Hitler in Central America
next to each other, could no longer talk to each other. ?Yudko, your father's grave has a
menorah1 so high that my father, who is behind it, can't communicate with my mother.?
Yudko would reply with a question, in the time-honored Jewish tradition: ?If they never
talked to each other when they were alive, why do you want them to start talking now?? The
debate became so acrimonious that a woman known for her wisdom offered a Solomonic
solution: ban any tomb higher than five feet. Since the new rule would not enter into force
until the following year, to accommodate those who had already commissioned a given
design at great expense, some wags suggested that several of the oldest members of the
community hastened to die before the deadline so they would not have to live – if that is the
right word – in cramped quarters.
?Did that put an end to the problem?? Hector had asked, stifling a yawn.
?No,? I said. The new rule, like the proletarian revolution in Russia that so interested my
poor grandmother, did not bring about social equality. If encroachment into the heavens was
no longer allowed, expansion would now be horizontal, with thicker slabs and fancier
finishes. The plainer ones were all cement. Others combined cement and floor tiles. Many
used a combination of cement and marble. But the largest and most luxurious ones were
completely covered in marble or, what was even more fashionable, blue granite. Even among
the fancy ones there was social distinction depending on the provenance of the stones used.
The best ones came from Italy. The middle class had to settle for a Brazilian material of
inferior quality, while the poor put up with, God help them, Guatemalan marble. Some of the
tombs were so luxurious that they attracted petty thieves, eager to run away with anything
valuable they could prize off. But that was not the worst kind of aggression. Sometimes the
neighbors would throw stones over the brick walls when a funeral was underway, to remind
the Jews that even in death they would find no peace.
For those who could not afford fancy building materials, the epitaphs on the tombstones
provided some compensation. ?Thou was the princess of our home,? read one in Spanish and
Hebrew. The inscription next door raised the stakes: ?To the queen of our happiness.? A
variation on that theme was more precise:?To the tsarina of our joys.? Men, for some reason,
were never princes, kings or tsars; they were ?righteous,? ?loving,? ?just,? or ?wise.? One
inscription, ambiguous because it was unclear whether it should be read as a description of
the departed or a post-mortem admonition, read: ?The wise in heart shall be called prudent:
and the sweetness of the lips increaseth understanding. (Proverbs 16:21).?
In that dream, I remembered what my mother had once said to me during a visit to the
cemetery. ?Even the most ganefim2 have epitaphs that proclaim their rectitude,? she noted.
?But mother,? I said, scoring one for gender equity, ?there are also a lot of kurvehs3 who are
described as saints.? My mother, Elena, ignored my comment and laughed at Don Abraham's
tomb. His wife had demanded that the inscription describe him as the wisest man on earth.
3 Easy women