It was the perfect activity for one of those dreary Sunday afternoons in the summer: a visit to my father's grave. I'm not much of a cemetery-goer. It's one of my "shoulds." The fact that he's buried in a cemetery 40 minutes away makes it even harder. Getting there involves many winding roads, which means that I always arrive feeling nauseous.

My father had passed away about a year and a half prior, and I had some new faces to show him. My daughter Leah, who was visiting from Dallas, was bringing her baby daughter Aida. But it was my daughter Mushkie who would be bringing the guest of honor: her son Avraham Gershon (“Avremi”) was the first great-grandchild to be named after my father.

I'm not much of a cemetery-goer

I called my mother to see if she was up for the trip. She has always been a cemetery-goer for as long as I can remember—Mother's Day, Father's Day, birthdays. But she doesn't see well nowadays, and it's hard for her to get in and out of the car. Still, she said she wanted to go.

It's not simple to coordinate a group of people between the ages of four months and nearly ninety, but with Leah's daughters between naps and Avremi just waking up, we were on our way.


As I came down the stairs to announce that everyone should get in the car, it hit me: Avremi is a kohen, which means that he can't go to a cemetery. (Of course, he can't really go anywhere, because he's only four months old.)

And so, his father Nisson, who made him a kohen (because it's one of those things you inherit from your father), did some quick calling around to his brothers to see what was permissible. He found out that, for the purposes of this cemetery visit, Avremi could stay in the car, either with the doors closed or at least six feet away from any of the graves.

Easy enough.

Getting there was a trip down memory lane for my mother. Despite her poor eyesight, she knew exactly when we were passing the different elementary schools where she had worked as a speech therapist when she was fresh out of college, over 60 years ago.

We made a wrong turn as soon as we entered Beth Shalom cemetery. The upside of this was the extra time it gave us for black-humored jokes as we tried to find my father's plot. ("Do you see anybody living who can help us?" my mother chuckled.)

We weren't in a rush—this was the main activity of the day—but all that time looking sideways was making me queasier. There was a lot of stimulation, too. With so many names I recognized, it was a trip down memory lane for me as well. For starters, my grandparents were buried right across the road from my husband Zev's grandparents, years before we had even been on our first date.

Finally, just as my queasiness was overtaking me, we spotted my father’s grave.

Leah stopped her minivan, assuring everyone that we were six feet away from any graves. Avremi was fine where he was.

"Why can't you take him out?" my mother asked, as Mushkie and I wiggled out from our seats in the back.

"Because he's a kohen," I told her. "A boy is a kohen if his father is a kohen, and Nisson is a kohen."

"What's a kohen?" she asked.

Once upon a time, Jewish people didn't roll their eyes at suprarational ideas

"It means a priest, a male who descends from Aaron, the first High Priest. The priests used to serve in the Temple in Jerusalem, and they’re not allowed to become impure by coming too close to dead bodies. Purity and impurity are spiritual concepts," I answered as I jumped out, eager for fresh air.

"That's a new one," my mother said, but she wasn’t being critical.

It sounded good to me. Once upon a time, Jewish people didn't roll their eyes at suprarational ideas. Our spiritual sensitivity will return when the Third Temple is rebuilt.

As I stood at my father's grave with Mushkie, Leah and Leah's daughter Mushka, we said the chapter of Psalms corresponding to the age my father would be now. I never take for granted that my children and I have reclaimed the ability to communicate with G‑d in His favorite language. I know that my father appreciates that now too.

I'm sure he also appreciates Avremi, even if he didn't get out of the car.

Some things we don't completely understand. At least, not yet.

And for now, that's what "shoulds" are all about.