Linking to the Past
Misha Zinkow is the senior rabbi of Temple Israel, Columbus, Ohio. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our friend Ezra said, “of course I’ll help you find his grave, I love cemeteries.” That’s when Elka and my visit to the Mount of Olives cemetery began 2 weeks ago. The grave we were determined to find is that of my father-in-law Alvin Abrahamson’s grandfather. Born in Jaffa around the time that nearby Tel Aviv was little more than an idea, Chaim Simcha Abrahamson spent much of his life in America. According to his wishes, he was buried on the hillside across the Kidron Valley from the Temple Mount, which serves as an incredible vista from which to view the old walled city of Jerusalem.
The challenge of the Mount of Olives cemetery, the largest Jewish cemetery in the world, is that none of the sections are marked. Which is where Ezra enters the story. Our friend and super-guide, Ezra spent an hour searching the cemetery before meeting up with us. During that exploration, he was led to the mobile phone number of someone who called himself only, “the clerk.” While on the phone, “the clerk” told him to find the large tomb of the Slonimer rebbe (A Hasid whose Torah commentary I currently happen to be studying), and from there to walk a certain way and count a certain number of graves until he would come upon Chaim Simcha’s stone. Ezra did as he was told, and he found the grave. When we arrived he was able, after a little wandering, to find it again. We were grateful, because even in the early morning, the hillside cemetery was extremely hot.
But for a more important reason we were grateful: the union to the past that we accessed that morning. So many images raced through our minds as we stood at this grave, as if in our minds’ eyes we could see the generations between us. A hundred years and more ago, Zionist pioneers came to Palestine to redeem the Land for the Jewish people. Chaim Simcha Abrahamson’s parents were among those young, courageous, hopeful visionaries who believed that the future vitality of the Jewish people resided in the soil of Palestine, and that it needed to be awakened and nurtured. And here we stood, a century later, able to share a holy moment of collective memory, while honoring one member of our family. We quietly took in the amazing view, left a stone, and climbed our way back to the top of the cemetery.
Epilogue: our son Amir has been leading an Israel trip for the last 5 weeks, and just today wrapped up the trip at the Kotel with his group of high schoolers. He called us from there as his kids were milling about the courtyard. Elka told him to point across to the Mount of Olives and tell his students, “my great-great-grandfather is buried right over there, yes right there, in the center of that hillside.”