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Written in the nineteenth century, rediscovered in the twenty-first, timeless in its wisdom and beauty, Hours of Devotion by Fanny Neuda, (the daughter of a Moravian rabbi), was the first full-length book of Jewish prayers written by a woman for women. In her moving introduction to this volume--the first edition of Neuda’s prayer book to appear in English for more than a century--editor Dinah Berland describes her serendipitous discovery of Hours of Devotion in a Los Angeles used bookstore. She had been estranged from her son for eleven years, and the prayers she found in the book provided immediate comfort, giving her the feeling that someone understood both her pain and her hope. Eventually, these prayers would also lead her back to Jewish study and toward a deeper practice of her Judaism.
Originally published in German, Fanny Neuda’s popular prayer book was reprinted more than two dozen times in German and appeared in Yiddish and English editions between 1855 and 1918. Working with a translator, Berland has carefully brought the prayers into modern English and set them into verse to fully realize their poetry. Many of these eighty-eight prayers, as well as Neuda’s own preface and afterword, appear here in English for the first time, opening a window to a Jewish woman’s life in Central Europe during the Enlightenment. Reading “A Daughter’s Prayer for Her Parents,” “On the Approach of Childbirth,” “For a Mother Whose Child Is Abroad,” and the other prayers for both daily and momentous occasions, one cannot help but feel connected to the women who’ve come before.
For Berland, Hours of Devotion served as a guide and a testament to the mystery and power of prayer. Fanny Neuda’s remarkable spirit and faith in God, displayed throughout these heartfelt prayers, now offer the same hope of guidance to others.
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On the Eve of the Day of Atonement
"As I live," declares ADONAI, "I will do to you as you have spoken to me." —NUMBERS 14:28
Most Holy One, in the midst of deep awe At this most solemn hour Our lips open to you in prayer— At this hour that marks the beginning Of the great Day of Atonement. At this moment, your entire people Rush toward their holy gathering places, And our songs and prayers rise up to you From contrite hearts. Just as on the great Day of Judgment, When those who have already returned To the eternal journey of light Stand at your heavenly throne, So we all stand here today in your presence. We lay open the book of our hearts, Whose pages you read with all-seeing eyes, Whose contents you regard with all-inclusive justice. O God, even the angels of heaven Are not pure before you. We stand before you even less so, Weighed down by guilt and aware of it. Corruption dwells in our hearts, And sin celebrates its triumph there. Shouldn’t we tremble before you? Shouldn’t our knees buckle and bend before you?
But you do not bring us here, To this weighty recognition of our sins, To break us down with guilt. You do not bring us to this awareness So we might falter in fear and anxiety Before your anger, Before the punishing hand of a strict judge. You did not create this great, blessed day for that But rather so you could, through it, Bring back the despairing, the tired, the lost. You created it so you could guide them again To your loving heart, so you could make visible For all who wander astray in the dark The lights of your heavenly grace. For this you have given us this day And made it the holiest day of the year— So we might, through solemn examination, Through serious reflection on our inner lives, Recover what so often eludes us Amid life's demands and distractions And what so often submerges Under worldly pressures and influences: Our better selves, our pious consciousness, Our childlike hearts, our faithful way of being.
On this day the walls crumble That separate the creations from the Creator, That hold the innocent child far from the parent’s heart, The child’s ear from the parent’s word, The child’s gaze from the parent’s loving face. No matter how gravely we have sinned, No matter how deeply we have fallen, No matter how far we have strayed, Your grace and mercy clear the higher path So we might return again To the community of the true and righteous. We turn to you in remorse and repentance, Trusting in your hallowed words: And on this day, God will forgive you, So you shall be cleansed of all your sins before God.
Eternal Parent, may my tears accomplish that. May my fervent prayers rise toward you, And may you receive them. In your compassion May you lift all guilt and sin from me, And may your grace surround me As in the earliest days of my innocence, So my soul might be free and joyous, So it might lift itself up to you In holy awareness of your love and mercy, So your protection might rest on me And on all my loved ones. Amen.