Kever Avot: Visiting the Graves of the Ancestors

The Jewish tradition of visiting the cemetery during the High Holy Days

EAST LOS ANGELES – It is a very special Jewish custom that during the Days of Awe – the ten days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur – that one visit the cemeteries, to consider our mortality like that of our forefathers. And to visit the graves of our ancestors.

I recently went to the annual Kever Avot memorial service at Home of Peace Memorial Park in East Los Angeles. Several families from my synagogue have loved ones buried here and so were in attendance on this day. And I also have many friends who have loved ones buried here as well. So I came out to pay my respects to our eastside mishpacha and some of my favorite Jewish heroes.

 

So what is this custom of visiting the cemeteries during the holy days?

In the Jewish calendar there are two very important dates in the fall. The first is Rosh HaShanah, the head of the year; when every year one acknowledges the Divine as being King over us all. On that day we celebrate with anticipation the hope of being declared for a good new year by the King.

Though on Yom Kippur the day is more solemn; it is the day of atonement. When we consider G-d as the King sitting in judgment over us for based on our deeds; and therefore we seek atonement for our sins through repentance, prayer and charity. It is a day of fasting and people wearing white garments like a burial shrouds. On this day we remember that we are but mere mortals, who will one days perish and all that will remain is the memory and merit of our deeds.

And likewise it is also said in the Jewish tradition, on Rosh HaShanah the declaration is written in the Book of Life, who will live and who will die in that year. And on Yom Kippur, this fate is then sealed.

So in the ten days between these two most holy days, one is encouraged to visit the grave sites of their loved ones and teachers. To reinforce this understanding in the most vivid way.

Although I must make the case that most Jews also come out to visit the graveyards on these days between the high holy days for less pious and mystical reasons.

The graveyard visits became a pervasive custom since days of old for more obvious reasons; because when the holidays come people just miss their loved ones so much. And it’s felt most deeply during the high holy days.

It can be overwhelming sometime, when someone you love and have spent a lifetime of joyous holidays memories with, and then for them to no longer be there. And sometimes it just really hits one at the core, as you hear that holiday melody your zaydie taught you. And as you make that recipe that you and your bubbie used to make together. And as a mother and father passes away, while they remain alive to you in your vivid holiday memories; it can be entirely overwhelming.

The Jewish tradition recognizes this. It has given us several ways of affirming that sense of loss and turning it into soulful remembrance. One is the visiting of the resting places of our dearly departed. The other is special memorial services with solemn prayers that are recited during the midst of the holidays; the Yizkor service; the name comes from the Hebrew word zachor, which means to remember.

And that is how the tradition of the Kever Avot – which in Hebrew literally means the grave of the ancestors – has come to be.

In this video I invite you to come with me to observe this tradition today at Home of Peace Cemetery, and a quick peek into the lesser known Mount Zion and Agudath Achim orthodox cemeteries.

Home of Peace Cemetery is the oldest of the Jewish cemeteries that in continual use to this day, and is the relocation of the original “Old Jewish Cemetery” founded by the Hebrew Benevolent Society near Chavez Ravine, near the base of today’s Dodger Stadium until it was evicted at the start of the 20th century; as discussed on my Lost Cemeteries of Los Angeles Tour.” In the years between 1901 and 1903 almost all of the 360 burials were transferred to this then newly dedicated Jewish sacred burial site. Making this site one of the most deeply historical Jewish sites in all of the city.

And to me, it is all together lovely. Where I hope to come to my final rest some day.

DID YOU KNOW? In the most ancient times of Jewish history the Yizkor service was only recited once a year; during Yom Kippur. However, eventually it became four times a year according to the widespread Ashkenazi tradition of Central and Eastern European Jews. In the aftermath of the massacres of the middle-ages and crusades that had decimated their communities. Thereafter people were so grieved that they began demanding more liturgical opportunities during the holidays to acknowledges their loved ones. In the Sephadic and Mizrahi tradition this is not generally the custom, though it is has come to be adopted by some western-influenced Sephardic synagogues in America.

Advertisements

My Arrest as an Anti-Fascist Protester in Orange County, Calif.

Southern Californians Counter-Protest against the so-called “Alt-Right”

Shmuel Gonzales, activist historian, arrested at Counter-Protest of Alt-Right in Laguna Beach, Calif.

Shmuel Gonzales, activist historian, arrested at Counter-Protest of Alt-Right in Laguna Beach, Calif. Being extracted military-style by five police officers in riot gear after he was himself attacked by fascists.

