I have a Facebook friend who lives right around the corner from me. In the privacy of our own kitchens, we use Facebook all day to stave off the isolation that comes with being a freelance writer or a painter. We chat and exchange ideas and opinions, sometimes the same, sometimes different, on Facebook nearly every day but rarely get together in real life. A teacher and avid photographer as well as mother and artist, Carol blogs at watchmepaint.
This week, when Carol graciously shared my column about finding the true meaning of Memorial Day on her Facebook page, she added a comment saying she would pay her respects by visiting a little-known cemetery in Brighton where there are graves that predate the Civil War. She described where it was to me and I still could not picture how a graveyard could exist hidden away one of Rochester’s busiest highways. So, being it was a gorgeous morning in May, I posted back “Take me with you!”
Every town has an old cemetery. The Brighton Cemetery, walking distance from our neighborhood, was founded in 1821 with some of its earliest graves dating back to 1814. Though the name served its purpose at the time, this part of Brighton was annexed to the City of Rochester in 1905. The cemetery now sits in Rochester’s 21st Ward, or for my reference point, three blocks away from the East Avenue Wegmans.
it is located on Hoyt Place off Winton Avenue:
This is a street I’ve driven past thousands of times without ever knowing what mysteries it contained. It is a street that time seemed to have forgotten, paved in the 1820s at the time of the building of the Erie Canal. As time passed, this part of the Erie Canal gave way to Route 490.
Tucked away into this street are centuries old mansions:
And then.. the Brighton Cemetery:
This week leading up to Memorial Day, find an old forgotten cemetery in your town. Dust off a gravestone to see who is buried there. You will be surprised to see that the many streets in your town just very well may be named for the names on the graves you find there.
And, if you see a grave marked with a flag, take some time to care for it. If the flag has toppled over, prop it back into the ground. Brush off the grass clippings that may be clinging to the stone. Read who the person was and the wars in which he fought.
Isn’t this a far better way of observing this holiday than, say, taking advantage of a mattress sale?
I teach Hebrew school in the afternoons to sixth graders.
As a teacher, my greatest wish is for my students, my budding Jewish scholars, to ask deep meaningful questions about God, Judaism and our 5,000 year old tradition.
Can you guess what their most asked question is when their hands go up in my class, after being in public school all day?
If you guessed: “Can I go to the bathroom?” or “Can I get a drink of water,” or “Are we going to get a chance to play?” you would be on the right track; except my students need to pose their question in Hebrew.
But today, when they asked me, I turned their questions back on them: Are you really thirsty? How badly do you need that drink? And … what if there was just nowhere to go to the bathroom?
This week, as in Israel, Jews have come off the sorrow of observing Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. It will be a challenge for these kids — the last generation to have any access to the first-account testimony from survivors — to get a comprehension of the enormity of the loss and the depths of cruelty suffered by the Jews who endured and who did not endure through the Holocaust.
But perhaps they could understand it through their own most basic needs, the needs of kids just like them during the darkest years of humanity. They looked at pictures of kids starving on the streets of the Warsaw Ghetto, asking for food when there was none. They read an account of a girl who “stole” an icicle to get water to drink when there was none. They read about kids in hiding who asked for a bathroom but there was none; too risky.
Of course I let my students go get a drink of water and go to the bathroom, but when posed with these questions about survival and enduring the unendurable, they thought twice today before they asked.
Over the last week, Israelis have been on an emotional roller coaster ride: They observe Holocaust Remembrance Day, then Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, then move right into the triumph and joy (and yes, barbecues) of Yom Ha’atzmaut – Israel Independence Day. But how to convey these emotions to Jewish American kids who are tired after a long day of school on a rainy and cold April Day?
Youtube, of course!
Here are three videos I showed my students today. The first shows Israeli soldiers, strong, young and proud, singing Ani Ma’amin – I believe. A song that was sung as an act of spiritual resistance by the Jews in the concentration camps even as they faced death:
One of my students said, this song makes me want to cry. Crying about the Holocaust is okay, I said. It’s part of the learning.
This video shows how Israelis honor their fallen soldiers, by observing a complete two minutes of stillness by the sound of a siren. Even cars on the highway stop:
After seeing this, one of my students said “This is how we should honor Memorial Day in America!”
Finally, the singing of Hatikvah (The Hope), the Israeli National Anthem, and this is not your typical Hatikvah:
Funny, but when watching these videos, not a single hand went up to ask to go to the bathroom.
Happy Birthday, Israel!