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We remember Esther M. Broner

We were saddened to wake up to the news that Esther M. Broner passed away yesterday. A beloved novelist, playwright, ritualist, and feminist writer, Esther M. Broner was born on July 8, 1927, in Detroit, Michigan. Her writing, including Her Mothers (1975), A Weave of Women (1978) and many others, made her one of the most important teachers of Jewish feminism and feminist Judaism.

Esther Broner was perhaps best known as the author of the Women's Haggadah. She led the original Women's Seder where, each year since 1976, Gloria Steinem, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Bella Abzug, Grace Paley and several other "Seder Sisters" met to hold a feminist Passover seder. Her work inspired a generation of Jewish women to weave feminist values into Jewish ritual.

The following poem is from her work, Bringing Home the Light

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. (p.168)

To lean more, read Letty Cottin Pogrebin's remembrance at The Forward.

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4 Comments

I was at a reception many years ago and ran into Grace Paley. I couldn't think of anything worth saying and couldn't shut up, so I burbled how excited I was to meet her and that she and Esther Broner were my favorite authors. That, at least, was true. Ms. Paley exclaimed, "why, I came here with Esther, ... Esther, here is a fan" or something equally embarrassing, and we met.

A few years later, I got the chance to typeset the Hebrew for "The Women's Haggadah." I had a question about one of the last alterations and had to call her to ask her about it. Turned out that the publisher had decided not to pass on a host of alterations. We had a lot of fun making everything right. Since I had only the Hebrew text, not the accompanying English, I had to translate sections back from the Hebrew into English so that we knew that we were talking about the same text. Her excitement at hearing prayers she had written in English, which had been translated by a friend into Hebrew, and now, were translated back, still conveying the meaning she had intended was one of the high points of my life in typography.

In subsequent years, on the rare occasions we were at the same event, I had only to walk up and mention our work on the Haggadah to get an effusive smile. I miss her very much.

Corrected, thank you.

I WROTE THIS ABOUT FIFTEEN YEARS AGO, WHEN I WAS ON A PANEL WITH ESTHER TO DISCUSS HER BOOK MORNINGS AND MOURNING. SHE HAD TO STAND BEHIND A KADDISH TO SAY KADDISH FOR HER FATHER, THUS THE IMAGE OF THE CURTAIN. SHE GAVE US SO MUCH.

BLESSINGS AND COMFORT TO ALL OF YOU, ANNE BRENER

When we mourn, we strain our ears, listening for the voice of the deceased--until we hear that voice coming from our own hearts. Mourners, we yearn to continue the conversation. We search for the unsaid words, to resolve the unfinished issues.

The Kaddish can take us there. Kaddish parts the curtains and forces open the space between the worlds, breaking open the crevices where the voices still come through and where all the worlds are one. For the price of our yearning, our anger and our tears, the Kaddish will carry us beyond the edges of the world we know. It takes us to a place of wholeness- of peace-where all the polarities dissolve, where life and death, black and white, male and female, God and not-God merge- become one. Adonai Ehad. The words of the Shema become the reality of the world.

Kaddish ends exile. It suffuses the most profane regions with the holiness of God's name and wrests an Amen from the place it has not yet been forthcoming, the Amen we have been listening for, for our entire lives. That Amen sustains the world.

Nice remembrance. Re: birthday - per NYTimes - 1927, not 1930, is Esther Broner's correct birthdate.

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How to cite this page

Berkenwald, Leah. "We remember Esther M. Broner." 22 June 2011. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on July 20, 2017) <https://jwa.org/blog/we-remember-esther-m-broner>.

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