My name is Samuel “Shmuel” Gonzales, I am an activist historian and community organizer from Southern California; many of you might know me as the author of the Barrio Boychik blog, which is dedicated to presenting our local heritage of civil rights activism, with special focus on the historical and present inter-section of Jewish and Latino civil rights organizing. As a Mexican American of the Jewish faith, I also proudly serve as teacher of Jewish education and leader in sacred Hebrew ritual, serving Southeast Los Angeles and North Orange County.

Today I will be presenting to you some unique archival footage I took at a counter-protest of the America First Rally – an anti-immigrant and anti-refugee rally organized by the so-called “alt-Right” – at Main Beach in Laguna Beach, California on Sunday, August 20, 2017.

Where I was ultimately arrested.

On this day I was in attendance to stand with local friends and business people as they stand against hate. Among them my good friend and a father figure to me, Irv Weiser; whose family came to this country as refugees following the holocaust. I came to stand shoulder to shoulder with him as he protested against this nationalist hate rhetoric.

There were just a few dozen anti-immigrant/refugee protesters that day, a mixed race group of far right extremists that noticeably even had neo-Nazis and white supremacists participating in the event; while there were several hundred counter-protesters in attendance.

After the right-wing protesters group dwindled they started making incursions into the counter-protest, to get in people’s’ face and to agitate the crowd; they caused some minor scuffles and were shooed back by the police.

While documenting the event on video, I followed the right-wing group back. By this time the right-wing protesters on the other end were encircled and engaging a crowd.

I engaged the right-wing protesters in their rhetoric angering them several times with just verbal rebuttals, while also taking video of the protest.

In this video you will see the presentation in which they call illegal immigrants and refugees drug dealers, rapists and murderers. I will be present standing with Irv Weiser behind me, and to my right shoulder would be the local news media; including Fox and Latino news outlet Estrella TV.

After the further dwindled group begins to repeat their presentation, I again begin to engage their rhetoric. Speaking truth in to hate. Engaging these extremists to the point of agitation.

As I was still documenting this event on video with the camera running, I went in for a close-up shot as we argued, and one of them quickly approached and hit my hand, sending my camera flying.

At that point I was immediately arrested by five officers in riot gear from the Laguna Beach Police department. I was arrested, instead of these nationalist extremists who wanted to assault me.

And that was just the begin of a long ordeal. I would be arrested, taken to central jail – where I would be subjected to racist and anti-semitic treatment by the jailer. We are going to talk more after presenting the video from the protest.

What is most important to note is that I have an upcoming court date set for next week: Monday, September 18, 2017 at 8:30am, at Harbor Justice Center in Newport Beach, California.

At that time I will be arraigned for the false charges of resisting arrest.

For these reason, I am now releasing this video at this time.

First, in order to prove my innocence.

Second, to start an honest conversation about the realities being faced today by progressives in the front lines of our current anti-fascist resistance.

So without further ado…. The protest video….

[Video Notes: Protest Footage, begins at 4:05. Arrest takes place at 35:00. ]

Afterwards:

So now we’re back to talk about what transpired from the moment my video footage ends.

As you can see from video and pictures presented from media sources, I was taken into custody by five Laguna Beach Police officers in riot gear. It is immediately after my camera is struck – even before I have a chance to respond or react – that I am taken into custody by these officers.

Me, the Mexican American kid in the yarmulke that got attacked, was arrested by the police and was sent to jail instead of my attacker.

Now, before we go on I want to make this point clear. These so-called “alt-right” Trump supporters are confederates of white supremacists and fascist; period.

These people’s goal is incitement, under the guise of legitimate political protest and the protection that is granted.

Oh yeah, they were there to just engage is healthy political discourse, so that why they just brought out these fine gentlemen they know from their local white supremacist prison gangs!

Look how they love to push forward their token minorities, like this wannabe white supremacist here; Colombian born fascist Juan Cadavid – who goes by the fake name Johnny Benitez, who organized these protests.

Alt-Right leader, Juan Cadavid a.k.a. Johnny Benitez; wanna-be white supremacist

Alt-Right leader, Juan Cadavid a.k.a. Johnny Benitez; wanna-be white supremacist

RELATED ARTICLE: OC GOP Rejects Alt-Right Figure Johnny Benitez Over Alleged Anti-Semitism

These groups scream with indignation at being equated to white supremacists while holding banners alongside people with iron cross tattoos and swastikas. Guys that you can smell the whiskey and the effects of the meth amphetamines on their breath as they spew their vitriol; these are just everyday white thugs.

Like these idiots here… who insist that they aren’t white supremacist, that the racist prison gang created tattoos they are sporting are just symbols of their individualism.

