For years I have been been photographing cemeteries, particularly Jewish sections. This is no morbid curiosity. It is rooted deeply in the connection I feel with my ancestors.
Lt. Y. Lyons Joel
Aug. 20, 1896
Dec. 12, 1918
Nov. 6, 1900
Feb. 3, 1902
Lt. Joel died 101 years ago at 22 years of age. I want to know about his life. I want to know that he is not forgotten. Do the Joel's that survived him and his sister still live in Atlanta? Have they moved on? Are there any left? But more importantly, who was he?
I see a congregation. In Judaism the mourner's kaddish is a prayer said by those in mourning. It may not be said alone but must be said as part of a minyan, ten fellow jews. It must be said as part of a community. When I look at the Jewish section of Oakland Cemetery I see a congregation. A congregation standing tall. Perhaps they are davening the shemoneh esrei, the silent prayer. Even in death they are together.
In practice Jews do not place flowers at graves but instead they place stones. Two of the common explanations are that flowers themselves will die and no longer mark the attention of loved ones that survived the deceased, and helping to bury the dead puts their soul at ease. This act of kindness may never be repaid and therefore is an act of selflessness. In Oakland Cemetery"s Jewish section no person buried was born after 1900 that I could see yet many of the graves had stones on them. They are remembered and thus are still with us.
When I visit a cemetery I do not see gravestones, or plots, I see people. And these are their final portraits.