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Living Memories

Jenna Myers's picture

When I was younger, around the age of 10 my mother told me a lie that made me question my ability to make my own decisions and put constraints on me via my family identity. I was conversing with my mother and the topic of tattoos came up and I told her that I wanted one. Her immediate response was, “If you get a tattoo you won’t be allowed to be buried in a Jewish cemetery. Is that what you really want?” At the time I agreed with her and put the tattoo idea behind me. A few years later I decided to do a google search of “Can a person with a tattoo be buried in a Jewish cemetery?” The answer I saw wasn’t what I expected. The answer said that there is no such Jewish law about a Jew not being buried in a Jewish cemetery because they have a tattoo. However in some cases a person already laid to rest might have requested that no one with a tattoo be buried next to them. Other then that it is acceptable for me to get a tattoo and I felt betrayed by my mother. My mother was forcing me to be on this path that I didn’t want to be on. A path filled with her making all of the decisions for me. However this made me think about other cultures and religions where people are forced to stay on a particular path and have different ways in which they respect the dead. Whether your culture or religion buries a person the day they pass away, not using a casket for burial, or not having upright tombstones.

For Judaism, people choose not to get a tattoo because it reminds us of the Holocaust and how so many innocent people were killed and disrespected. “’They went like sheep to the slaughter. ‘‘They died like animals.’ ‘The Nazi butchers killed them.’ Denunciation of the camps reverberates so fully with the language of the stockyard and slaughterhouse that is barely necessary for me to prepare the ground for the comparison I am about to make. The crime of the Third Reich, says the voice of accusation, was to treat people like animals” (Coetzee, 8). All of those people were treated like animals and their bodies were disrespected by taking them apart and using their hair for pillows and using their body fat for soap. There is a common respect issue brought up in The Lives of Animals between the Jews who died in the Holocaust and the animals that are killed every day. “The Jews died like cattle, therefore cattle die like Jews, you say. That is a trick with words which I will not accept. You misunderstand the nature of likeness; I would even say you misunderstand willfully, to the point of blasphemy. Man is made in the likeness of G-d but G-d does not have the likeness of man. If Jews were treated like cattle, it does not follow that cattle are treated like Jews. The inversion insults the memory of the dead. It also trades on the horrors of the camps in a cheap way” (Coetzee, 36). The killing of animals can’t be compared on the same level with the killing a torture of Jews in the Holocaust and as Coetzee said it “insults the memory of the dead.” However there is a lack of respect for the killing of animals for human use. There isn’t a time where the animals are paid respect or their lives are remembered. Other cultures have different ways of paying respect to the dead. That is where the idea of latitude comes into play. How different cultures and religions from all over the world pay respect for the dead and what rituals they practice.

A tombstone can say a lot about a persons life. Based on the pamphlet from Laurel Hill the different types of tombstones include a draped urn, a cherub, a broken column, an angel, torch, or wreath, a book, and winged face, an arch, an anchor, an obelisk, a broken urn, a hand extended upward, ivy covered sarcophagus, or a lion. Each of them symbolizes something different whether it relates to heaven and the afterlife or it symbolizes the greatness of a person. However other cultures don’t use elaborate structures. In Muslim culture the tombstones are flat because they are simple and not elaborate. Ancient Egyptian burial customs constructed large pyramid for the dead specifically for a king signifying power. 

The idea of building a pyramid for one person and their belongings because of their status is absurd. This made me think of modern times and how some people buried in cemeteries have these large tombstones or even mausoleums for the entire family. Are people supposed to think that based on the size of their tombstone that they were a more important person than everyone else? Or is it that they were the most important person in the eyes of their family members? 

Walking around Laurel Hill Cemetery I kept thinking about all of the tombstones that rose above the ground and the small tombstones were slowly fading away. I ended up writing the following poem: 

Why must your structures be so grand

Shielding yourself from the rain

Others lay helpless with streak upon their face

Once visible words written are now just one smear

One smear that no longer reads the information of someone’s life

Deeming them unimportant?

Overall, I still believe that when someone dies they will be remembered through their loved ones. Whether they have a five-foot tall tombstone or a small flat one with a single letter on it. Their lives will not be forgotten if they end up being buried or if they are cremated and scattered.

Even if I got that tattoo I had thought about when I was 10 doesn’t mean I’ll be remembered for that. The same goes for all of the other people who pass away. Cultures and religions may differ when it comes to burying the dead, but everyone’s life should be respected and remembered.


Coetzee, J. M., and Amy Gutmann. The Lives of Animals. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1999. Print.


Anne Dalke's picture

dancing the wind turbines ?!


some (rather extensive!) notes from our talking today. We reviewed the three papers you’ve written so far. You reported liking both the first essay, reflecting on your childhood (not something you’ve done in public before, for fear of offending both family members and others with less privileged experiences), and the second one, building out from there, on how natural disasters can “exile” us from home. (I had some questions about where the agency lies in such a situation, and you clarified that it lies with the humans who choose to live in dangerous places).

Your third essay (to which I append these notes) was constructed less as an argument than a reflective piece; it was initiated by your experiences @ Laurel Hill, and started and ended with a personal story about being a Jew who wants a tattoo. This essay wandered, touching along the way on the tension between your emotional and rational reactions to the comparison made, in The Lives of Animals, between the loss of animal life and the horrors of the Holocaust.

You said that you wanted to write your last essay on perception—really, on the bias that attends many of our impressions of people, when we first encounter them (or just hear about them, as re: our trips into Camden). And I said that I wanted you to write an essay that has a clear, concise argument. So this is what we agreed:  you’ll tackle the question, as your finale in this course about “representation,” of the “representation of science”: how can you/we make good information available to non-scientists, without falsifying the data? (along these lines, we had an interesting discussion about the hockey stick graph, and your resistance to its being “refigured” as trees that are all the same height, and so really NOT accurately representations of what Elizabeth Callaway claimed they represented, “the gray area” of the graph).

I asked you to read a couple of texts to prepare for this project  (and will expect to
see them in your bibliography at least as “works consulted,” if not “cited”):

Simona’s recent essay on
The Science Binary: Objective, Subjective, or somewhere inbetween?

a piece in Geology, 2014 about The science of subjectivity

and three talks, delivered in a faculty discussion group 10 years ago--
one by Arlo Weil, another by David, another by me...

and then there's this March 31st NYTimes piece about how
College Classes Use Arts to Brace for Climate Change...

I am also thinking that you might draw on your own creative work,
“dancing” the wind turbines…

I look forward to seeing where this exploration takes you—