This is a time in the Jewish year where we look again for inspiration from the tradition. In addition to turning to the machzor, the High Holiday prayer book, I have made a practice of adding a new book of Jewish prayer or thought to my library. This year, I purchased A Jewish Woman's Prayer Book, edited by Aliza Lavie (Spiegel & Grau, New York, 2008). It has already proved to be a useful and meaningful acquisition.
Aliza Lavie is an Israeli woman who was moved to look for comfort outside the traditional siddur on the eve of Yom Kippur 2002, after hearing the story of a woman who lost both her mother and her infant daughter in a terrorist attack. Lavie collected prayers by and for women through the ages. The result was received enthusiastically in Israel when it was published there in 2005.
I was struck by this comment in Lavie's introduction to the English edition: "One of the most moving aspects of many of these prayers, and one that elicited a profound reaction when the book was published in Hebrew, is their formulation in the feminine first person. While some of the prayers are quite similar in content to those found in the standard prayer book, the unusual sound of them uttered in the feminine voice is a sudden glimpse of a parallel world." Of course, since English doesn't make a distinction between masculine and feminine, we wouldn't notice this right away, until you start to read the Hebrew text. How exciting to see the woman's voice given a place and celebrated.
But this weekend, this book of prayer took on a more immediate significance for me. This Sunday in Israel, our Jewish family suffered a shocking and tragic loss. Assaf Ramon, z"l, was killed in a training exercise as a fighter pilot for the Israeli Air Force. Assaf was the 21-year-old son of Ilon Ramon, z"l, the Israeli astronaut killed in the Columbia shuttle disaster. He did not have to serve in combat but chose to do so. I cannot imagine the heartbreak of his mother Rona or his brother Yotam. In Lavie's book, there is a voice for this unbearable loss. In "Yizkor Prayer for a Son," Dalia Wertheim-Yohanan composed a prayer for a friend who lost her son during Israel's Operation Protective Shield in April 2002. It includes this passage: "I shall not try to hold back my pain. My tears flow for my son, who gave up his life for the sanctification of G-d, the nation, and our land. I ask of You, my G-d, that You grant me the strength to bear the loss and the longing."
My heart will be with Rona Ramon this Rosh HaShanah and with her son Yotam. I will renew my vow to be a voice for the Jewish women of this community and a voice in advocacy for the State of Israel. May our voices rise together and create good throughout the world.
With my wishes for a wonderful and peaceful New Year for you and your families.