NEW YORK – As bereaved families living in the Diaspora face another Remembrance Day and are unable to visit the graves of their loved ones in Israel due to COVID-19 limitations, the Consulate General of Israel in New York and the Navah organization have launched an initiative to assist grieving families in New York.
In the past few weeks, the mission collected 62 decorated stones and dozens of commemorative letters from bereaved families who reside in New York. This collection was sent to Israel last week, and with the help of Navah organization volunteers, the stones will be placed on the graves on Remembrance Day, which starts at sundown on Tuesday.
The volunteers will also document the recitation of Kaddish and Psalms for the families.
The undertaking, called “Stones with a Human Heart,” derives from the Jewish custom of placing a small stone on the tomb of a loved one as a sign of having attended the grave.
Nehama Sprinzak, 72, participated in the project in memory of her father David Sprinzak, one of the first Israel Air Force pilots. His plane was shot down off the coast of Tel Aviv in 1948 by an Egyptian ship. His body was never found.
Usually, Sprinzak and her family, who are based in Brooklyn, fly to Israel to mark Yom Hazikaron but pandemic restrictions have this year have prevented them from doing so.
Sprinzak told The Jerusalem Post that she was “struck by the scope of the project.”
“The fact that the organizers are still going to make sure there’s a powerful recognition this year, the importance of remembering the fallen, that’s enormous. It’s a tremendously courageous thing to do,” she said.
Sprinzak noted that her mother, the widow of David Sprinzak, chose to personally hand deliver a stone inscribed with David’s name and birth date to the consulate. “She trooped from Brooklyn into Manhattan, because we wanted them to know how strongly we appreciate this,” Sprinzak recalled.
“We knew we had to do something for mothers who can’t go to their son’s graves on Remembrance Day. It was very hard last year to see families couldn’t mourn properly because of the pandemic. We weren’t going to let that happen again this year,” Michal Wachtel Halamish, one of the project’s leaders based in Israel, told the Post.
Sprinzak called the initiative “a very Israeli thing to do.”
“They found a proactive way to help us mourn,” she said. “Israelis don’t shy away from a challenge. ‘Impossible’ is not a word in the lexicon. I look forward to seeing the results of the project and appreciate the tremendous resources this project requires to complete. Only Israel could have come up with such a touching way to remember our fallen and respond to the challenge of the pandemic.”
“The commemoration feels very personal to me,” Sprinzak added. “The outreach that said to families ‘you’re not in Israel right now and we know you can’t come, but we want you to know we’re not forgetting you.’”