A serious reader advised me today that he had decided to subscribe to this blog. Flattered, honoured, I dedicate this post to Jesse.
Our car flies down the highway, down the great hills from Jerusalem. Jerusalem, she is builded upon hills.
Beautiful city, too greatly beloved. O, beauteous vista, joy of all the earth.
The hills swoop down, around, down. Forests of green rise above us on our left, falling away beneath us on our right. These treetops are lower than we! Our car is an aeroplane.
Abruptly, we land. This is Beth Shemesh, House of the Sun, a town that might have tumbled off the edge of Jerusalem, falling halfway down, coming to rest on a hillside. For me, for my family, this is a town without shops, without noise or busyness, without time. We come here to visit the cemetery at Beth Shemesh.
This cemetery does not speak of sadness. Not a place of wrenching grief. A place of quiet, a place to feel the peace, to think and remember. In this place the dead lie beneath their uniform headstones, of cream – Jerusalem stone. No pretentious texts, no display: modest memorials only in the democracy of the dead.
Graves cluster on small levelled paved areas, discrete suburbs, each one looking over forest into the green and the blue. There are many of these minute suburbs, each out of sight of all the others. When you stand on one of these secreted spots, you cannot see or hear the world. The cemetery is called Beth Olamim, the house of eternity. A good place to spend eternity, especially if you like the countryside.
The narrow roadway within the cemetery climbs and twists. Spiralling up, up, our car stops above the small semi-circle of stone where Helen and Henry lie.
Helena emerged from Auschwitz, a great spirit within a pixie body, a witness to the worst, a stranger to hatred. Like an ancient mariner fired to teach us all, she lived to teach, to champion the forgotten and to fight racism.
Helena – to the end – formidable for the good.
Henry, previously a tall athlete and distinguished international jurist, weighed just six stone after Auschwitz. He never noised his role in the camps where his fellows elected him as their judge. He heard cases where the currency in dispute might be a crust of bread, quite literally death or life to the parties.
Engraved on the tables of stone in Hebrew text are brief epitomes of these people whom we knew and revered.
Helena Mann – “a branch plucked from the fire”, she revived the oppressed.
Henry Mann – “Justice, only Justice, shall you seek, that you may live.”
Their only son, a man now in his sixties, prays quietly at their gravesides. His wife lays a pebble of each of the graves. No haste, no noise as they honour two of the great, townspeople of eternity. Not lost, not forgotten.
Their son completes his unhurried praying.
He has not finished here. He spends patient minutes wiping away the dust that the wind has deposited on the graves. Every unwelcome speck removed, the son polishes with his sleeve the stones that guard his beloved ones.