Red wine and chicken

The treat of two wonderful days in Israel and the two opposite poles of life.
I went with my cousin to the old Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives. I don’t know from when the earliest graves here date; but the terraced mountainside, the innumerable rows of stones, many with their legend long effaced by time and the wind; the view down to the Old City from the east, and the Golden Gates, sealed until the arrival of the Messiah, – make the visitor feel like a noisy traveller from the bubble of time into the world of timelessness. Here, if anywhere, surely the dead must lie in peace. And when the Messiah’s trumpet wakens them, even then they won’t have far to walk, and their rest will scarcely be disturbed.
To reach the upper terraces of the cemetery you climb through tiny, strangely beautiful lanes enclosed between high walls. To the unfamiliar visitor one entrance looks very much like another. ‘Where’s the camel for the tourists?’ my cousin asked the cab-driver, ‘and the old man who’s always here?’ At length we find them. From his small patch of shade beneath a meagre tree the old man discourages us, ‘No, no there’s no sisters Wittenberg here. I’ve been here fifty years; they’re not here’. He does however provides us with the number of the Chevra Kaddisha, who direct us, and is gracious when proved wrong.
It’s six years since I stood by the graves of my father’s sisters, lying head to foot, their deaths separated by more than six decades. ‘The first sister in the Jewish Quarter’ reads the short inscription on my aunt Steffi’s stone, brief testament to her immense popularity as the nurse in the Magen David Adom’s clinic in the Old City.
The inscription on Eva’s grave is longer. ‘Our precious daughter and sister’ it reads, ‘Chava Elka, daughter of Raphael z’l, taken in the midst of her days’. She was not yet twenty-one when she died. ‘The doctor said, “She needs red wine and chicken”, I remember my father telling me, “Who had money in those days for such things?” The inscription continues, ‘Grand-daughter of Rabbi Ya’acov, son of Avraham Chaim Freimann, who died on the nineteenth of Tevet 5698 (1937) , and of Rebbetzin Rachel, daughter of Rabbi Yisrael Meir, who was killed in the Shoah for the sanctification of God’s name, in Shevat 5704 (1943). May God avenge her blood. May their souls be bound up in the bond of life.’
So the family decided to memorialise those family members here to whose burial place they had no access, my great-grandfather who lies in the old Jewish cemetery of Holleschau in the Czechoslovakia, which, I imagine, his surviving  descendants must have felt they would never be allowed to visit, and my great-grandmother whose ashes were washed away by the Vistula river, or still lie somewhere in those devastated acres.
Who put that inscription there? My grandparents, of course, to mark the grave of their beloved daughter. But that cannot have been so, because my grandfather’s name is followed by the abbreviation z’l, ‘may he be remembered for a blessing’, so he was no longer alive when the inscription was determined. He died in 1954, when the cemetery was in Jordanian hands, inaccessible to Jews until after the Six Day War. So it must have been my grandmother who created this testament to both her parents and her daughter, 25 years after their deaths.
How little peace blessed the troubled lives of those who now lie here, embraced in eternal peace. And how little he told me, and how little I asked, when my father was alive, about the history which framed his life, and formed his heart.
Then to the wedding of Celli and Franzi. Love at first sight. ‘We felt it the moment we first saw you together’, said all their friends and family with one voice. Loving families, prayers, music, dancing, and the hillsides of Jerusalem echo to the voice of happiness and joy, bridegroom and bride.

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