BACKGROUND OF THE UNVEILING
The custom of
placing a monument over the grave of a departed
person is a very ancient Jewish tradition. The
Book of Genesis, for example, records that Jacob
erected a tombstone over the grave of his wife
Rachel. From Biblical times onward, wherever
Jewish communities have existed, Jews have
continued this practice of erecting a memorial
in honor of their deceased.
The tombstone is
erected to indicate clearly where a person is
buried, so that family and friends may visit the
gravesite. It is also a way of remembering and
honoring the memory of the person who has died.
Today, we refer
to the ceremony of formally consecrating a
tombstone as an "unveiling". While
this ceremony has no origin in pre-modern Jewish
life, this has become an acceptable practice
takes place during the first year after death.
There are no strict guidelines for the timing of
an unveiling, and, while families may choose a
date at any time after the end of the Shiva, it
has become a contemporary practice to
schedule this ceremony for some time between the
end of Shloshim, the thirty day period of
intensive mourning, and the first Yahrzeit, the
anniversary of a death.
PSYCHOLOGICAL FUNCTION OF THE UNVEILING
The unveiling is a mourning ritual which
serves a very specific function in the healing
process of the bereaved. It is not simply a
perfunctory ritual, but rather, like the
funeral, Shiva, Shloshim and Kaddish, the
unveiling provides mourners with the opportunity
for emotional and psychological healing.
The physical act of erecting and unveiling a
monument allows for the expression of the sad
and painful emotions of grief. Family members
gather together, often from cities which are
miles apart, and continue their mourning as a
family, lending each other comfort and support
in dealing with their grief.
For individuals who were not able to attend
the funeral or Shiva, the unveiling ritual
provides yet another opportunity to grieve and
to acknowledge one's loss. Although painful,
this realistic experience of grief can, over
time, be very healing for mourners.
During the unveiling of a monument, as one
sees the name of a beloved family member etched
in stone, there is a stark realization of the
finality of death. The impact can be quite
jarring to some, and yet, at the same time, can
provide a further opportunity to accept the
reality of the loss. Thus, the unveiling ritual
allows mourners to face death and loss
realistically, and to affirm a commitment to
life and to living.
The unveiling also allows the bereaved family
members to honor and to recall the memory of
their departed. It is a chance to continue to
reflect upon the significance of that person's
life, his or her accomplishments, and the people
who were important. In a sense, through the
unveiling, the memory of a person's life is
etched permanently into the collective memory of
the Jewish community.