Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Today is sometimes called All Saints Day, and tomorrow will be The Day of the Dead or All Souls Day, at least in some countries.  None of these are Jewish holidays, but Mom visited a Jewish cemetery on Friday and took a bunch of pictures, and since we're thinking about dead people today and tomorrow, this seemed like a good time to share the photos with you.

The cemetery Mom went to is called Sheffield Cemetery, and it was founded in 1901 by an Orthodox congregation called Tefereth Israel, which means "The Glory of Israel."  Mom had heard of this cemetery, but she had never been there because it's in a part of town where she doesn't usually go.  But on Friday she went to an estate sale that was very close to the cemetery, so that's why she went to see it.

There is no Tefereth Israel synagogue in Kansas City anymore, because over the years, several congregations joined together, and now they are called Beth Israel Abraham and Voliner.  This is a really long name, so usually people just call it B.I.A.V. for short.

This marker is at the front gate of the cemetery, and it shows the names of the men who were involved in founding the cemetery.

On the other side of the gate, there is a marker with the names of the women's committee.  In Orthodox synagogues, the men and women sit in separate areas, but I am not going to explain why because it would take several more blog entries to tell you all about Jewish customs.

In a special place in the middle of the cemetery are the graves of the cemetery founder and his family.

The Sheffield Cemetery website says that there are 5,500 gravesites, and 300 are still available.  The graves are very close together, as you can see in this picture.

Here's one of the oldest stones that Mom saw.  The newest one she saw was dated 2010.

Almost every Jewish tombstone has the Hebrew letters peh and nun.  Mom and I had to do some research to find out why these letters are there, and it turns out they stand for po nikbar or po nitman, which means "here lies."  Mom doesn't know much Hebrew, but she said po means "here" and she thinks nikbar and nitman are two different forms of the verb according to whether it is a man or a woman who is lying here.

Women's markers often have a menorah or other candles, and men's markers may have a star of David.  Each week on the Sabbath, the woman of the household has the duty to light the Sabbath candles, so this is why candles are associated with women.

Other Hebrew lettering on tombstones will be the person's Hebrew name, including who their mother and father were.  Sometimes there's something in Yiddish rather than Hebrew.  And most of the stones have the person's name in English.  Oh, and the Hebrew date when the person died is on the stone so that relatives will always know when to observe the anniversary of the death by saying a special prayer.  Mom thinks the name on this stone might be Reb Israel Zvi, son of Moses, and then the last name might be Geller.  But this is just a guess, since Mom doesn't know much Hebrew, like I said, and she's really not good at reading it if the little vowel symbols aren't there.

Anyway, at the bottom of a lot of the markers there are some letters like this:

And it turns out they stand for a Bible verse, I Samuel 25:29, which says "May his soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life."

One interesting custom is that when Jews visit a grave, they leave a small stone to show that they honored the dead person by coming there.  In Sheffield Cemetery, there is a whole birdbath full of stones that people can use for this purpose.  Mom thought this was a great idea because when she went to visit the grave of Aunt Cheryl's dad, which is in another cemetery where only a small part of the cemetery is Jewish, she had to scrounge around to find a stone to put on the gravestone.

If you have ever seen the movie Schindler's List, you saw people going to Mr. Schindler's grave at the end of the movie, and they left stones there.  When Mom was at Sheffield Cemetery, she took a few stones and put them on the graves of children who died back in the 1920s.  She thought that maybe no one is left to visit these graves anymore, which is sad.  And it's also sad that these children died at a very young age.

Here is an interesting foot stone that Mom saw.  Usually these sorts of stones just say "Father" or "Mother," but this one seems more personal and loving.

I liked this marker because the man's name was Wolf, which is an excellent name, and I wish I had known him.

Some other symbols you might see on a Jewish tombstone are a hand pouring water if the person was a Levi, or hands in the form of a priestly blessing if the person was a Cohen.  Also there are symbols for Masons and for Woodmen of the World, which are both fraternal groups, except the Woodmen also have an insurance business.  On their emblem, it says Dum Tacet Clamat, and this is Latin for "Though silent, he speaks."  Which sounds a little spooky to me!

The Woodmen of the World used to give free tombstones to their members, and these tombstones were shaped like tree trunks or logs.  But then in the late 1920s, they stopped doing this because it got to be too expensive.

There is a special, very tall memorial in the cemetery that is dedicated to Jewish soldiers from Kansas City who died in World War II.  On top of the memorial, there is an urn with a cloth over it.  This is a common symbol that you see in cemeteries, and it is supposed to represent immortality, but I'm not sure why.

Besides that, there are just some interesting designs on some of the stones.  I'm only going to show you three of them because this entry is getting way too long already.  Also Mom only took pictures of three of them.  This first one is an Art Nouveau flower design.

And here are some grapes, which maybe represent life.  Plus a lot of Jewish blessings and rituals include wine, so that might be why there would be grapes on a Jewish gravestone.

I like to call this one "extreme grapes"!

Well, okay, that is all I am going to tell you about Sheffield Cemetery.  I wish I could have gone with Mom when she went there because I think it would have been interesting to sniff around.  Mom said there weren't any signs that said "No Dogs Allowed" like there are in a lot of cemeteries nowadays, so I could have gone there and not got thrown out.  But it's too late for that now.  I'm just glad that Mom took some pictures so I could see what this nice place looked like.


  1. Very interesting! Thank you Piper for writing about this cemetery. I knew I had heard of this cemetery in the distant past and I was guessing it was in the Northeast area of KC MO - but looked it up on mapquest to be sure. I noticed yesterday there were other postings of "All Souls Day" and I think all of those I noticed were posted by Catholic organizations. I liked the tombstone stating, "My Papa" ---- it reminded me of my dad and my daughter, because she always called him "Papa." Good job!
    Love, AP

  2. Dear Aunt Patty,
    I'm glad you liked learning about the Jewish cemetery. I think it is mostly Catholics and Episcopalians who observe All Souls Day. It's not a Jewish holiday at all, but it still seemed like a good time to talk about dead people and graveyards!
    Love, Piper