QUESTION: Several families have recently returned from a visit to Warsaw where their family lived before World War II. Their forebears were buried in the large city cemetery which is now heavily overgrown. They located some of their graves and will maintain them, but they would also like to erect a series of monuments to their ancestors here and encourage others to do the same. Is this appropriate? (Charles Smith, Washington DC)
ANSWER: From our earliest beginnings, we have recalled the pious figures of the past. Zehut avot has played an important role in our lives. This was already followed by Jacob, our patriarch (Gen 32.10), and we have continued that tradition through Yahrzeit and in other ways. The latest generation has always done its best to care for family graves. These families will not be able to visit Warsaw on a regular basis, so their wish to honor the family dead in in Washington should be encouraged.
We must, however, remember that our tradition has emphasized simplicity in funeral rites and tombstones as mentioned in earlier responsa of this volume. The memory of previous generations should be honored primarily through acts of tzedaqah. The proposed monuments should be simple and not place a burden on the families.