Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Po Nikbara...

Po nikbara Yehudit bat Reb Mordechai...

Here is buried Yehudit (Judith) the daughter of Reb Mordechai...

Among Ashkenazi Jews, until recently, the first inscription near the top of a tombstone has been פנ, letters with the sounds of "P" and "N." These are the initial letters for the phrase פה נקבר (PO nik-BAHR*), meaning "here is buried."

I became interested in Hebrew tombstones when researching the history of my Dad's family. He came from a small town, Hoof, outside Kassel in Germany. Several years ago, an resident of Hoof generously sent me about 80 photographs of tombstones taken in the Hoof-Breitenbach cemetery that served the Jewish communities of the two neighboring towns.

Those old-style tombstones, dating from the early 1800's until just before WWII, were generously inscribed in Hebrew (many also had German) in a style rarely used by postwar Jews in America. But this past weekend, I stumbled across several old Jewish cemeteries in Woburn, MA, each containing a wealth of the older-style tombstones.

Here's an excellent guide to decoding a Hebrew tombstone inscription.

* note: Hebrew verbs indicate the gender of the subject or object. While nikbar is masculine, nik-bah-RAH(נקברה), as in the case of this stone, is femine.

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