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I’m planning an unveiling. What do I need to know?

I’m planning an unveiling. What do I need to know?
Answer By: 
Rabbi Julie Zupan
headstone with stones on it

My mother passed away in late November and I am planning the unveiling. I was thinking of a day in May, June, or July, and I think it should be a Sunday. Are there any specific times or dates I must avoid? Also, other loved ones are buried nearby; is it appropriate to acknowledge them as well? I have a copy of some prayers. Is there anything else I need? People are travelling some distance and I want there to be some substance to the ceremony.

Our condolences on the death of your mother. May her memory be a blessing.

In terms of scheduling, you will want to avoid Shabbat (Saturdays) and Jewish holidays, when unveilings generally are not held and Jewish cemeteries typically are closed. You will want to check the calendar for the dates of Shavuot and Tishah B’Av, holidays that occur in the spring and summer, respectively.

In addition, we recommend you confirm the date and time with the cemetery for several reasons. Often they are juggling multiple funerals; they may prepare the site beforehand by covering the marker with a cloth and having chairs, water, and a bag of yarmulkes and prayer pamphlets available; and there may be rules about placing stones on the marker. If it is permitted, they may provide stones for that purpose.

The unveiling ritual is brief and is custom, not Jewish law, so there is a fair amount of leeway regarding content. Typically, we recite Psalm 23, El Maleh Rachamim, the Mourners’ Kaddish, and other readings or poems that resonate with those present or were beloved by the deceased. This explanation of what to expect at an unveiling may help you with your planning.

Although the intent of the ceremony is to honor your mother and dedicate her grave marker, it is appropriate to briefly acknowledge other loved ones who are buried nearby. You might invite one or two friends or family members to share a loving anecdote about your mother, but we advise that neither you nor others eulogize as one does at a funeral.