Thursday, 15 September 2016

Rabbinic Memories

In the early days of the Leo Baeck College there was no course for practical Rabbinics. For example, how to conduct a wedding, funeral or stone setting. 

So, when I was asked or expected to conduct a stone setting for a late congregant of the Settlement Synagogue, where I had been seconded as student Rabbi, I sought the advice from a senior fellow student on how to conduct it. Armed with this information and full of nerves, I appeared on the due date at Edmonton Cemetery in North London. It should be known, at this point, that I did not conduct the funeral of the late gentleman so I had no idea where he was buried in the cemetery. 

After the initial part of the service in the prayer hall, having delivered a suitable eulogy, I proceeded out of the hall with the one and only mourner, his son, followed by a trail of some hundred family and friends, to conclude the service at the graveside. I marched solemnly down the path, together with the son, doing a wonderful impression of the Pied Piper of Hamlin because, by this time, there was a trail of people following dutifully behind us. 

After about five minutes, which seemed an eternity, having turned right and left several times through the cemetery, I enquired of the mourner, as to where exactly the grave was. To my surprised he replied that he could not remember. By this time the trail of people stretched out around half the cemetery. It always seems that a stone setting is an opportunity for a social event to catch up with family and friends who haven’t seen each other since the last family event, therefore they were busy chatting and not noticing where they were being led. So, what to do? Back to the prayer hall and seek out the resident groundsman to enquire the whereabouts of the required grave. 

With that knowledge, off we went again, found the grave not fifty yards from the hall, and proceeded to conclude the service. Having paid my respects to close family, I proceeded back to the prayer hall, only to be waylaid by the inevitable ‘hochum’ of the family who enquired as to why we had walked all over the cemetery. Thankfully I had my wits about me and, not wishing to demonstrate my naivety, I told him that there was an old Jewish custom that if you had not attended the cemetery in the last thirty days you were required to walk the four corners of the grounds to show one’s respect. This seemed to satisfy him and off he went ………… and so did I! And, thus, another Jewish custom had been established. 

Rabbi Michael Standfield

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