Elena Tucker
3 min readFeb 27, 2024

We Jews, have this thing about visiting cemeteries and graves. We consider it a sacred duty to do so. We put a little rock or a pebble on the grave or the headstone as a reminder that someone was there.

Whenever I go to the local Museum of Nature of Science — and I try to visit not only the local one, but also ones when we visit other cities — I often visit the gift shop where they have interesting assorted, colorful stones for sale. I get a little baggie full of them. This way, when I visit graves, I put colorful, exotic rocks on the headstones.

One of the reasons, according to My Jewish Learning website, for putting stones on graves, comes from the times of the Temple in Jerusalem. Jewish priests, (kohanim) became ritually impure if they came within four feet of a corpse. As a result, Jews began marking graves with piles of rocks in order to indicate to passing kohanim that they should stay back.

Another site suggests that stones might keep demons and golems from getting into the graves, which, in my humble opinion, is always a good idea. I mean, flowers die but a rock will always remain.

Also, a placed pebble simply tells others that this grave was visited. Both loved ones who visit, and strangers, will know that this person was remembered. Is there a higher form of respect — to be remembered, to be loved even after death? It is a comfort to the family.

As far as I can tell, this tradition is unique to the Jews. I haven’t seen small rocks placed on other people’s graves except for the Jews. I like that, it makes us different even in death.

In Soviet Union, we lived in an apartment building just a large field away from a cemetery. What I remember about the cemetery were the fences, iron and high, around some graves. I suppose it would mark for privacy, but when I last saw that graveyard, it was 40 plus years ago — way before Russians fought in Afghanistan, and longer still before Ukraine. Now, I understand that the cemeteries are overflowing, that privacy is the last thing the dead are worried about.

Actually, I don’t think the dead worry that much about anything at all. The old and the sick have earned their eternal rest. The rest? Well, the rest just rest — pardon my pun. Cemeteries aren’t sacred places any more than any other places. Maybe all places are sacred. When you think about it long enough, all places are places where people have died. Cities are built on trails where the brave have traveled in wagons, where natives have lived and died before — many graves long forgotten and unknown.

If my mind has been wondering down morbid paths, it’s because today is my Uncle Rafael’s yahrzeit (the anniversary of his death). It has been 30 years since his passing. My uncle was a remarkable man. Someday, I might write about him, but right now I am meditating on memory and mortality, graves and cemeteries. By the way, Uncle Rafa is buried in Chicago, his grave tended by his son, daughter-in-law and his grandchildren. And, yes, there are stones atop his gravestone.

May his memory be for a blessing.



Elena Tucker

Writer and storyteller, immigrant, wife, mom, knitter, collector of jokes, lover of cheap, sweet wine.