The service of commemoration or unveiling is a formal dedication of the monument. It is customary to hold the unveiling within the first year after death. It should be held at anytime between the end of shiva and the yahrzeit.
Unveilings are held on those days when grave visitations may be made, as outlined in the previous chapter. They are held in all weather and, in our day, precisely on time. With the shortage of available rabbis, and the large number of unveilings concentrated in the spring or fall, it is clearly advisable to call the rabbi six or seven weeks in advance, and to set the date after consulting with him.
The unveiling is the formal removal of a veil, a cloth, or handkerchief draped over the stone. It symbolizes the erection of the tombstone. The unveiling may be executed during the service by anyone the family designates.
The service consists of the recitation of several Psalms, the eulogy, the removal of the veil, the malei rachamim, and Kaddish. For purposes of reciting the Kaddish, a minyan is required. The mourners can be counted as part of the minyan. If no minyan is available, the unveiling may be held, but the Kaddish may not be recited.
The rabbi will frequently suggest placing pebbles on the monument. This custom probably serves as a reminder of the family's presence. Also, it may hark back to biblical days when the monument was a heap of stones. Often, the elements or roving vandals dispersed them, and so visitors placed other additional stones to assure that the grave was marked.
It is advisable, if the rabbi was not personally acquainted with the deceased, to outline, before the service, his life and goals. If the family is enthusiastic in its admiration, rather than bored and indifferent, the eulogy will reflect this sincerity and devotion.
Unveiling cards are usually sent to friends and family two or three weeks in advance of the date. One should be sent to the rabbi as well. Care should be taken to record the precise location of the grave, and specific and clear instructions on how to reach the cemetery and the gravesite.
Eating and drinking on the cemetery are in poor taste. They desecrate the cemetery, and reflect shame upon the deceased. In previous ages a snack may have been required because of the long trip a cemetery visit may have required. Or, perhaps, the reason is that in raising the glass of wine, we say l'chayim, "for life," implying "not for death." Today drinking is associated with socials and bars, and the spirit of levity usually prevails. This custom should be discouraged.