Rabbi Lisa D. Grant and Cantor Lisa B. Segal discuss the motivation behind their new book The Year of Mourning: A Jewish Journey, the complementary digital app, and what they hope readers and users will gain from the project.
What inspired the creation of The Year of Mourning?
Rabbi Grant: During the months following my mother’s death I formed a “Kaddish club” at my synagogue where I invited other mourners to join with me in sharing memories of their loved ones, in studying Jewish sources related to mourning, in singing and praying together, and in being a supportive community to one another as we journeyed through our process of grief. The Year of Mourning grew out of these experiences and includes many of the same components that were part of those in-person gatherings.
The book and app are composed of seven units. Can you describe these sections and how they correspond to various parts of the mourning experience?
The material is organized around seven themes that are common experiences of mourning (pain, brokenness, sadness, comfort resilience, acceptance, gratitude). Each theme includes seven units, which begin with a song, which can be listened to on the app version. This is followed by a question that sets an intention for exploring the materials to follow. Then there is a brief text to study with guiding questions, followed by a contemporary poem. Each unit concludes with the Mourner’s Kaddish, which also can be heard on the app. Just as mourning does not follow a predictable path, we invite mourners to use the materials in ways they find most meaningful.
What makes the app different from the book? How can the two be used in tandem?
The book and the app are identical in terms of their content, but the app allows the user to carry it with you in your phone, and to access the materials in a variety of different modalities: reading, journaling, and listening to the music.
One of the major advantages of the app is the beautiful recordings that can be listened to as part of each given unit: one can explore a theme, or a kavanah or sacred source, and listen to the music connected to them. Alternatively, any of the musical selections can be listened to by pressing the Music icon, at any time or in any order. In addition, for those unfamiliar with reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish, we also provide a recording to follow and to gain literacy and grounding in that experience.
To help you move through weeks of mourning, you can set daily reminders in the Settings menu and a notification will appear with a quote. As with the music, you can always just scroll through those quotes. There is also a handy option in the app to write reflections in a journal that can be saved or edited as you go along.
Music is a key part of The Year of Mourning. What role can music play for someone experiencing bereavement?
While our traditions offer so many deep and comforting texts and rituals created to hold us in our losses, for many mourners, music holds a special place. Music can touch our hearts and souls in ways that transcend words. Often, in the journey of mourning, we find ourselves unable to articulate or express a feeling or emotion, and music has the potential to touch those recesses to comfort us or help us express the inexpressible. There is an intentional repetition of a number of the songs as expressions of different emotions and themes, recognizing the fluidity of the way music can speak to us within varied emotional states. We hope that the musical choices we made for the app—in both text and style—connect to and enhance the units’ themes, kavanot, poetry, and sacred sources.
What are your hopes for this project’s impact?
We hope that rabbis and cantors will recommend these resources to mourners in their communities who are looking for sources of support, wisdom, and comfort during this time of grief. These resources are intended to help individuals regain their grounding after the death of a loved one, by making deeper connections to memories and to the richness of Jewish wisdom and tradition.
The Year of Mourning: A Jewish Journey is available in print and as an Apple and Android app. Rabbi Grant and Cantor Segal can visit communities to teach on the topic; please email email@example.com for details.
Rabbi Lisa D. Grant, PhD, is Director of the New York Rabbinical School program, Eleanor Sinsheimer Distinguished Service Professor in Jewish Education, and Coordinator of Special Seminary projects at the Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion.
Cantor Lisa B. Segal serves as cantor and is a founding member of congregation Kolot Chayeinu/Voices of Our Lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn.