Sisterhood Blog

Mourning My Friend and My Dad

By Laura Hodes

Laura Hodes
Sisterhood contributor Laura Hodes’ father.

Last week I attended the funeral of a girl who was my age, 39. Jodi and I grew up together. We lived next door to each other as children, from when I moved into my house right before kindergarten until we left for college. For me she will always be that little girl that I played with for hours on her swing set, trying to break a Guinness Book World record for time spent on a swing. We were inspired by a “Brady Bunch” episode, and we played on the swings until it got dark and our parents called us in.

Jodi’s funeral was right before the days of Awe, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which are all about remembering and memories. As Dara Horn recently wrote in the New York Times, one of the central prayers in the Hebrew liturgy of the Day of Remembrance describes God as an ideal reader: “You remember all the forgotten things. You open the Book of Memories and it speaks for itself, for each person’s hand has signed it.” As she wrote, both prayer and fiction allow us to recreate, to re-live, to re-animate the past. Remembering is acting like God and, in essence, it is what a writer does. Remembering, or telling stories about our memories, I realized after my friend’s funeral, is the only way we can mourn — and the only way we can comfort mourners.

Read more


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: sisterhood, jewish women, kaddish, mourning, death

Your Stories of Jewish Mourning

By Abigail Jones and Anne Cohen

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

Read more


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

Why Don't We Sit Shiva For Friends?

By Erica Brown

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 — comprised of essays from writers and submissions from readers — will appear on The Sisterhood blog this week. This is the second post in that series. —Abigail Jones

Erica Brown

I lost a friend a few months ago. Cheryl was only 52 years old. Cancer ripped her from us. It is all so unfair. She had so many years to go. In the intervening months, I have thought a lot about female friendships and loss. I watched myself from a distance speak at her funeral, an out-of-body experience where a small voice kept saying, “Sit down. This cannot be happening.”

I had a hard time taking Cheryl off my speed-dial. It was like ripping off a band-aid really quickly, but inside where it really hurts — a bruise to the soul that stubbornly won’t heal. We did carpool together, ate Shabbat and holiday meals together, raised our kids together. So often, I find myself just about to call and tell her something and then I remember, once again, that she is no longer here. That momentary re-living of loss becomes another small stab at the heart. As the writer Anais Nin once observed, “Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it’s only by this meeting that a new world is born.”

Cheryl lost a close friend and neighbor a few years before we moved to the area. At the time, she said, ‘How come there is no shiva for friends?” And now I am asking myself that same question for her.

Read more


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

Making Peace With ‘Who Shall Die?’

By Gabrielle Birkner

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 — comprised of essays from writers and submissions from readers — will appear on The Sisterhood blog this week. This is the first post in that series. —Abigail Jones

Gabrielle Birkner
The last photo Gabrielle Birkner took with her father, from Rosh Hashanah 2003.

When in the fall of 2003, I stood between my father and stepmother and recited what is, perhaps, the Days of Awe’s most haunting reading, Unetaneh Tokef — better known as the “who shall live and who shall die prayer” — I didn’t give much thought to the meaning of the words as they passed through my lips.

The coming days, the liturgical poem tells us, would determine who among us would live out another year, and who would die and how. Fire, water, sword and wild beast are among the terrifying options read aloud at High Holy Days services. Only repentance, prayer and charity could avert (or temper, depending on your reading) “the severe decree.”

By the time I stood for the prayer the following Rosh Hashanah my father and stepmother were dead. Murdered, during a home invasion, in a manner that the prosecutors called “especially heinous, cruel or depraved.”

Read more


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

When Shiva Ends, Mourning Really Begins

By Caroline Rothstein

Caroline Rothstein
Caroline Rothstein (left) with her sister, Natalie, and brother, Joshua, in the summer of 2002, a year before he passed away.

Sometimes I wish every week was Shiva with its unending support and ongoing hours, and days, of continual storytelling. For when loved ones die, the narratives we share help keep them alive. Shiva is the week before we must dance with reality, when the debate over how long it is supposed to take to reach acceptance in the stages of grief is not a spectrum, but a staunchly understood cavernous, amorphous abyss.

But all too often after Shiva, we forget. People are still mourning, but we forget. After the rugelach, fruit platters and babka have been laid on the kitchen counter and carried to the dining room table, then eaten, we forget. After the family members deepest in mourning — their loved one so recently a breath away — have cried, wailed and sat stunned in shock, we forget.

My brother, Joshua, died in October 2002, nearly 11 years ago. He was struck by a car while walking down a sidewalk in the Chicago suburbs; a senior from his high school pulled an illegal U-Turn and an elderly man struck Joshua, then 15, in an attempt to avoid collision with the teenager. The car flung Josh’s body into the side of a store building. Immediately left unconscious, he died the next morning in the Intensive Care Unit.

Read more


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: sisterhood, jewish women, shivah, family, death

Tears for Mr. Darcy

By Jane Eisner

Jane Eisner
Mr. Darcy

I’m at that age when friends are becoming grandparents, and I hear a frequent refrain from them: Besides adoring their grandchildren, they express joyful wonderment at seeing their children become parents.

I’m not ready for grandchildren yet. But I’m going through a similar experience at the other end of life, watching one of my daughters manage the death of her beloved dog.

By the time you read this, he will be gone. His death — the euphemistic “putting down” — was on Friday, scheduled with care and deliberation. It’s been clear for months that the tumor on his heart was inoperable and the accumulation of fluid in his belly, making him appear as if he were pregnant with quadruplets, was the only part of him that was growing. His torso and limbs were skinny with deterioration, his gait awkward and his anxiety managed by an ever-increasing dose of drugs.

But my daughter said he never lost his sweetness and goofy enthusiasm. He had always been her dog. Our family had other pets — dogs, cats, fish, a pair of smelly, constantly procreating guinea pigs — but after going through a rough patch in high school, my daughter wanted her own dog and she deserved it.

Read more


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: sisterhood, pride and prejudice, pets, mr. darcy, english cocker spaniel, dogs, death

Saying Goodbye, With or Without Belief

By Sarah Seltzer

Sarah Seltzer
Sarah Seltzer and her grandmother

Earlier this summer, after we finished sitting shiva for my grandmother, I sifted through her top drawer. This was the drawer she herself had frequently rummaged through when I would visit her apartment, either to attempt to press cab fare into my hand, or to show me a pin or scarf that would be mine someday, or in the last year or so, to give one of these things to me or my mother, to unburden herself. So that afternoon in the almost-empty apartment, I thought I knew what I would find: her phi beta kappa pin, her necklace with the head of medusa on it (my grandmother loved mythology), her pearls and wedding ring, an old locket my family had given her after her sister died, and other sentimental trinkets that might make me laugh, nod and cry.

But when I opened one box, I found something I hadn’t expected: two black mourning ribbons, torn and faded but identical to the ribbons we were wearing that weekend for her, the ones the rabbi had instructed us to cut and put next to our hearts in the tearful moments before her funeral began. I assume my grandmother’s old ribbons marked the deaths of her sister and her husband, though we’ll never know for sure. It was a sad but fitting moment of connection, affirming that she had gone through the same ritualized period of lament that we were in the midst of — and that the experience had meant so much to her that she’d put the sad scraps of fabric in the same place she kept her precious treasures and totems.

Read more


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: sisterhood, rituals, judaism, death




Find us on Facebook!
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • 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": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • 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.
  • 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.