cover image A Daughter’s Kaddish: My Year of Grief, Devotion, and Healing

A Daughter’s Kaddish: My Year of Grief, Devotion, and Healing

Sarah Birnbach. Wonderwell, $26.99 (264p) ISBN 978-1-63756-022-8

Birnbach debuts with an earnest account of mourning her father. She recounts feeling bereft after her father’s death from cancer in 2000 following his refusal of potentially life-prolonging treatment. Her loss was magnified by her fraught relationship with her mother, whose “tyrannical” streak had been softened only by the presence of her father and who ordered Birnbach not to cry at the funeral. Birnbach had persuaded her father, who didn’t believe women could participate in certain Jewish traditions, to allow her to fulfill the mourning ritual of reciting kaddish, which some traditions only allow men to say. She details the logistical challenges posed by having to say the prayer twice daily in a synagogue, and tells of the hostility she faced from conservative temple-goers who refused to permit her to say the prayer. There were bright spots, as when a small congregation without professional clergy organized special services for her to attend while she was traveling, and Birnbach eventually fulfilled her commitment, finding meaning and comfort in the process. While her story will sound familiar to those who have read E.M. Broner’s similarly themed Mornings and Mourning, readers will appreciate Birnbach’s candor and insight into the gender dynamics of Judaism. This soulful outing has plenty of heart. (Oct.)