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.
Deborah Miller received rabbinical ordination at the Jewish Theological Seminary. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and daughter, where she serves as a hospice chaplain and teacher.