Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Walking to Jerusalem

Going to Graceland: The exultation of Israel's Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day), immediately preceded by the sorrow of Israel's Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day), are now behind us.

And while it is meaningful and wonderful to observe these days in Albuquerque and throughout the Diaspora, Abq Jew must tell you (as if you don't already know) -

Whoever has not celebrated Yom HaAtzmaut in
the Land of Israel has never felt pure joy in his life.

And Abq Jew need not point out that 6,484000 Jewish Israelis live in Israel. Or that, out of the 14.3 million Jewish people in the world, 43% reside in Israel.

Or that we are here, wherever we are, in Exile, and that we only dream of living in Israel after we are dead (see Torah and Talmud and Zombies). Perhaps long after.

Which brings us to La Puerta Natural Burial Ground, which Abq Jew has been thinking about since his recent "visit" (see Opening La Puerta del Cielo).

Others more qualified than Abq Jew have also been thinking about La Puerta, and have even come up with a Preliminary Plan for dividing up part of the 40-acre territory into 341 10 ft x 15 ft burial plots for future Jewish use.

Details are still (of course) to be worked out, and the Preliminary Plan may certainly be extensively modified or even replaced. But Abq Jew finds it of particular interest that, unlike ... those who dwell ... in the Greater New York cemeteries with which he is familiar -

Everyone at La Puerta will face East.

Why is that? Chabad (of course!) answers that question -
I too have found that in many cemeteries graves face different directions, though the graves in a given section mostly face the same direction. After some research, I have found that there is no absolute rule regarding how the graves in a cemetery should be aligned. 
However, there could be several reasons that graves face the same direction in each section of the cemetery. Practically, it saves space. Another reason might be the general rule that tombstones should not be designed to be larger than the other tombstones in the same section. Therefore it is suggested that the graves be placed in an orderly way so as not to bring any attention to any one grave over another. 
While researching this topic, I found an interesting responsum in Jewish law from Rabbi Moshe Sofer, known as the Chatam Sofer (from the name of his volumes on Jewish law). 
He says that, while Jewish law does not require all graves to face any particular direction, in anticipation of the ultimate redemption and the messianic era, when all will be resurrected, there was a custom that evolved in many communities: 
  • In many cemeteries, the bodies are buried with their feet facing the entrance to the cemetery, to symbolize that they will leave the cemetery at the time of the resurrection of the dead.
  • At the time of the resurrection, everyone will head to the Land of Israel, and therefore some cemeteries are set up so that the feet of the dead face the direction that one would take to travel to Israel.

Because of all this, Abq Jew started thinking again. Which raised the question -

When we Albuquerque Jews face East, where are we looking?

Where else in the World, in other words, is the latitude pretty much exactly the same as Albuquerque's -

35.110703 degrees North

It turns out that the only Major World City at more or less that exact latitude (which is to say, directly and somewhat precisely East of Albuquerque) is

Memphis, Tennessee

So when we Albuquerque Jews turn to the East, we are indeed facing

The King @ Graceland

Abq Jew has checked his sources, and it turns out that the latitude of the Holy City of Jerusalem is 

31.771959 degrees North

Which puts, according to this handy calculator, Albuquerque about 230 miles North of Jerusalem. And about 9,800 miles West.

Way back in the Olden Days, Abq Jew recalls, one could only find out where he was by a) asking for directions, which men (even then) never did; or by b) checking his good old Astrolabe (not, as it turns out, a Labe invented in Houston).

But today, Abq Jew has been informed, we have the Global Positioning System, aka GPS. And at La Puerta, the exact GPS location of each ... permanent resident ... is recorded and archived.

Which means, suggests Abq Jew, that -

We now have the technology to accurately point
our dead feet directly toward Jerusalem.
Or we could just tilt them slightly South of East and call it a day.

Ah, but back to Memphis.

Lots of song writers have written songs about Memphis, and lots of song singers have sung them. For example - Chuck BerryJohnny Rivers, Jim Kweskin & The Jug Band, Marc Cohn, and Hoagy Carmichael.

And (of course) Paul Simon.

But I've reason to believe 
We all will be received 
In Graceland 

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