The value of burying books

by | May 25, 2018 | Other News

The ceremony began on a sunny spring morning beside a single dugout grave and a pile of dirt. On Sunday, April 15, 15 middle schoolers from Ohef Sholom Temple buried 1,000 worn-out prayer books in the Tree of Life section at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Norfolk.

Everyone carried armfuls of books to the grave. Mr. Fence, also known as Jack Shanker, drove the heavy boxes on his flatbed trailer at the head of the car caravan from Ohef Sholom. Eli, the teaching assistant with the longest arms, stacked the books into every square inch of the concrete vault. When it was full, workers covered and lowered it into the grave. Several parents and grandparents, along with Mike Leonard of HD Oliver Funeral Home, and Norfolk’s gravedigging crew, added to the learning. The lesson was based on the Jewish custom of burying the genizah.

“This Mitzvah is from our family to yours,” announced Richard and Harriet Siff at the end of the prayer service. “The majority of our families reside here at Forest Lawn…. My mother, her sister…and my grandmother…cherished their prayer books, and that is why we are here today.” Several of the students also cherished the historic books. Some even asked to take a few home for archival purposes. One person went home with a prayer book from a congregation in Great Neck, N.Y. that her family attended many years ago.

Genizah means “reserved” or “hidden” in Hebrew, and is traditionally a place where Jews store sacred documents when they fall out of use. There is a practical dimension to the Jewish custom, because storage space in a synagogue is often at a premium. The books were previously stored in 35 boxes cluttering the temple. Disposing the boxes in the temple’s outdoor dumpster would have been a simple process and relatively cost-free. But following the custom of burying the genizah left a big impression on the hearts and minds of those present.

Students wrote personal prayers inside the last few books before placing them into the grave. Everyone had a chance to drop a few shovels of dirt over the vault before leaving. The burial ended with all singing Nefesh Mountain’s rendition of L’Dor Vador.

L’dor vador nagid godlecha
The light in us shines on and on
L’dor vador nagid godlecha
For time may pass but it’s never gone

As the last car of the caravan pulled out of the cemetery, it began to rain, watering the seeds of Jewish learning.

– Chris Kraus