Faith that heals the suffering heart

By Simon Rocker, April 23, 2009

The Blessing of a Broken Heart
By Sherri Mandell
The Toby Press, £9.99

A Jewish Woman’s Prayer Book
Edited by Aliza Lavie, Spiegel and Grau
Distributed Kuperard, £24.99

On a May morning eight years ago, Koby Mandell, 13, set off from his home in the West Bank settlement of Tekoa. He and his friend Yosef Ish-Ran had planned to skip school and hike in the canyon nearby. Their bodies were found in a cave the next day: they had been beaten with rocks and their blood smeared over the walls — presumed victims of the Second Intifada, though their murderers were never caught.

In The Blessing of a Broken Heart, Koby’s mother, Sherri, recounts her attempt to grapple with the loss of the eldest of her four children. “Mommy, if everything God does is for the good,” her six-year-old son asked, “how can Koby being dead be good?”

Like her husband Seth, Sherri Mandell is an American immigrant and writer who became Orthodox in Israel. As much the poignantly lyrical memoir of a grieving mother, it is also a story of spiritual fortitude, the effort to find a sense of purpose and a path to healing through tradition.

Aliza Lavie’s compendium, A Jewish Woman’s Prayer Book, was also prompted by the Intifada, though less directly. At Kol Nidre in 2002, having earlier read a newspaper interview with a woman who had lost both a baby daughter and a mother in a suicide bombing, she could not keep her mind on her prayers but instead found herself turning to the sufferings of Jewish women.

That led her (a Bar-Ilan University lecturer) to produce a 400-page selection of prayers written by, or for, Jewish women that appear now in a joint Hebrew-English edition.

They range from medieval to modern-day, from Italy to Morocco, and from lifecycle events such as a first period to prayers to find a husband or for an unhappily married woman. There are “secret psalms” recited by Portuguese Crypto-Jews, as well as old alternatives to the morning blessing, “Who has me according to Your will”, such as “Who has made me a woman and not a man”.

Last updated: 3:38pm, March 3 2010