JewishGen Discussion Group #JewishGen Jewish Tombstones #general

Barb & Howard

" Who made the Jewish Tombstones"

Where ever in the world we Jews have wandered, in the past, and lived for
any length of time we eventually buried and mourned our dead. We
established our burial societies (Chevra Kaddisha) that undertook the
burial procedure and observed the traditional customs. We said kaddish,
and lit yortzeit candles in memory of our loved ones. Then, within a
respectable period of time we erected a gravestone. We paid our annual
homage at the burial site.

The cemeteries became a record, and repository of hard evidence, that we
had passed this way once upon a time. The fact that we had been here was
etched in stone, or otherwise we might have soon been forgotten.

Information has been made available as to how we can currently read, and
interpret, the old Hebrew inscriptions. When we are able, we now make
periodic visits to the graves.

We leave behind a small stone on top of erect markers as a sign of respect,
and as evidence that we have visited. When we go back to the old world, to
the places where our ancestors lived, and were buried, one of the first
places we head for is the old cemeteries. We take photographs, and perhaps
do stone rubbings, and say Kaddish.

Over the centuries millions of tombstones have been inscribed. With all the
attention and credence we as genealogists have lavished upon our ancestors,
there is hardly a word about the anonymous artisans who actually assisted
with the wording, physically prepared, chiseled, and carved the symbols and
told the story of who rests beneath. Then these same artisans arrange to
set these monuments in place, intending for the stone to remain insitu

I have undertaken to write a tribute to these dedicated artisans; and now
ask you, my knowledgeable fellow genners, for whatever help you can provide
to add to the information, or give direction where I can research and find
who these individual artisans were. I seem to be running out of places to
look for specifics about them. Essentially I find that in the times of
Hapsburg ruling authority in Galicia and Eastern Europe there were two
noted families that possessed the family hereditary guild recognition to
create tombstones. These were the PICKER and STEINMETZ families, and even
they regarded this stone carver (matseve-schlager) activity as a sideline.
Their principal functions were as members of the burial society in the
community of Chernovitz. Surely there must have existed more regional and
local carvers. There are relatively few Jewish STEINMETZES out there. My
STEINMETZ family probably derived our surnames at the time when it was
deemed that we take on Germanic sounding names. STEINMETZ literally
translates to stonecutter. We who are researching the STEINMETZ surname
may be related to one another, or we may simply have acquired the name, in
our individual communities, based on the unique stone carving function we
were performing.

Legend has it that my family surname may not have always been STEINMETZ
when we lived in Europe. Our previous surname, I was once told, was TOBIAS.
Jewish STEINMETZES are found grouped in a few geographical cluster
concentrations; and then some others are found scattered along migratory
pathways. Among all of the millions of Jews in Eastern Europe, there are
currently less than 50 records of STEINMETZ in all of JRI-Poland present

Were these tombstones carved in the individual communities in which they
were erected; or were the creators of these monuments located in central
locations where the stone was extracted >from it's natural setting? Were
these completed tombstones then transported to their destination? Was
tombstone making a commercial artisan business, or was it a service
provided gratis by community brotherhoods?

All suggestions, thoughts, and comments are welcomed!.

Howard Steinmetz
Saginaw, Michigan

Currently researching in the Rogatin Ukraine (Rohatyn) area:

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