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Thursday, August 30, 2007

My Great-Grandfather's Grave

If I had to pick a theme for the family trip to Israel, it would be “connecting.” Connecting my kids with their cousins in Israel. Connecting our strangely out of place existence in the US with our roots in Israel. Connecting the stories of the Torah to the physical places where they occurred. Connecting our practice of Judaism with the land from which it sprang. Connecting the seemingly obscure laws of the Torah with the society for which they were written. Connecting the stream of Jewish continuity from our Forefathers through the Exile and finally to the place where we now reside.

For me there was an additional connection: Connecting with my own personal ancestry. I went to visit the grave of my great-grandfather, Abraham Silberberg. His story is recorded briefly here. But to summarize:

Abraham Silberberg is 3rd from right.

My mother’s paternal grandfather was a Polish Chussid who had the foresight to realize that bad things were coming for the Jews and immigrated to Palestine in 1938. He attempted to bring his children (there were 11) with him. But some of them refused to leave, thinking things would “blow over.” As we know, they did not. Almost all of his children were murdered by the Nazis, including my grandfather, Moses Silberberg, for whom I’m named. As my mother tells the tale, when he heard what had happened, he laid down and died.

His grave is in an ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives, in what is now considered “Occupied Arab East Jerusalem.” Apparently, Jews have been occupying Palestinian land for at least a thousand years, because that’s how old some of those graves are.

My cousin and her charming husband were nice enough to agree to take me to the cemetery and show me the grave. We drove through the Old City to get there. If you’ve ever visited the Kotel (Wailing Wall), odds are that you’ve seen my great-grandfather’s grave, because it’s clearly visible from the approach to the plaza.

The cemetery itself is in a bit of disarray. New paths are being constructed, and there are multiple Burial Societies involved in its upkeep, and my impression is that they don’t cooperate that well with each other. We had to climb over walls and up slopes to get to where he was buried.

Many of the graves look new. This is partially because the cemetery is still in active use and new graves are being dug. It is also because the Jordanians overturned many of the graves during their occupation of the area between 1948 and 1967. My great-grandfather’s headstone was one of those that were rededicated after ‘67. How do we know where it was? First, because my Aunt Sara and her husband visited the grave before the Jordanians took over. And second, because the Chevra Kadisha (Burial Society) kept meticulous records going back hundreds of years.

On our way over we passed numerous graves that were still in a state of disrepair. My cousin told me that there were many that either could not be identified or that didn’t have family to rebuild them. In fact we passed one “mass grave” that was constructed from the headstones of multiple unidentifiable graves.

I was told that the Arabs had looted the cemetery, and that the marble headstones were used to make toilets.

The view from the cemetery was spectacular. In addition to sprawling panoramic views of the countryside, we had a clear view of the Old City and the Intercontinental Hotel, where the PLO held its first meeting in 1964, its goal to remove the Jews from its “occupied land.” Since this was three years before Israel acquired the West Bank and Gaza, one must conclude that the occupied land in question was the rest of Israel. In the distance you can also make out the wall that is being constructed to keep terrorists out.

After zigzagging our way through various plots and climbing up and down terraced levels, we made our way to the actual grave. As you can see from the photos, it looks fairly new.

Here’s a close up of the top:

Translating roughly:

Here is buried
The rabbi and chussid
Abraham son of Shmuel
Silberberg of blessed memory
From the town of Jaworzno
He was sheltered all his days
In the shadow of the righteous men of Kozmir
Passed on 11 Shevat 5701 (1941)
May his soul be bound up in eternal life

-- - --

This monument was newly rededicated
Tammuz 5729 (1969)
By his daughter Sara
And her husband Yehoshua Shlomo
Wachsman from New York

-- - --

In remembrance of the soul of his righteous wife
Mother of the family
Malkah daughter of Reb Sholom
Passed 19 Elul 5698 (1938)
???? in the town of Jaworzno

In the front, too, there is an engraving commemorating his many children, including my grandfather, who perished in the Holocaust and who have no graves of their own.

We said some Psalms, and I put a little stone on the marker, and did the same for my uncle’s next to it. In the distance we could hear a gunshot. Or maybe it was a car backfiring. Anyway, it was time to go.

It was a sobering experience. I was angry at the thought that the day may come when I can no longer visit my own ancestor’s grave. I was angered by what the Arabs had done to this cemetery, by the continued perpetuation by them and the media of the lie that this is not Jewish land. And about how few of our own people seem to understand or care.

As I turned to start the trek back to the car, I saw the sun setting over the Temple Mount. And I was struck by how close we were to the Old Temple, and yet still quite far.


tzuriel said...

This was a very moving entry. I'm glad you found the time to write and share it.

Jack's Shack said...

Well done.

Doctor Bean said...

Very nice.

Shabbat shalom.

Gateway Pundit said...

That is a powerful story.
Thank you for posting this. I was just near there last month and it is a beautiful place.

Neil Harris said...

Beautiful post.

~ Sarah ~ said...

thank you for sharing.

Neil Harris said...

I remember my wife going through picture of family grave sites in E"Y after her mother died. Even though she was 12 when she went with her family, she remarked that now she's happy she has the pictures and how important it was that her parents took her. Hopefully your kids do/will appreciate your trip and post.

josh said...

thank you, hope more people can read this very moving story.

Eees said...

Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing those thoughts/experiences with us.

rabbi neil fleischmann said...

Beautiful post. Thank you for sharing things and stirring feelings inside me on many levels.

VientoSur said...

Fascinating post and pictures. Thank you.

Anne L. said...

Now, see, I was terribly blue today reading a bunch of anti-Semitic slurs and they-just-don't-get-it anti-Israel crapola in the Chicago Tribune online. I thought, "Who can cheer me up about being Jewish?" and the answer came immediately -- Psycho Toddler!

And sure enough, there was this lovely post about Israel and that powerful moment in the cemetery.

Just what the doctor ordered. Thanks for sharing.