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Revelations: A Trip to the Dover Sinai Cemetery

05/23/2021 03:43:26 PM


Rabbi Rudin


Revelations: A Trip to the Dover Sinai Cemetery

זְכֹר֙ יְמ֣וֹת עוֹלָ֔ם בִּ֖ינוּ שְׁנ֣וֹת דֹּר־וָדֹ֑ר

Zachor Y’mot Olam…  remember the days past, the years of each generation. 

-Devarim 32:7

In a way, knowing how a person or a community relates to their past indicates their future.  Some ignore the past and, as the saying goes, are doomed to repeat it.  Others venerate the past so much that they freeze the present into its mold.  I believe that the Jewish view of the past is revealed in this week’s Torah portion.  Aaron the High Priest is told, “B'haalot'cha et HaNerot… When you lift up the flame, let it illuminate the Menorah.”  

The Menorah with its seven flames is a symbol of our history: the seven days of creation, the seven millenia of history, the seven ages of the human lifespan.  We are told to illuminate our own menorah, our own history.  To learn from it, to reflect on it.  At times it can guide us forward.  At other times, it can offer us comfort and security.  At other times, it can remind us who we are. 

And at still other times, the past might seem totally irrelevant and to bear no connection to the present. 

But at all times, whether the connections are clear or ambiguous, we are bidden, we are commanded to learn our story, to tell and retell, to reflect and consider.  Perhaps an episode that to us is meaningless, when conveyed by us to future generations will provide an insight that could change the world.  But if the chain of transmission ends with us, then the candle flickers and dies and with it, the illumination of the generations.

The Dover Sinai Cemetery is the place of rest and memorial for so many of the Jewish community that grew up along the Morris Canal.  A group from Adath Shalom  recently gathered to clean and restore some of the memorial stones.  We scrubbed away the lichen and moss, recarved the incised letters with our toothbrushes and trimmed back the underbrush. 

And little by little, stories began to emerge.  Stories of beautiful souls and beautiful lives.  Tragedies of lives cut short and love stories of years together creating families.  Sagas of generations and odysseys of travelers who found themselves making their lives where they never imagined they would.

And there was one strange, very strange incident, that whispers something powerful.

A young man from our synagogue knew that his maternal grandmother was interred at Dover Sinai but wasn’t sure where.  As he cleaned a stone, it suddenly toppled over: the only stone to do so.  When he looked up following the startling event of the hundred pound headstone striking the ground, he saw that a small footstone was revealed that had been hidden behind it.  His grandmother’s.  I don’t know if we witnessed a miracle, a strange coincidence or what, but there is a network of love at work in the world.  The flames of our Jewish identity illuminate our lives in ways that we can never truly comprehend. 

In months to come, we will continue to restore and repair the cemetery and who knows, find more connections, make more discoveries.  In Israel, we say our future is where our past is.  In our lives we sometimes encounter a mystery, a subtle hint that there is more going on here than we can ever know.  Sometimes the flame leaps up suddenly to reveal and as quickly to conceal. 

If we can keep the Menorah’s light rising, if we can keep hearing and sharing our history, then who knows what hidden elevations we might be shown?

With profound thanks to the Adath Shalom members who joined us to take part in service to their community-

Beautiful carvings as symbols of love, remembrance and continuity on memorial stones at Dover Sinai.


Thu, June 20 2024 14 Sivan 5784