Feldmestn & Keyvermestn

Feldmestn & Keyvermestn Ritual from Annie Cohen

In the early 18th Century, Jewish women in Lithuania, Belarus and elsewhere in Eastern Europe would perform the rituals of feldmestn and keyvermestn. Often done during Elul, the women would measure the perimeter of cemeteries and graves with candle wicks. These wicks would then be used to make memorial candles to be lit during Yom Kippur. This was a special time of year where the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead seemed to be thinning and the ancestors were called for support in prayer. 

As the women wove the threads through the cemetary, they would recite a tkhine, or personal prayer, generally said in Yiddish. You can adapt the traditional tkhnie by making specific requests for protection in the coming year, bringing in the names and special characteristics of your ancestors.

Here's how you can do feldmestn and keyvermestn.

Feldmestn:  Begin at the entrance of the cemetery. One person holds a large ball of cotton thread in one hand. The other person stands to the right of them, gathers some grass or any other suitable object from the cemetery floor and hold it in their left hand, taking the end of the ball of thread in their right hand. Turn left and move together slowly around the cemetery in a clockwise direction, keeping close to the fence or wall. While you walk, the first person slowly unrolls the ball of thread, which the second person lets fall on the on the object they hold in their left hand, winding up the thread in their right hand. 

The person who intends to make the candles (usually the person with the connection to that specific cemetery), walks behind those conducting the measurement, reciting prayers, poetry or songs that feel appropriate. 

Keyvermestn: Go to a specific grave and wrap the thread several times around the perimeter of the grave. The person with the connection to the grave, for whom the measurement is being done may stand to the side during this process. Some people wrap seven times, as with the Kabbalistic practice of wrapping colorful thread for protection against the evil eye. You may do this or another number that resonates for you.

As you wrap, you may say the following tkhine (personal prayer) on behalf of the person for whom the measurement is being done:   

Dearest parent/friend/sibling/ancestor (the deceased's name), your child/friend/grandchild/relationship to the deceased (your name) has taken the trouble to come to you and to measure your grave. Take the trouble to pray for her/him/them and their family. Muster in yourself earlier love, and help them. Add your own prayers here. 

The person with the connection to the deceased can also offer a personal prayer, and/or the Mourners Kaddish. The thread is used to make candlewicks by either party, or collaboratively.  The thread is used to make candlewicks by either party, or collaboratively - a process referred to idiomatically in Yiddish as kneytlekh leygn (laying wicks). 

Annie Cohen is a Kohenet in training and a PhD student in Jewish Studies. Learn more about her work at:  www.pullingatthreads.com

Booklet Section: Remembrance 
Source: Annie Cohen: www.pullingatthreads.com