One of the most common Jewish cemetery customs is to leave a small stone at the gravesite of a loved one after saying Kaddish or visiting. Its origins are rooted in ancient times and throughout the centuries the tradition of leaving a visitation stone has become part of the act of remembrance.
The origin of this custom began long ago, when the deceased was not placed in a casket, but rather the body was prepared, washed, and wrapped in a burial shroud, or for a male, in his tallit (prayer shawl). Then the body would be placed in the ground, covered with dirt and then large stones would be placed atop the gravesite, preventing wild animals from destroying the remains.
Over time, individuals would go back to the gravesite and continue to place stones, ensuring the security of the site and as a way to build up the “memory” of the loved one. As time passed on, and carved monuments became the preferred memorial, the custom of leaving a small visitation stone became a symbolic gesture–a way for the visitor to say of the loved one, “I remember you…..”.
Another explanation of this custom is derived from the phrase often inscribed on a headstone that reads: t’hey nishmato tsurura b’tsor hachayim (may the soul be bound up in the bonds of eternal life). Interestingly, the word tsurura (bound) is related to the
word tsur, a pebble kept by shepherds in their slings to keep track of the number of sheep in the herd. It is fitting that we ask G-d, our shepherd, at this time of year to remember each soul and keep it in His protection. (Rabbi David Wolpe, My Jewish Learning).
Cemetery visitation is particularly high during the time of year prior to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The Jewish Cemetery Association Of Massachusetts (JCAM) provides for this custom on its cemeteries by filling receptacles with small stones for our visitors to leave, so you too, can continue with this ancient custom of remembering.