Association of Jewish Libraries of Southern California

AJLSC Program - November 14, 2007 - Dinah Berland

Summary of Dinah Berland's Presentation
by Ellen Cole

Speaker Dinah Berland, a poet and a book editor for the J. Paul Getty Museum, spoke about her discovery and her journey before publishing her new book, Hours of Devotion: Fanny Neuda’s Book of Prayers for Jewish Women. Neuda’s book, written in 1855, is the first Jewish prayer book for all occasions written by a woman. Neuda wrote in German, the language of her homeland of Moravia, then Austria, now part of the Czech Republic.

The mid-19th century was the Age of Enlightenment and the start of the Jewish Reform Movement. This environment spurred the 35 year old, well-educated daughter and widow of a rabbi, Fanny Neuda, to write for other women in need of solace and support from supplications to God. Neuda’s popular book was reprinted 28 times and translated into English. Berland discovered an 1866 English version during a time of despair in her personal life and the book had a profound change on her and her family. This spurred the poet to rewrite the 19th century English translation for a modern 21st century audience.


A reference librarian at the Getty, Valerie Greathouse, in attendance, identified Neuda for Berland and located centuries of book reprints in several languages, housed in libraries around the world. Berland had a German translator double check the content of translations from the original German and used 88 of the over 100 original prayers and poems. Berland read several moving prayers. She then shared her visits and conversations with family and friends across the US and in Europe who had connections to Moravia and Neuda’s book, especially Holocaust survivors who took their mothers' copies of the book with them into the camps. The prayers are compassionate and vibrant and reach out to women of all faiths.


After her warm talk, Berland entertained questions and signed copies which program attendees purchased at the end of the talk.

Book Description -- Publisher's Notes

Hours of Devotion: Fanny Neuda's Book of Prayers for Jewish Women
by Dinah Berland (Editor). English edition. Schocken, Aug. 28, 2007.

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.

Dinah Berland's website -