Friday, November 25, 2011

Kennedy Yahrzeit

48 years ago today we buried President John F. Kennedy, assassinated November 22, 1963. As it happens, even if he was Jewish the funeral would almost certainly have been delayed that long. As in all homicides, an autopsy had to be performed. Since it was Friday afternoon, nothing could have been done that night or the next day. Dignitaries had to fly in literally from all over the world.

I watched the obsevances on television. The catafalque that once bore the body of Abraham Lincoln taken from the Capitol rotunda on the shoulders of men, the stately procession to Arlington, the horse-drawn caisson, John-John saluting on his third birthday, the riderless horse, the missing man formation above,. . . .

At its destination, the flag-draped coffin was placed on the catafalque over the open grave and Catholic prayers were recited. Then - everybody left with the casket still suspended over the open grave. A few months later my grandfather a"h left this world and I prevailed on my parents to let me attend the kvura. Back in 1964, few eleven-year-old boys did. The plain wooden casket was lowered by hand into the grave, and the men present shoveled earth into the grave until it was filled. Even I clumsily put in a shovelful or two. Four years ago I lost my mother-in-law, and since my wife comes from a small family few men attended the burial in Old Montefiore, where the two latest Lubavitcher rebbes are buried. It was pouring rain, as it was when the Rebbe was buried; that is supposed to mean that the heavens were crying. But the heavens weren't going to make a minyan, so I went into the Rebbe's Ohel and asked if they could spare a few good men. They did, several men in black frock coats trudging in the pouring rain th the graveside. Not only did they complete a minyan so my father-in-law could say kaddish, they took shovels in their hands and filled in the grave along with myself and my son, the only men present who were strong enough to handle a shovel.

So family and fellow Jews performed the last kindness that could be done for my mother-in-law on the face of the earth. Our way is a better way.


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