty. As in life, we somehow know they hear us and they won’t let us down. Anyway, it makes us feel good!
Lying in their graves are my parents, Sam and Ida Litwak, who raised their family in Newark’s Weequahic section but lived their elder years as olim in Israel. It’s hard to imagine any olim more enthusiastic than Sam and Ida. To them Israel was perfect. Undaunted by the challenges of a new home in a new land, my 80 year old father and 73 year old mother had bright futures in this holy land. And they lived here for many years until their lives brought them to rest in the Herzliya Cemetery.
The Herzliya Cemetery is a place of life and love, unlike the often neglected and impersonal cemeteries that I know so well in New Jersey. Its grounds are immaculate. Flowers and lush plantings are everywhere.
This is a community cemetery. People don’t need to fight traffic to get here. Mostly their beloved are buried very close to home. Some family members come almost daily. I can tell by the freshness of the flowers that rest on the graves. I can tell by the familiarity that I see, no searching maps for the right gravesite. They come with pitchers to bathe the dusty stones which are inscribed with beautiful tributes to capture the lives of those resting beneath the earth.
Often the stones themselves are a sign of a life taken too young. There is the basketball hoop with a whistle and a giant rock divided in half. We can figure out the story. We can shed a tear.
There is the entire, much too large, section devoted to the chayalim, soldiers, from Herzliya. Their parents never forget. Just about each and every grave is adorned with something alive and fresh and well tended. How could a parent forget a child who died so that Israel might live? The tenderness of caring for the graves is all that these parents can do for their children now. One weeps. All weep. May this section of the cemetery welcome no more young and beautiful lives!
We met a woman at the entrance. A visitor from London, she was relieved that we spoke English as she searched for the graves of her aunt and uncle who had died many years ago. She only suspected that they might lie in the Herzliya Cemetery. Where? She had no idea. As it was still early morning and the office not yet open, my sister called the number on the door and spoke to Yigal. With endless patience, and many call backs, he located the graves in Ramat Hasharon, a neighboring town. Mission accomplished. Yigal understood that the search for graves is always urgent, never to be brushed off. It was a powerful lesson in respect for the dead. The London lady’s aunt and uncle will, at last, be visited.
Our last stop was to spend time with Ze’ev, my sister’s adored husband who died in 2013. The grave was pristine. My sister is there often. He was a good and loving husband. His widow has not forgotten. We told him about his four remarkable grandchildren. How fortunate that Ze’ev lived long enough, despite endless sickness, to meet each of them. They will grow and be a continued blessing for Israel, as was Ze’ev who fought in every war from Independence through Yom Kippur, never complaining, shrugging his shoulders at the danger. He had to do it, he would tell you. Like everyone else in this too long embattled land.
Somehow, leaving the cemetery, we always feel uplifted. Like we’ve visited with those we love. The cemetery is beautiful and spotlessly clean. The flowers add a perky cheerfulness. It is not moribund. Its innumerable sad and tragic stories are a backdrop to a place designed to welcome the living. We mourn and we go on. That’s the message of the Herzliya Cemetery. That’s the message of life. It can be no other way.
May all who are beloved in the Herzliya Cemetery rest in peace.