The majority of the gravestones are of a simple design, their modesty reflects the Orthodox tradition. They almost only have inscriptions, indicating the name of the deceased and the date of his/her death, perhaps one or two words to commemorate his/her merits in this world. If there are any embellishments, they are mostly traditional motifs: candelabra and weeping willows on the female graves, Stars of David on some male ones, the blessing hands of the Kohanites on the priestly tombs, or not even this few. On most gravestones, the only decoration are the solemnly carved letters pe and nun under the upper arch, the acronym of the Hebrew words po nitman, “here is hidden”.
However, it is worth noting a special gravestone motif, which almost has its own school in the cemetery of Tekeháza: the large and diverse number of geometric candelabra. The presence of candelabra – as we have already seen in the cemetery of Lesko – is not unique in itself. We meet with them almost only on women’s graves, praising the Friday night candle-lighting and, beyond that, the light and warmth of the family home as well as the virtuous woman maintaining it. What is interesting in Tekeháza, however, is the large number and many variations of stylized, geometric candelabra:
Once speaking about the candelabra, it’s worth to point out a special local form of this motif. About these gravestone decorations it is difficult to decide whether they are three-branch candelabra or stylized three-leaved plants:
Among the mostly puritan graveposts there are some ornate stones as well, bearing witness to the influence of the profusely decorated Hassidic cemeteries to the east. Their motifs include splendid crowns, birds, houses. They include a particularly beautiful tombstone whose edge is decorated with various floral motifs, which run together in the tulip motif above the house. To the right and left of the house, the bending or broken leaves of the two flowers symbolize the broken life.
The tomb of Rabbi Hayim Dov, who died young – “at the half of his days”, as the inscription says –, decorated with a laying lion with the head turned backwards, has also a Hassidic-like decoration. The carver choose the animal representing the tribe of Judah as a gravestone decoration, although for the grave of Rabbi “Dov”, that is, “bear”, this latter animal would have been a more apt choice. The biblical quotation in the upper semicircle of the stone was also carefully chosen: “And I have erected this stone in memory…” (Gen 28:22), continued and complemented with a personal inscription: “…to the man who followed the path of the righteous and acted in honesty: our teacher, Rabbi Hayim Dov, son of our teacher, Rabbi Yehuda ha-Levi. Died at the half of his days…”.
Extremely ornate and unique is the following woman’s grave, which also shows a strong Hassidic influence:
Here is hidden the virtuous and praised woman, whose hand was open to the poor [Prov 31:20 in free rendering], Lady Scheindel, daughter of Moshe of the blessed memory. Deceased on Hoshana Rabbah [the last day of Sukkot] in 5605 . May her soul be bound in the bondage of the living.
On the top, two doves with their heads turned back surround a richly decorated seven-branch candelaber of an intertwined stem. The dove is a symbol of piety, while the candelaber is that of Friday evening and of the family home. At the bottom of the gravestone a snake is waving. The snake is a relatively rare motif on Jewish graves. In the Jewish cemetery of Warsaw we find an example of the snake biting its own tail, a symbol of eternity, while in the likewise Polish Jewish cemetery of Żabno, the snake attacking the lion on one of the stones represents the death. It is likely that the snake in Tekeháza is somehow related to this latter one.
A few words must be said about the inscriptions as well. On Jewish tombstones we often read biblical quotations, which in some way refer to the life and virtues of the deceased. The authors of these inscriptions often borrow from each other, or use again and again some very fitting and widely popular biblical verses. In the cemetery of Tekeháza, such popular verse was Proverbs 31:20, which was adopted on several women’s graves:
She opens her hand to the poor
Two women’s graves, both decorated with three-branch candelabra. – The one at the left side: Here is hidden the virtuous and illustrious woman. “She opens her hand to the poor” [Prov 31:20], Lady Lea, daughter of Moshe of the blessed memory, deceased on 6 Nisan 5674 . [The third number, 7, is of uncertain legibility]
It is a common practice that the grave inscription of illustrious Torah scholars and their family members include a poem, where the initial letters of each line read together give out the name of the deceased:
Here is hidden Esther, daughter of our teacher of the blessed memory, Rabbi Tsvi. – The inscription of difficult legibility gives account of the merits of the deceased. The initial letters of the lines give out the name “Esther bat Tsvi” – Esther, daughter of Tsvi.
A five-branch candelaber on the top. – Here is hidden the illustrious and precious… Feyge. – Between “here is hidden” and the name, a four-line poem whose initials give out the name “Feyge”. – Her soul flew into heaven on 5 Heshvan 5701 .
A particular poetic feat is that on the tombstone of Rabbi Shmuel Judah Stark, it is not the first letters but the first syllables – Shmu-, El-, Ju-, Dah- – which give out the name of the deceased!
Here is hidden the precious and honored man, our teacher, Rabbi Shmuel Judah Shtark, son of our teacher, Rabbi Yitzhak Dov. – A poem follows on the merits of the deceased, with the first syllables Shmu-, El-, Ju-, Dah-, that is, his name.
Finally, observe the special typography of this tombstone. The name of the deceased and his father – Moshe and Yitzhak, respectively – are inscribed in a beautiful, unique, almost Art Nouveau letter:
…pious and righteous man, Moshe, son of Yitzhak Dov. Deceased on 6 Iyyar 5680 . May is soul be bound in the bondage of the living.
Woman’s gravestone (the word “Lady…” is just legible). The inscription is worn off in a fantastic way. As if it were a Torah-reading yad lifted, or a pointing finger: “Memento mori!”