Death and tragedy are part-and-parcel of our lives as Jews – both as individuals who will suffer the loss of a loved one at some point in time, and as members of a community that remembers its national losses on set dates on the calendar. When my father passed away seven years ago, the text that I found spoke to me in a most meaningful way was the essay on Kaddish written by Shai Agnon. Since that time I have included it in a number of educational lessons that I have shared with students, including, for example, the “Island of Resiliency site” on Lookstein.org (see
I received a review copy of Joel Wolowelsky’s The Mind of the Mourner this summer, just after a tragic accident took the life of a neighbor’s teenage son and just before I learned of the passing of my teacher, Rav Yehudah Amital. Coming at that time, which coincided with the national mourning period of the Three Weeks, I found the book to be a valuable tool to help think about and grapple with some of the issues raised by both private and public mourning.
As helpful as these essays were to me at that particular moment, their importance for Jewish educators is even more evident. As Dr. Wolowelsky writes in his introduction, many of the ideas in this book were developed in the context of seminars on Jewish philosophy that he gave at the Yeshivah of Flatbush, and are therefore uniquely suited for presentation to students in school settings.
While some of the information that appears in this book is practical and can be found in other compendia on this topic, the explanations of mourning practices – many based on Rav Soloveitchik’s writings and teachings – clarify much of the mystery behind aninut, aveilut and Jewish mourning. The chapter on appropriate behavior in the shivah house, is particularly important for students who may be uncomfortable or unfamiliar with such visits.
The closing chapters on “National and Individual Mourning” take up the questions of contemporary responses to events such as the Holocaust and its relationship with the State of Israel, and touches on how we can reconcile our sense of devastating loss with a belief in a true and benevolent Creator. These are a “must read” for teachers who discuss Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzma’ut with their students.
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