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Published: June 28th 2005
The Jewish cemetery is an absolute jumble of tombstones. Just to look at it you might think, "How can they be buried so close together?" What I have read is that in centuries past a plot of land was given to the Jews living in the Jewish Quarter to be used as a cemetery. Of course as time passed, a century or two, that cemetery became full. When that happened in Prague, the city fathers refused to allow the cemetery to be expanded. So what could the people do? As people died they were buried on top of others. Soil was brought in and the ground slowly rose to new levels. The tombstones were not buried, but lifted and placed beside the new stone. Thus, the jumble that is seen now. In a way it is quite lovely. All those former friends, relatives and neighbors all resting there together touching, still in physical contact.
In other parts of Europe, Switzerland for example, it is customary for people to remain buried only for around 7 to 10 years and then their coffins are dug up, the bones placed in the common grave with those who died before them and
the grave site used for another coffin of a newly deceased person. I don't know where the tombstones go in that case.
In the USA we have always had more free spaces and this sort of burial custom has not been a part of our heritage. Perhaps in the future we also will have multiple burials in one grave and/or nicely jumbled, hilly graveyards.
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