WHEN A JEW DIES: The Ethnography of a Bereaved Son

Samuel C. Heilman, Author WHEN A JEW DIES: The Ethnography of a Bereaved Son

"For Jews, time alone does not heal; life with people does," posits Heilman, a sociologist at the City University of New York. The Jewish rituals of death and mourning, he says, "demonstrate that however much death has thrown life into disequilibrium, the Jewish response is to bring that life back to some equilibrium in a precisely timed set of steps." As the only child of Holocaust survivors, Heilman struggled all his life with a legacy of death. Five years ago, when his father died, Heilman was forced to confront death "not as... the object of an anthropologist's curiosity. Death became my father." His book crosses back and forth among personal, academic, religious and collective boundaries. Structured in two voices—of the bereaved son and the social scientist—the intimate, poignant narrative describing his experiences around his father's death contrasts with an objective, academic exploration of the whys and hows of traditional practices that help the mourner master the encounter with death. He concludes that the role of community in repairing morale and ensuring personal and collective continuity is paramount: "For Jews in death no less than in life, solitariness is replaced by solidarity." Heilman recognizes that his traditional approach may not resonate with everyone in today's pluralistic society, but the rhythms of death and mourning he describes reflect enough of the universal to appeal to many seeking understanding and solace. (May)

Reviewed on: 03/26/2001
Release date: 05/01/2001
Genre: Religion
Paperback - 271 pages - 978-0-520-23678-3
Portable Document Format (PDF) - 271 pages - 978-0-520-92966-1
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