For more than the last generation, the new tallit of Judaism renewed has been woven of two great strands of thought and action: Hassidism and feminism. On of the most important weavers of the feminist strand has been Esther Broner.
On Tuesday afternoon, June 21 (19 Sivan), after 83 years of intense life, after the recent death of her life-long husband, and after weeks of worsening illness, Esther’s life-force gave out. She was surrounded by loving family and friends and by many prayers and messages of love and kindness, coming from many who had been inspired by her –- sometimes face-to-face, sometimes through her writings. Many who wrote were, I am sad and joyful to say, responding to The Shalom Center’s alerting us all to her illness.
Esther wrote The Women’s Haggadah; Her Mothers; A Weave of Women; The Telling: The Story of a Group of Jewish Women Who Journey to Spirituality through Community and Ceremony; and Mornings and Mourning: A Kaddish Journal.
For me, Her Mothers and A Weave of Women – her mid-‘70s novels (the second about a semi-fictional group of women from all around the world, gathered in Jerusalem, who were reinventing Judaism with new ceremonies and midrash) were a crucial opening in my own rebirth.
And her memoir of the Seder Sisters who have gathered for more than 30 years each Pesach to create and recreate their own Haggadah was both an affirmation and a beyond-growing of my work on the Freedom Seder. Her pioneering mark on our thought and lives have already made her into a permanent presence, fuller than a memory, of tzaddik-hood.
Her family will begin sitting shiva following the burial on Thursday from 6pm to 8pm, and again on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, at 49 West 96th Street, apartment 1B (212-749-0022); all are welcome any evening.
Her daughter Nahama quotes her mother’s writing in Bringing Home the Light (p.168) :
I see the day fade like smoke,
like fog in the harbor.
Tomorrow, the fog will burn off
in the morning sun.
The boats will depart,
the trees emerge,
so I live in and out of my life,
so I border on yours,
on the pillow of the past
and the brink of the day.
The family suggests that donations in her memory may be sent in Esther’s name to one of the following three organizations:
- B’nai Jeshurun Rabbis’ discretionary fund to Rabbi Rolando Matalon or to Rabbi Marcello Bronstein—2109 Broadway, Suite 203, New York, NY 10023-2106 or www.bj.org
- Center for Constitutional Rights, 666 Broadway, NYC 10012
- New Israel Fund (Projects focusing on women) www.nif.org
Beside these, I suggest as an act of creative memory and more than memory, reading or rereading A Weave of Women. Through fiction set in an Israel of struggle and hope, it stirred many of its readers to help create the facts of a transformed Judaism, shaped especially but not exclusively by women, drawing on new forms of prayer and celebration and new acts of peacemaking.
Not only that novel but all her writing and her work as well can help us do what the tradition calls us to: “Chadesh yamenu k’kedem, Make new our days as they were long ago.” Not just in nostalgia celebrating the “good old days” of that early wave of Jewish feminism and neo-Hasidic renewal, but making our own days new and full of creative energy as those days were in their own time.
With my joy in Esther’s life transcending my sadness in her dying — Arthur