Mysterious Jewish Cemetery

Yeghegnadzor

Republic of Armenia

October 19, 201 

Dear Family and Friends, 

 My grandfather, Herman Poláček, had a dry and sometimes biting sense of humor.   Yet, he always delivered his remarks with a twinkle in his eye and a broad, devilish grin that spread from ear to ear across his round Slavic face.

When my Grandmother poured him a cup of coffee, black as night, he took a sip, smiled and said, “Warm ist es.”  (At least it’s warm.)   When she served a delicious Czech-style meal, he laughed and said, “Die bidienung ist sehr schlecht hier.”  (The service is not so good here.)

After he had purchased a burial plot he proudly and comically announced, “Es hat eine gute Sicht.”

I remembered my dear Grandfather’s words during my visit to the Yeghegis Valley in Armenia.

I drove north from Yeghegnadzor and into the hills past the little village of Shatin.  I was looking for old monasteries and fortresses and what the guidebook describes as a “mysterious” Jewish cemetery.  But when the side roads became hilly, rocky and treacherous, I turned around.   Disappointed, I headed back to the main highway.

 My sense of direction told me to turn right, but I said to myself, “Take a chance, turn left, and see what there is to see.”  

After just a few minutes I passed a small sign that I could not read, BUT, it was surely written in Hebrew!  I pulled over on to the side of the road.  (In Armenia, everyone just pulls over and stops, wherever and whenever it pleases them.)   I followed a path down a hill to the river, and just as it says in the guidebook, across the river on a metal bridge and then up a hill.  There on a steel gate is a large blue Star of David!  It’s a mystery, but somehow I found the “mysterious” Jewish Cemetery.

On the slope of the hill lay thirty or forty gravestones.   Almost all the engravings had eroded.  But on one or two, Hebrew letters were clearly visible.

According to archeologists, this cemetery goes back to the Thirteenth or Fourteenth Century.  It is surmised that the small Jewish community traveled up from Persia.  Perhaps they were merchants or traders since this area of Armenia was on the route of the Silk Road. 

Who were these Jews?  Why did they come here?  Why did they leave?    

Previous visitors had left small candles at the site.  Others had placed small stones on the gravestones.  And since in my travels, I anticipate a moment like this, I took out the tiny pamphlet I carry and recited the Jewish Mourner’s Prayer.   After saying Kaddish, I placed some stones, closed the gate behind me and walked down the hill back towards the river.  

It was only then that I took a moment to admire the scenery: the mountains, the colorful autumn trees, the river, the peaceful location of the cemetery on the hillside.

Who are these Jews is a mystery.  But why they chose this spot for their cemetery is no mystery at all.

I remembered my Grandfather’s smile:  “Es hat eine gute Sicht.”

 It has a beautiful view!

Jan

--The Mysterious Cemetery:

http://armenianmonuments.org/en/monument/Yeghegis/142

--Explanation of stones placed on graves:

http://www.myjewishlearning.com/life/Life_Events/Death_and_Mourning/Burial_and_Mourning/Graveside_Service/Stones.shtml

My friend Vivien in New York also offered an explanation:  Stones placed on graves foreshadow the rebuilding, if not the actual foundation, of the Third Temple in Israel.

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