Dinah Berland: Passover prayer crosses 150 Years and circles the globe

We have several spiritual gifts for you today.

If you’re preparing for Passover, here’s a prayer that crosses 150 years and has circled the globe to reach you. It was part of Fanny Neuda’s Book of Prayers for Jewish Women — the first complete prayer book for Jewish women ever published and, before the Holocaust, a huge influence in households across Europe.
American poet Dinah Berland (at right) has found her own life deeply intertwined with Fanny’s life. She has adapted Fanny’s prayers for a modern, English-speaking audience and is allowing us to reproduce this particular prayer today. (Links to read more about Dinah, the prayer book and this unfolding global story appear below.)

In a profound way, poetry is sacred.
It’s the form in which much of the world’s scriptures are voiced and endure to this day.
Fanny’s — and now Dinah’s — contribution to that ongoing transmission of spiritual truth weaves important communities into our legacy of faith and poetry. In lines like these, the lives of nearly forgotten women are woven into our fabric, the lives of eastern European communities that now are extinct spring to life in these lines — and, all of us are just a bit richer by having paused in these inspirational waters to let prayers that once were part of millions of lives — live among us once again.

Here, then, is Dinah’s adaptation of Fanny’s Prayer On the First Days of Passover:

Dear God, the festival of Passover has come —
The joyful feast memorializing the days of jubilee,
When you redeemed our ancestors
From inhuman oppression and carried them
With an outstretched hand
Into the beautiful land of liberty,
From the dark dwellings of error and false belief
Into the sunny realms of knowledge and the pure,
Gladdening faith in you and your divine word.

With deep emotion and joy, we celebrate this holiday,
Which reminds us of that happy time
When you chose Israel for your inheritance,
Elected her from all nations,
Wedded her to you as a bridegroom weds his bride
And bound her to you with the ties of grace and love —
The time when your people, in return, clung to you,
As a youthful bride to the heart of her beloved,
As a child to its mother’s breast —
When they followed you, full of love and faithfulness
Into a strange, unknown land,
Followed you into a vast desert wilderness.

A long space of time has since passed,
And the heart of your people has often changed,
But your love has always remained the same.
You have been a help and refuge
To our ancestors from eternity,
A shield and a help to their children after them
Throughout all generations.
You are our guide, our protector, our guardian.
As you have been in all times.
We have passed through more than one Egypt.
Hatred and prejudice have set
A heavy yoke around our necks,
But through the darkness of misery and oppression
A ray of your grace has continually shone above us
And has at last brought a morning of redemption
In which our human dignity is recognized
And we live free and undisturbed
Under the protection of mild and just laws.
Oh, may you, O God, continue to be with us.
As in the days when you burst the chains
In which we sighed, and with an awful hand
Broke the yoke of bondage and tyranny,
So may you deliver and redeem our souls
That they may rise above all attacks
From within or without.
As you hurled the many idols and gods of Egypt
From their altars, so may your boundless mercy
Release us from the idols that attract us today,
And let every cell and organ of our bodies be filled
With your incomparable, exalted and glorious being.
May we be thoroughly infused by faithfulness and love,
By unconditional, unwaivering confidence
And boundless attachment to you.
You are the shield and savior of every human being
As well as of whole nations.
You comfort them
In the midst of trouble and suffering.


Dinah closes her Preface to Fanny’s prayer book with a plea:
“May this book of prayers, which has survived for so long and through so much upheaval, continue to endure to bring comfort, healing, and renewal of spirit to all who use it.”

To that, we join in saying: Amen.
FIRST, here are some links to our coverage of poet Dinah Berland’s globally significant work in recovering the long-lost gifts of Fanny Neuda’s Book of Prayers.
Here’s are very first story on how Fanny’s book, adapted by Dinah, caught our attention.
Here’s David’s Conversation With Dinah about her work with Fanny’s book.
Then, we included Dinah in a story about writers’ “voices” — around the time she debuted her new Web site.
Finally, we also wrote about a ReadTheSpirit reader who felt a personal connection to Dinah’s and Fanny’s work.


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