Kaddish, From A Woman’s Perspective

March 20, 2014

By Sandee Brawarsky kaddishWomensVoicesWeb2

In many a shiva house, books of consolation and Jewish ritual are as ubiquitous as archival photos and cellophane-wrapped platters of food. You’re likely to find Leon Wieseltier’s “Kaddish,” Rabbi Maurice Lamm’s “The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning” and perhaps Rabbi Richard Hirsh’s “The Journey of Mourning.” A new book by Michal Smart and Barbara Ashkenas, “Kaddish, Women’s Voices” (Urim) belongs on the table.

Smart and Ashkenas have assembled a sisterhood of articulate mourners, 52 women who contribute essays about their experience saying Kaddish. These are women who’ve committed to saying Kaddish regularly with a minyan over the course of 11 months.  While many women from Conservative and Reform backgrounds have taken on the obligation and are counted in the minyan, Orthodox women who choose to say Kaddish are still pioneers in many synagogue settings.

In a quote on the book jacket, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin points out that the late Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik ruled that women may recite the Mourner’s Kaddish from the women’s section of the synagogue — even if she is the only one saying it.

Earlier this month, “Kaddish, Women’s Voices” was awarded a 2013 National Jewish Book Award in Contemporary Jewish Life.

In an interview, Ashkenas, an artist and educator, explains that she began thinking about a book like this while she was in mourning and saying Kaddish at her Orthodox synagogue — she realized that there wasn’t a book from a woman’s perspective. When she mentioned the idea to friends and family, they encouraged her to put together a book of women’s stories. At their first meeting to talk about the possibility of collaborating on the project, Ashkenas and Smart met at a café and heard Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” playing in the background — they discovered that the song was played at Ashkenas’s mother’s and Smart’s father’s funerals. They then brought together a dozen women who had experienced mourning, and began planning the book.

“Loss was the currency of intimacy,” Ashkenas explains.

When they began, the editors thought of the book as geared to Orthodox women, but opened it up to some non-Orthodox voices as well, including a Reform rabbi, as they thought the subject could have wider appeal.

Smart, who teaches widely on Jewish texts and philosophy and pioneered Jewish environmental education, says that when she got started, she expected the essays to be about saying Kaddish. But she was Read the rest of this entry »


Getting A Read On Carlebach

November 21, 2013

by Ari L. GoldmancarlebachbioWeb1

There has been a huge outpouring of material about the life and music of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach since his death 19 years ago at the age of 69. There have been memoirs, articles, hagiographies, photo collections, magazines, records, tapes and hundreds of Youtube entries. There even was a Broadway show, “Soul Doctor,” which ran for nearly 100 performances until it closed last month.

Now comes a comprehensive biography of the great man, called, simply, “Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Life, Mission and Legacy.” It was written by Natan Ophir and published by Urim Publications. It runs over 500 pages with footnotes, timelines and a discography that includes all the songs Carlebach recorded. Little about him seemed to escape the author’s eye: There are lists of all the people he ordained as rabbis and accounts of hundreds of weddings he performed and concerts he gave.

For those who were first introduced to Carlebach through “Soul Doctor,” as well as for those who grew up with Carlebach and his music, there is much in Ophir’s volume to explore and enjoy. It is also a good way to fact check the play.

Did he really have a romance with the African-American singer Nina Simone? Read the rest of this entry »


Remembering Janusz Korczak, Anew

June 5, 2013

by Sandee Brawarsky Kaytek the Wizard

At the recent Jerusalem Book Fair, with many publishers from all over the world showcasing their new titles, it was Janusz Korczak who caught my attention.

Born in 1878, Korczak was a distinguished Polish-Jewish writer, educator and pediatrician. In 1923, he established an orphanage in Warsaw, which became well-known for his progressive ideas about child development and moral education. When the Nazis occupied Warsaw, his orphanage was moved to the ghetto, and when the Nazis later ordered that the orphanage be evacuated, Korczak chose deportation along with his children rather than saving himself. I’ve seen remarkable documentary footage of Korczak, with great dignity and kindness, marching the 200 children to the train that would take all of them to their deaths in Treblinka. Korczak was killed in August 1942.

Like Anne Frank, he left behind a diary, along with outstanding books for and about children, plays, essays and works on innovative education. His novel “King Matt the First” is a classic, telling of a boy king who tried to bring about reform.

Two of Korczak’s books are newly available, in illustrated editions, one in English and one in Hebrew.
Originally published in 1933, “Kaytek the Wizard” (Penlight Publications) is available in English for the first time. Designed to entertain and educate, this is the story of a mischievous schoolboy who discovers that he has great magical skills, but ultimately learns that with these powers come responsibility. Antonia Lloyd-James, the translator, points out in an afterword that Korczak wrote this in consultation with the orphanage children. The book is great reading for children and their parents, with illustrations by Avi Katz.

Korczak believed that Read the rest of this entry »


A Circle in the Square

May 7, 2013

By Gary Rosenblatt, the Jewish Weekcircle squareweb1

A 2008 book, “A Circle in the Square: Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Reinvents the Synagogue” [Urim Publications], by Edward Abramson, an early member now living in Israel, offers a detailed and thoughtful look into the history of Lincoln Square and the lasting impact of the rabbi’s work.