|כשר לפסח appears upside down at the top of the tombstone|
by Harvey Leifert Special to WJWIt was the stuff of urban legend when I served at the American Embassy in Namibia two decades ago, but elders of the country's Jewish community insisted it was true: A tombstone once contained the words "kasher l'Pesach" (kosher for Passover) in Hebrew, but upside down. Could this really be true? How could it be true?
The Jewish community was small when I lived in Windhoek, and has dwindled since, but some Jews have always lived far from the capital, in small towns and on farms. One such person was Walter Galler, a resident of Swakopmund, then a small German port on the Atlantic, up the coast from the larger and better situated British port of Walvis Bay. We know little of Galler, who was born on Aug. 8, 1888, and died on Sept. 28, 1939.
Galler was married to a non-Jewish "colored," or mixed-race, woman, and when he died, the story goes, his widow arranged for a Jewish burial in the Swakopmund Cemetery, on the edge of the Namib Desert. Mrs. Galler then ordered a simple tombstone to mark her husband's grave, and she felt it must include an acknowledgement of his Jewish faith. She somehow knew that a Hebrew inscription was appropriate, but the only Hebrew text in her home was the certification "kasher l'Pesach," found, along with a Star of David, on the label of a bottle of wine.
Mrs. Galler apparently cut out the Hebrew words and star and handed them to the stone mason. He chiseled the letters into the tombstone, but, not knowing the Hebrew alphabet, he inscribed them upside down.
There the story might have ended, but decades later, word of a "kasher l'Pesach" tombstone in a far-off cemetery was circulating in Windhoek's Jewish community. Almost uniformly, from what I have heard, members praised Mrs. Galler for making an effort to recognize and respect her late husband's religion, regardless of the, er, unorthodox result. One day in the 1970s, however, a visiting rabbi from neighboring South Africa drove to Swakopmund and inspected the grave. He determined that the upside-down Hebrew inscription must go, and so it was done. The Star of David remains, now flanked by two blank rectangles.
I'm not sure I would have removed the inscription. Sure, it was somewhat humiliating, however it was the best his loving wife could manage.
Luckily for Mr. Galler, his wife did not have a bottle of the "foreskin free" grapejuice.
Hat Tip : Bubba Metzia on Reddit/Judaism.