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Sarah Birnbach

A Daughter’s Kaddish: My Year of Grief, Devotion, and Healing

October 6, 2022
4 PM PDT | 5 PM MDT | 6 PM CDT | 7 PM EDT


When my father died, I had a singular focus: to show God that my father’s soul was worthy of His positive judgment and to ensure the gift of eternal life in Paradise for my Dad’s soul. To do this I broke from Jewish tradition and undertook a prayer practice historically reserved for males.

My father believed that the redemption of his soul depended on the recitation of the Mourner’s Kaddish prayer in the presence of a 10-person quorum, called a minyan, twice daily for 11 months. Reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish is believed to prove to God, by the behavior of the sons, that the deceased was a worthy person.  The soul of the deceased is in the hands of his descendants. The problem for my father: he had only daughters.

My story begins with my father’s funeral but flashes back to the day when my Dad, reflecting on his mortality, asked me to hire a male to recite the Mourner’s Kaddish for him after he died.  Caught completely off guard, I agreed. But 23 years later, when my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I knew I could no longer keep my promise.

A Daughter’s Kaddish recounts the challenges of a feminist woman, whose job required extensive travel, to persevere through an unfamiliar patriarchal world of prayer. To honor my beloved father, I incorporated these religious and spiritual practices into my already hectic 21st-century life while struggling with the heavy emotional distress of grief.

As a novice worshipper and single working mother, I encountered many obstacles, including objections to my prayer practice because of my gender, my daughter’s near-fatal car accident, an incident that tore my synagogue apart, and my mother’s dismissiveness.

When I undertook this act of devotion, my sole focus was to give my father’s soul the gift of eternal peace. But I learned through my journey that I was the recipient of many gifts.

Writers will learn:

  • About Jewish mourning rituals
  • See the importance of rituals to help us move through grief
  • Learn ways to support and comfort mourners
  • Find ways from my story to heal from their grief
  • See that with determination and dedication, one’s goals can be achieved

Sarah Birnbach began her encore career as a non-fiction writer in 2016 after successful careers as a human resources management consultant and a family therapist in a juvenile court. As a sought-after speaker at conferences she delivered more than 500 presentations and workshops. Through her professional life she dedicated herself to enabling individuals to become their best selves.

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