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September 13, 2007 - Image 125

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2007-09-13

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Arts & Entertainment

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Chapters Of Awe

New volumes for the holiest time of the year.

Sandee Brawarsky
Special to the Jewish News

A

s we think about rewrit-
ing our personal nar-
ratives in the New Year,
adding new pages and chapters,
several new books inspire new
visions, renewed creativity and new
relationships between the calendar
and a sense of holiness.
A 19th-century book, newly reis-
sued, has much to offer. In 1855, Fanny
Neuda, the daughter of a Moravian
rabbi, published the first Jewish prayer
book for all occasions written by a
woman for women.
A woman of humility, faith and great strength, Neuda
wrote prayers as though she was speaking directly to
God, sometimes making liturgical allusions. A bestseller
in German, the book was translated into Yiddish and
English and reprinted widely.
Dinah Berland, a poet and book editor in Los Angeles,
recently discovered a copy in a used bookstore. At a dif-
ficult time in her own life, she felt as though Neuda's
prayers spoke directly to her. For this new edition, Hours
of Devotion: Fanny Neuda's Book of Prayers for Jewish
Women (Schocken), Berland selected some of Neuda's
prayers and adapted them for a contemporary audience,
retranslating many of them, all presented with a lyrical
and sacred sensibility. Readers can sense the generations
of tears that have fallen on these pages.

CAV117111(16at: GI

ChJihth Gnj Etrai: tk:;,111g

Tamar Ans

Of particular relevance to the sea-
son, Berland offers Neuda's prayers to be said during the
month of Elul, on the eve and morning of Rosh Hashanah,
a meditation for the Days of Awe and prayers for different
parts of the Yom Kippur service, including Yizkor. At the
sounding of the shofar, Neuda calls for God "To shake us
into an awareness of our better selves,/Our higher pur-
pose on this earth./With this thought, a comforting light
strikes my soul/And I offer my prayerful and hopeful
heart to you."
Beautifully rendered in a poetic and sensitive
translation, The Book of Psalms: Translation with
Commentaries by Robert Alter (Norton) is both a com-
fort to read for its remarkable content and an enlighten-
ing study. As Alter writes in the introduction, through
the ages, "Psalms has been the most urgently, personally
present of all the books of the Bible in the lives of many
readers." These poems, as he continues,"retain their elo-

quence and liveliness after
2 1/2 millennia or more, for
believers and simply for
people who love poetry."
Alter's informed com-
mentary will add much to
readers' understanding of
what is "at least, as a set of
techniques and conventions,
the most original literary
creation of the biblical writ-
ers." In his translation of Psalm
27, read daily at this time of
year, he notes that the last line,
"Though my father and mother
forsook me,/the Lord would
gather me in" is breathtaking and extravagant in its dec-
laration of trust in God, "perhaps the most extreme in the
whole Bible."
Celebrating the Jewish Year: The Fall Holidays by
Rabbi Paul Steinberg (Jewish Publication Society) covers
Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot, guiding read-
ers to go deeper into the themes of the holiday and find
new meaning in their own observance and celebration.
Organized with much thoughtfulness, he includes a rich-
ness of materials for each holiday: writings from some of
the greatest Jewish thinkers of all time, reflecting on ideo-
logical aspects of the holiday; interpretations of sacred
texts on the literal level, incorporating historical interpre-
tations and personal perspectives; modern perspectives
on the holiday by contemporary scholars and rabbis;

Chapters Of Awe on page 129

September 13 • 2007

117

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