MORNINGS AND MOURNING: A Kaddish Journal by E.M. Broner

MORNINGS AND MOURNING: A Kaddish Journal

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An unfocused harangue that leaves the reader feeling as little sympathy for the author as for the traditional Jewish institution she attacks: the separation of men and women during prayer. When Broner's (The Telling, not reviewed, etc.) father died suddenly in 1987, she chose to mourn his death in a traditional Jewish way: by attending synagogue daily to say the kaddish, the mourner's prayer. For Broner, a feminist who identifies strongly as a Jew but is not particularly learned, this decision was somewhat arbitrary. She had never been to daily services before, but she selected a traditional minyan (the ten men required for prayer), expecting it to accommodate her completely. It didn't. She refused to be curtained off behind the mekhitzah, the divider separating men and women. In turn, not all the members of the minyan were comfortable with her presence, with her need to be seen and heard. Thus began a battle filled with invective, derisiveness, even physical violence. Some of the men began a second service an hour earlier. They opposed the long-established mixed seating at the Conservative Sabbath morning service and spoke out against full membership for women. Eventually Broner gave up. Although she makes indisputably valid points about the second-class status of women within traditional Judaism, those criticisms are unfortunately obscured by her many childish gestures (""Don't call me lady...Call me doctor,"" she yells at one minyan member). The reader wonders why Broner chose this particular forum, an aging group of sad and sometimes disturbed men, in which to grandstand. As one friend told her, ""Your mistake is that you went into a fish store...and asked for chicken."" Broner's interspersed references to her feminist and artistic activities -- with Mary Gordon, Grace Paley, and others -- comes off as simple name-dropping. If Broner had focused more on her father, both during her year of mourning and in this book, she might have achieved more. Full of sound and fury, signifying very little.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1994
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: HarperSanFrancisco