Sisterhood Blog

Your Stories of Jewish Mourning

By Abigail Jones and Anne Cohen

  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

In late August, The Sisterhood launched a series examining the role of women in Jewish mourning traditions. Grieving for a loved one is fiercely personal; doing so as a woman, guided by Jewish laws and rituals, can be comforting or restricting, depending on one’s experience. We asked you, Sisterhood readers, to share your stories. Many people responded. Some women felt marginalized, even alienated, by their limited roles in the mourning process. Others felt invigorated and strengthened, and found deep comfort in community. What resulted was a portrait of Jewish female mourning. This series, which includes essays from writers and submissions from readers, will appear on The Sisterhood blog this week. —Abigail Jones

The following stories from Sisterhood readers are just a sample of the many we received. They have been edited for style and length.

Libi Astaire

Sacrificing Tradition

I stand on the other side of the mechitza. I have no desire to do otherwise. So when my father passed away a few years ago, I would have been more than happy to shed my tears out of view and among the company of just other women — steadied by their collective strength, strengthened by the knowledge that afterward they would be there for me, bringing a hot meal and a solacing word.

But it was not to be.

A Reform clergyman was going to officiate at the funeral. I knew what that meant. During the eulogy, he would talk mostly about how my father loved ice cream and poker — which was true, but not the point. A Jewish hesped (eulogy) is a time to speak about the good deeds that the deceased has done — the mitzvos, the charitable causes they believed in and supported, the simple acts of kindness they did in a way that was uniquely their own.

I felt that someone needed to speak about that. So I did give a hesped. But inside — behind my inner mechitza — I was crying, both for my father and our traditions, whose wisdom and beauty have become buried under so many layers of misunderstanding and neglect.

—Libi Astaire, 59 years old

Mayim Bialik

Second-Class Griever

The following excerpt first appeared as the foreword to “Faith Unravels” by Rabbi Daniel Greyber.Used by permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers.

When my grandmother died, I arranged for her to be buried in her mother’s nightgown. No one in my family had known that such a garment existed. I knew, because during the time I got to care for her in the years before she died, she had told me all about it.

I was responsible for my grandmother’s life in many ways, tending to her business and personal affairs because my father and his brother did not. I was also responsible for the arrangements after her death, arranging a traditional burial, complete with a shomer, someone to accompany her body, all the way from Los Angeles to her resting place in Florida.

A grandchild is not obligated to follow Jewish mourning practices (a spouse, child, parent and sibling are the only relatives designated as mourners by Jewish law) and in many ways, traditional Jewish ways of showing allegiance were closed to me in my grief. I wanted to mourn for my grandmother the way Judaism had taught me. Instead, I felt like a second-class griever.

When my grandmother left this world, I was singing to her, a Hebrew poem I learned from my UCLA Hillel years before. She stirred, something shifted in the air, and the next moment, I knew she was gone. I was alone in the room with her tiny body in my arms. I stopped singing.

—Mayim Bialik, 37 years old

There Was No One Else

In my world, female speakers address female audiences, unless…

That unless happened to me when my uncle died. There was no one to eulogize him. He left no children. His wife wasn’t a public speaker nor were the other next of kin. It’s likely that someone from the funeral home could have cobbled together words of parting but the notion of a send-off by a stranger seemed like an insult to my uncle’s warm, generous soul.

Could I step up to the plate? I asked one of the rabbis in my community, and not someone known for his liberal views.

“Is there any one else to do it?” he asked. No, I replied. “Then go ahead,” he said.

And so I stood in front of the coffin, draped with a black cloth and I told the crowd how upon arrival in Auschwitz my uncle ripped apart his brand new suit rather than give it to the Nazis. I told them how, while a foreman at the camp, he helped his inmates, instructing them to pretend to work so as not to kill themselves through exhaustion. And I told them about his postwar life — how he made it in business but always acceded to any request for charity. My words spilled out to quickly. I had a catch in my throat and there were wet eyes in the crowd. The mystics say that the dead are present at their eulogies. I hope that my uncle was there and I hope he was smiling.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: womens kaddish2, sisterhood, Women Mourning 2013, orthodox, mourning, jewish women, death, feminism

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight":
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here:
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.