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Essential Jewish Books :: A Jewish Woman's Prayer Book

By Maureen Kendler, Head of Educational Programming, LSJS

Aliza Lavie stood in Shul on Yom Kippur in 2002 wondering what words of comfort she could possibly offer a woman she had never met who had just lost both her mother and daughter in a terrorist attack. She longed to show this woman she was not alone, that before her women had found words to sustain them with fortitude through pain.

Lavies journey resulted in this beautifully researched and presented volume, (winner of the 2008 National Jewish Book Award) a collection of prayers written for and by Jewish women from ancient to modern times with English translation.

Some are intensely moving, such as the prayer recited secretly while preparing wicks for Shabbat candles by female Conversos of Portugal in the fifteenth century. These women had almost no Jewish knowledge and they asked God to ....

watch over me and protect me, and grant me that which I know not how to ask of You...

The prayer of a mother-in-law composed by Shulamit Eisenbach in 1984 made me smile. S he asks not to feel resentment towards her daughters-in-law. I loved her comment that she only dared publish the poem fourteen years after having written it.

Lavie uncovers a hidden treasure in the work of Fanny Neuda, (1819-1894) who wrote prayers in Old German to meet the needs of women in her generation. Her touching supplications inspired women in their hours of need and crisis.

The book also resurrects lost voices: Perl, wife of Hassidic master Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev (1740-1810) prayed as she kneaded dough for Shabbat:

.....-please help me that when my Levi Yitzhak recites the blessing over these loaves on Shabbat, he should have in his heart the same meditations that I have at this time when I knead and bake.

Inspiration and comfort sing from every page from this wonderful book.

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