Tweaker Trump Supporters

Trump supporting spewing racial bullshit to the media. Claims he’s not a Nazi – despite the SS tattoo on his face and the Swastika on his neck – he claims that the tattoos are just signs of his individualism.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: “Laguna Beach Anti-Immigrant Rally Turns Into Left/Right Shoutfest, with PD in the Middle.” – Benitez invited the neo-Nazi Hammerskins.

And that is what pisses them off more than anything… not just that I destroy them when it comes to policy. It’s that I destroy their claim that all the drugs, gangs and violence is brought in the neighborhood by immigrants and refugees. Instead I point the finger right back at them.

And that… that is really what set them off the most. I pointed out their dishonesty and hypocrisy, and that is what instigated them to try to shut me up and shut me down.

They hit at my camera… and I was immediately arrested.

Though it should be noted that according to observers, five police officers in riot gear, were already heading my direction in a single line when this incident took place, then extracted me, military style, from the crowd.

I’m still stunned by the pictures of my small little frame being hauled away from the crowd with such overwhelming force. Like I’m somehow such a fierce threat.

As I was being dragged from the crowd, the media began to ask me questions.

Such as Estrella TV who asked me , “We got it on camera! Why did they hit you?”

My response being: “They attacked me for speaking truth to hate. They hit me because they couldn’t handle my responses!”

The media began to ask me more questions about my motivation for counter-protesting. At which time I begin to passionately speak about the history of American Jews fighting fascism here in California; how we have historically had to fight against the Ku Klux Klan, American Nazism and all forms of nationalism… here in our very own communities.

RELATED VIDEO: “See how the rally in Laguna Beach unfolded” (Orange County Register)

Yes, I had a lot of emotions cycling through me in the moments after being arrest. Though as you see, at no time did I ever resist arrest.

protester-is-arrested-after-the-america-first-pro-trump-group-clashed-picture-id836153394

oc-shmuelgonzales-laguna-beach-protests-20170820-photo-gal-002

A group called America First! rallies against illegal immigration and in support of a stronger border as they meet up with counter protesters in downtown Laguna Beach.

The media began to ask me more questions about my motivation for counter-protesting. At which time I begin to passionately speak about the history of American Jews fighting fascism here in California; how we have historically had to fight against the Ku Klux Klan, American Nazism and all forms of nationalism… here in our very own communities.

Laguna-protest-arrest-1024x710

Again, I’m still stunned by the pictures of me being taken away from the protest with such display of force.

 

 

Protest FOX News Arrest Post

For some time no one knew why I was even being arrested. In the end it became clear, I was arrested simply for exercising my First Amendment rights – for speaking truth to hate.

The arresting officer, officer Bammer of the Laguna Beach police department, informed me that I was being cited and released. He said I was being charged with CPC 148(a)(1) / resisting arrest – for not following police instructions. Loosely interpreted to mean that I was doing something he didn’t want me to do. I informed him that I did not hear any order to disperse or receive any verbal instructions. I also insisted that I did not in way threaten anyone but had been struck at, myself, though the officer contended that the right-wing protester had only pointed in my direction when the camera went flying

When I was taken into custody sometime around 7:30 PM I was informed I would be ticketed and released within a couple of hours. I was then taken to another site where I was held for some time.

While in custody, I was repeatedly asked throughout the night whether I was the leader of the counter-protest, to which I responded that I was not.

The police went through my wallet and identified me as a Jewish religious figure – an “assistant rabbi” for my area – and kept asking berating questions about my fitness of character as a religious leader. They also went through my professional business contacts, whose cards were found in my wallet, asking accusatory questions about them.

I was then held in an Orange County Sheriff’s bus – in a small cage and in handcuffs – for the next four to five hours, joined by only one other person after the first few hours. We were ultimately transported sometime after midnight to the Orange County Sheriff’s Central Jail in Santa Ana.

The condition of the jail cells was pretty gross. There were several people passed out on the floor, and there was even bloody gauze left on the floor. There were 8 people, including myself, being kept in the holding cell.

Though nothing that night was as grotesque as the racism and antisemitism I was subjected to while in custody at the jail.

After several hours I was taken to be fingerprinted by a middle-aged white jailer, at which time the following verbal incident took place.

OFFICER: “So you are the leader of the protest out there? You fucking minorities, all having a temper tantrum because you can’t have Hillary as president. You guys are just out there to hate at white people.”

ME: “No, I was just in attendance, to stand with some families of holocaust survivors as they protest. Why would I hate white people? Do you believe that Jews somehow hate white people?”

OFFICER: “Oh, I’m sure many do. You minorities hate America so damn much…”

ME: “Why would we hate America? This is the freest country we have ever been in.”

