So saddened to hear about the death of Tony Curtis yesterday. In Budapest, Curtis, who is of Hungarian descent, is as well known for his generosity as he is for his movies. In 1998, he founded the Emanuel Foundation for Hungarian Culture, a New York-based organization that works for the restoration and preservation of synagogues and 1300 Jewish cemeteries in Hungary.
Within the confines of Budapest’s Great Synagogue exists the Tree of Life Holocaust Memorial, funded by the Emanuel Foundation, in memory of the 600,000 Hungarian Jews who were murdered by the Nazis. The tree, which is made of stainless steel and silver, is fashioned to look like a weeping willow. The shape of the tree resembles an upside down menorah. Inscribed on its 4000 metal leaves are the names of Hungarian Holocaust victims. And on the top of the black granite double archway that sits in front of the tree, a Hebrew inscription asks: “Is there a bigger pain than mine?”
It t is very common to see visitors placing rocks at the base of the tree. It is not known with certainty where the Jewish custom of placing rocks on tombstones originated from. One theory goes that as ancient travelers walked the dusty roads between cities, there were occasions in which they would come upon the body of a deceased person. The custom was to bury the body under rocks to protect it from wild life and the elements. As other travelers walked by the grave site they would add a extra stone, as the stones invariably shifted. Adding a stone to a grave site ensured that the body remained covered. It is simply a show of respect for the dead.
Rest in peace, Tony Curtis. You will be missed.