MECHOEL POMERANZ passed away after a lengthy illness. (photo credit: Courtesy Pomeranz family)
Mechoel Pomeranz, the beloved owner of Pomeranz Bookseller, died last week after a lengthy illness at age 68.
His eponymous bookstore is well known among Jerusalem’s English-speaking community for its eclectic collection of Jewish books ranging from Shlomo Carlebach haggadot to translations of Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed.
Jewish mourning rituals affect survivors for the remainder of their lives. We remember loved ones in prescribed ways during the first year after their passing and in special ways hereafter…
Kaddish: Women’s Voices edited by Michal Smart and conceived by Barbara Ashkenas, gathers more than fifty short essays by women (mainly Modern Orthodox) about their experiences during the first year after a close relative has died. When a parent dies, part of the traditional observance required of men for eleven months is to attend services three times daily, during which the Kaddish (from the root meaning “holy”) prayer is recited.
Some Orthodox synagogues accept the participation of women in this ritual. The stories in Kaddish reflect the contributor’s experiences, both positive and negative, in carrying out the ritual. Some of he women endued poor treatment and other hardships, but saying Kaddish was nevertheless a great source of comfort and healing for all.
The volume’s layout is appealing; there are twelve chapters, each beginning with a part of the Kaddish prayer (in Aramaic and Hebrew) and a poem in English. Kaddish won a 2013 National Jewish Book Award.
This review appeared in the third issue of Church and Synagogue Library Association’s congregational libraries today.
I cried on Tisha B’Av. Not for the destroyed Temple we were mourning, to which most of us have trouble relating, but because of a book that served as my primary Tisha B’Av reading. R. Jeffrey Saks’ and Dr. Joel Wolowelsky’s To Mourn A Child: Jewish Responses to Neonatal and Childhood Death (published by OU Press, with which I am closely connected) is haunting, terrifying but comforting.
The collection of essays, primarily by parents who have lost children, touches on every parent’s worst nightmare. How do you recover from losing the child in whom you invested so much time and emotion, to whom you have dedicated not only effort but hope and dream and the deepest kind of love? As each parent (and a brother and a few professionals) tells his story, the answer becomes clear. Everyone copes differently. Each child is unique; each parent is different. There is no single road to recovery.
However, reading the different stories, you sense that there is hope. There is a path for returning to life, for continuing despite the irreplaceable loss. Everyone’s story is different but learning that alone is crucial. Misery loves company, not out of masochism or role reversal but because it relieves the loneliness and confusion that compound the pain. The recognition that others understand your loss, not just abstract knowledge that other people have felt the pain but concrete realization of their similar experiences, creates a bridge out of your darkness.
Most of these stories are heart breaking–a mother and daughter both write about losing a child! Only read this book if you are willing to enter a world of emotional pain. This is a difficult book for the average reader but indispensable for someone enveloped in tragedy. I imagine that someone suffering from such a loss will find not comfort but commiseration in these personal tales. Reading other people’s lessons from despair might help one find his own lessons, his own bridge out of the darkness.
A Bible scholar once commented that the Bible would have been profoundly incomplete had it not included the Book of Job. Written according to tradition by Moses, the Book of Job describes the suffering that befalls people for no apparent reason.
Nachmanides observed that our inability to account for the suffering of the guiltless represents the biggest challenge to, and unanswered question within, religious faith. These questions assail any honest, sensitive religious person, but often we distract ourselves – after all, why dwell on them? Nothing, however, shocks or focuses us more intently on these agonizing questions than the death of a child. In the realm of human experience, the death of a child is surely one of the most emotionally wrenching events. For a parent, the grief and pain are unendurable. In To Mourn a Child, Jeffrey Saks and Joel Wolowelsky have assembled an anthology which consists primarily of personal accounts written by parents who experienced the death of a child. In addition, there are essays by rabbis and healthcare professionals and selections from traditional Jewish sources.