Unveiling is the name for the ceremonial dedication of the memorial marker or headstone at the grave of a loved one. The chief purpose of dedicating a headstone is to mark the final resting place of the deceased, to honor his or her life, and to serve as a focal point for people’s memories through the years. Accordingly, remembering and honoring the deceased is the main purpose of the unveiling ceremony, which has very few fixed religious requirements.
Please contact your rabbi if you have any questions about an unveiling ceremony—or, you can contact the Mourner Care Program at Sinai Memorial Chapel by calling (415) 921-3636.
Timing and Planning
The timing of the unveiling ceremony can vary, based on various traditions. Some consider the appropriate timing to be in the final months of the first year of mourning, before the first yahrzeit.
Since there is no particular date on which the ceremony must be held, it’s good to find a time when the greatest number of family members will be able to attend, since gathering the mourners in a circle of memory is the chief purpose of the ceremony.
Unveilings are typically not held on the first day of the month in the Hebrew calendar, on High Holy Days (however, they may be held between the holidays), or on Shabbat.
Planning for an unveiling should take place at least 90 days in advance—to schedule the officiant and cemetery, invite family and friends, and make arrangements for the creation of the memorial marker or headstone.
If you are the member of a congregation, you may want to involve your rabbi in planning and officiating at the unveiling, but this is not required.
Typically, an unveiling includes only family and very close friends. There is no public announcement.
While Jewish tradition includes the marking of gravestones, there are many ways that this can be done. Cemeteries and memorial parks also have their own guidelines, so it is important to know them prior to making arrangements.
The marker usually includes the English and Hebrew name of the person who died, the dates of birth and death in English and Hebrew, and the person's primary relationships—father/mother, husband/wife, grandfather/grandmother, brother/sister, etc.
You can call Sinai for assistance in creating the wording for a headstone or a memorial marker. We will also coordinate with monument companies and cemeteries.
The Unveiling Ceremony
The unveiling ceremony, called Hakamat Matzeiah (raising the stone), is usually a short ceremony. The stone is covered with a piece of cloth before guests arrive. The cloth is removed just before
The ceremony itself generally includes a few English or Hebrew readings that can be drawn from traditional sources or from other appropriate sources that were meaningful to the person who died, including favorite poems or song lyrics. It includes the
El Malei Rachamim
. The ceremony should also include an opportunity for those present to share memories or reflections should they wish—it can have an informal tone but should be sufficiently solemn and respectful for the occasion. The ceremony typically lasts no longer than ten to fifteen minutes.
Leading an unveiling ceremony is a tremendous gift to those present, and when done with thoughtfulness and sensitivity can help bring closure to the year of mourning that Judaism describes following the death of a loved one.
Following the ceremony, people often place pebbles on the monument, as a reminder of maintaining early markers, which were literally piles of stone.
After the unveiling, families sometimes invite participants to their home or to a restaurant to spend additional time together. Also, it is appropriate, following an unveiling, to give tzedakah (charitable donations) in honor of the person who died to a cause or institution that was important to him or her.
To learn more about the unveiling ceremony, you can view the video “Jewish Mourning Rituals: An Overview” on this page.