Nec­es­sary Mourning

Dahlia Abra­ham-Klein
  • Review
By – January 19, 2017

In this inti­mate mem­oir, author Dahlia Abra­ham-Klein shares her expe­ri­ence of mourn­ing for her father and how Jew­ish tra­di­tion­al rit­u­als helped to shape this journey.

Many read­ers will relate to the chal­lenge of griev­ing for some­one they strug­gled to under­stand in life as the author describes her dis­tant rela­tion­ship with her father, high­light­ing mourn­ing as a process of shap­ing mem­o­ries and a person’s lega­cy. Abra­ham-Klein focus­es on the tem­po­ral aspects of Jew­ish mourn­ing prac­tices. She describes the move­ment from the imme­di­ate time after death, to the week of shi­va, the thir­ty days fol­low­ing bur­ial, the fol­low­ing months to the first anniver­sary, and then to anniver­saries beyond. Her pre­sen­ta­tion of these times as a series of con­cen­tric cir­cles is a help­ful frame, espe­cial­ly as it allows read­ers to engage with the book in a short and direct man­ner. Where many oth­er books about Jew­ish mourn­ing, both per­son­al sto­ries and rit­u­al how-tos”, may quick­ly become over­whelm­ing, it is easy to imag­ine read­ers return­ing to Nec­es­sary Mourn­ing for small­er dos­es of inspi­ra­tion and guid­ance through­out their own grief processes.

Nec­es­sary Mourn­ing is remark­able for the author’s abil­i­ty to describe her per­son­al expe­ri­ence while sit­u­at­ing it firm­ly with­in the con­text of her fam­i­ly and Jew­ish community’s expe­ri­ences. This ten­sion between the indi­vid­ual mourn­er, the ways in which their grief is con­nect­ed and sep­a­rate from that of oth­er fam­i­ly mem­bers, and the pres­ence or absence of a spe­cif­ic sup­port net­work is acknowl­edged in a strik­ing­ly non-judg­men­tal way. Rather, Abra­ham-Klein sim­ply recounts the occa­sions in which she and her fam­i­ly made choic­es and respond­ed to events in dif­fer­ent ways. Mak­ing mourn­ing work, even when there is a mutu­al­ly agreed upon tra­di­tion­al frame­work among fam­i­ly and com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers, is hard. It takes effort at pre­cise­ly the time when the resources for doing some­thing dif­fi­cult are scarce. Abra­ham-Klein presents a real­is­tic por­trait of how the indi­vid­ual, fam­i­ly, and community’s net­work can effec­tive­ly sup­port one anoth­er in grief.

As Abra­ham-Klein describes the Jew­ish rit­u­als of mourn­ing, it is clear that she is writ­ing from a tra­di­tion­al point of view. Some read­ers who are less famil­iar with Jew­ish prac­tice may not share the ease with which the author engages with these rit­u­als. It is also sur­pris­ing that at no point in her writ­ing does she direct­ly address the lim­i­ta­tions in prac­tice she expe­ri­ences as a woman: while she men­tions her broth­ers par­tic­i­pat­ing in prayer ser­vices and dis­cuss­es the mean­ing of the Mourn­ers’ Kad­dish, it is notable that she is essen­tial­ly silent about her per­son­al obser­va­tion of these well-known Jew­ish practices.

Abra­ham-Klein wrote Nec­es­sary Mourn­ing rel­a­tive­ly short­ly after the events she describes. The result is a straight­for­ward account of how she and her fam­i­ly observed the Jew­ish rit­u­als. But what the book lacks in ana­lyt­i­cal details pries the nar­ra­tive open, allow­ing read­ers to see them­selves in the sto­ry. Abra­ham-Klein suc­ceeds in pre­sent­ing a sim­ple expressi­no of her grief and descrip­tion of how Jew­ish reli­gious rit­u­als pro­vid­ed a pos­i­tive way for her to under­stand this expe­ri­ence. The gen­tle­ness and del­i­ca­cy with which Abra­ham-Klein tells her sto­ry makes it an ide­al com­pan­ion for read­ers strug­gling with a loss of their own.

Relat­ed Reads:

Deb­by Miller is a long-time board mem­ber of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil, serv­ing on its Fic­tion com­mit­tee, and lat­er found­ing the Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award for Book Clubs. She is cur­rent­ly a Vice Pres­i­dent of the orga­ni­za­tion. Deb­by is based in Greens­boro, NC and has been involved in the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty through Nation­al Coun­cil of Jew­ish Women (NCJW), AIPAC, B’nai Shalom and the Fed­er­a­tion. She was pres­i­dent of the local Women’s Divi­sion and cam­paign chair, and also got involved in the Nation­al Women’s Divi­sion. One of her pri­ma­ry phil­an­thropic endeav­ors is her work with JDC, where she has been a mem­ber of the board since 1994

Discussion Questions