OFFICER: “It’s not free anymore.”

ME: “Really? I don’t know about that. Because my ancestors suffered terribly in so many other places in the world, this is the most free and safe we have ever been. That is why this country and our values are worth defending.”

OFFICER: “So that’s what it comes down to, some white people killed your Jew family members somewhere and now you hate all white people. You are the leader of a hate organization; standing with Antifa and Black Lives Matter. You’re standing and defending cop killers, you’re just as bad as them…”

I declined to engage this officer in unnecessary direct conversation after that.

Though other sheriffs in the jail continued to try to engage me in similar conversation – not always as racially charged, but still accusatory of me being the leader of the protest and of a hate organization, standing shoulder to shoulder with anarchists and “cop killers.”

The other sheriffs in the jail continued to try to engage me in such conversations up until the very last-minute that I was released, some 14 hours after being taken into custody.

After a long night, I was released around 9:30 AM from the Central Jail, without bail.

I was given my citation and a court date scheduled for arraignment at Harbor Justice Center in Newport Beach on Monday, September 18, 2017, at 8:30am.

I have retained an attorney who will be defending me in court on that day.

And as so many of you dear friends and allies have asked…. Yes, I would be honored for you to come out to support me on my court date!

It is our hope that the charges will not be pursued by the district attorney, and that charges for resisting arrest be completely dismissed.

Now at this time I want to thank everyone who has been supporting me through this ordeal.

First, Robert Robertson and Irv Weiser, for being there through this all.

I must especially thank my friend David Herrera, who not only was up all night drumming up the “FREE Shmuel Gonzales” campaign online while I was in jail, he has also helped me get the best legal representation in town. You’re a total mensch!

I also want to thank my amazing activist attorney Jaime Gutierrez, El Luchador del Pueblo.

And I also want to thank all of you who have been lending me your strength and inspiration.

Now I want to dedicate my resistance to the inspiration of one of my dearest friends.

As many of you know, I am not only an activist. I am a Los Angeles community historian, dedicated to preserving and maintaining our local social justice tradition and anti-fascist heritage. My inspiration has come from the oral histories of those who have come before me, from much older friends who have handed down their experiences in protest and their know-how in organizing.

Today I want to dedicate my resistance to my 87 tear old friend Don Hodes who grew up in my neighborhood of Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles. His parents were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe who came to the United States as illegal immigrants, by way of Canada before the start of World War II. While much of the rest of his extended family remained stuck behind in Europe.

Anti-Nazi Protest Boyle Heights (original)

The Anti-Nazi Protest of November 22, 1938

On November 22, 1938 – when he was just 8 years old at the time – he marched in the Anti-Nazi Parade in Boyle Heights, protesting the savage treatment of Jews by the Nazi German government, and also the threatening rise of American Nazism that was spreading hate and plotting violence from its downtown Los Angeles headquarters.

Don Hodes marched with candles and signs, demanding the admittance of Jews fleeing the Nazi savagery in Europe, which had been barred entrance to the US and every other country in the world prior to the holocaust. Under the guise of them being racially undesirable, and even dangerous and murderous villains, they were being denied entrance as refugees by our government.

AntiNaziProtestBoyleHeightsPicketting

Residents of Boyle Heights protesting Nazi persecution of Jews of a the plight of the refugees fleeing the Nazis, Nov. 1938,

As he marched with people carrying signs declaring that Nazism and fascism have no place in civilization, he also recalls singing a song: “A tisket, a tasket… we’ll bury Hitler in a basket!”

Yes. That is the type of example I am proud to take after!

I am the person I am today because I was privileged to learn about our local heritage from people like Don Hodes and Irv Weiser, people who are like this who are father figures to me. I am proud to take their charge to hold the line of our local anti-fascist heritage in my generation!

Don Hodes and Shmuel Gonzales

Don Hodes (left) and myself Shmuel Gonzales (right): This is my friend Don, he marched in the Anti-Nazi Parade of 1938 here in Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles. He was about 8 or 9 years old when he marched with his family carrying a picket sign. He remembers singing protest songs like, “A-tisket, a-tasket… we’ll bury Hitler in a basket!”

In closing, I want to give a word of warning to my fellow activists, be careful out there. It is very important that people make sure to be careful to not be targeted to become the victim of protest related violence. The sad reality is this, that when push comes to shove, the authorities are prone to seeing the liberals and the minorities as the aggressor, as my arrest so sadly demonstrates.

We will talk more about this in the near future.

For now, most of my energies are focused on my upcoming court date.

See you all on September 18.

Until then…. Shalom chaverim!

Related articles: