The 40 Year Old Bat Mitzvah

Living History Lesson: Agudath Achim

Posted in Uncategorized by Juliet on April 24, 2011

What a crazy day. On Easter Sunday, we ended up getting stuck in massive traffic on our way to meet family at Griffith Park. My cell phone froze up then got so hot I was afraid it would implode/explode, so I couldn’t call anyone to let them know where we were, then we drove around in circles, getting lost and found over and over again, in search of a working pay phone.

(It was seriously like something out of Blair Witch Project; I’d take us down a familiar main thoroughfare on our way to the 10 or 60, but there’d only be an eastbound offramp when I needed westbound, or vice versa, then I’d get on and double back, get off, find the proper direction, drive five or so miles, only to find that we were ten miles PREVIOUS to where we’d started. So incredibly frustrating.)

We’d finished our day’s worth of snack’s by noon and we were all tired, crabby, and bored of sitting. I finally found a working pay phone outside a gas station in Baldwin Park, then we regrouped in a Starbucks while I consulted the Thomas Bros guide.

My sister Lily and I had been talking about the old Jewish cemetery in East LA just the night before at dinner, and I had the sudden inspiration to recoup our losses by reframing our day as a history lesson.

Believe it or not, East LA of Grandma’s day was heavily Jewish. And a century-old Jewish cemetery is still there today, on Downey Road between the 5 and 10 freeways.

We got there to find the gates padlocked.

Agudath Achim is in a tough neighborhood. I guess they'd have problems with vandalism.

We stood outside the gates figuring out what to do. (Actually, Eva sat down on the dirty ground to take a pebble out of her shoe, and Jane did what most five year olds would do when confronted with a chained gate: stood on it rattling like King Kong.)

Seriously, Jane?

But then, the nicest man came running from a house across the street. “Are you trying to get in?” He explained that once in awhile people come by and can’t get in, and he knows the padlock combination. In!

All I can say is, what an incredible, moving experience.

My great-great grandparents' headstones

In Orthodox tradition, you place rocks at the grave instead of flowers. And many of the headstones have beautiful little oval-shaped portraits.

They called her "Bracha"

I like this one: it’s hard to tell because the photo came out light, but he was a WWI veteran.

Maybe I was in a strange mood but it was so sad to stumble across an entire section of tiny childrens’ graves.

You know, I always wonder what each family’s story surrounding a child’s death was. We forget that infant mortality rates were quite high even within recent memory.

These poor people had two children die two years apart. So sad.

You can see in this picture that we were SO fried from a long and crazy day, but it was amazing to be able to tell the girls that this is the burial place of their almost 90 year old great-grandma’s grandparents. The shifting of the neighborhood is part of the history that surrounds the place and makes it a living, dynamic thing.

I walked around holding the lock because I was irrationally afraid I'd somehow manage to lock us in and we'd be trapped in the cemetery with a non-functioning cell phone and no more snacks overnight.


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