I’ve adored illuminated manuscripts all my life — as a child and teenager, these were the postcards I’d take home from museum trips. I’ve done hundreds of ketubot and this is my third book project published in 7 years, and as absorbing as each of these projects has been,
has the deepest claim on me.
is a memorial to my late husband, David, who passed away in March 2009 after a long struggle with a unique spinal cord cancer. A couple of afternoons before he died, my father-in-law, Arnold Band, a renowned scholar of Hebrew literature, and I were sitting and talking quietly beside David’s bed in our family room, which had now morphed into a home hospice. “So, you know what your next project is going to be?” he asked. I rolled my eyes and said something like, ” know you’re going to tell me.” He knew perfectly well that I’d been working on Esther insofar as the illness allowed. “Yes,” he said, “your next project is going to be ‘Shirat Devorah’ and do you know why? Because you are the Devorah.” The real reason, however, the one that neither of us could yet bring ourselves to say, was that this would be a memorial to the son and husband we were about to lose.
? This two-part tale from Judges —a prose narrative and the much older epic poem, one of the oldest chunks of the Tanakh— had been David’s bar mitzvah haftarah, and he really loved its blood and guts war story. Indeed, the previous night I’d asked our younger son, Gabi, to chant the haftarah for his Abba so that he could hear it one more time. So, Deborah intrigued me, but two aspects of the project presented a puzzle. Solving those puzzles, however, gave me something from “my own life” to focus on, a sense of future against the backdrop of the bitter absurdity and disaster of my husband’s loss.
The first puzzle was what to do with so brief a story. Since Deborah’s story was far too small to publish on its own, I quickly decided to accompany it with Megillat Ruth, a favorite of David’s, and probably next up for me anyway. The pairing of one large story with one small story felt unbalanced, however, so soon the notion of including the Hannah story, another self-contained woman’s narrative and song, occurred to me. The interplay of the three stories instantly felt right. While I later found a deeper interaction among the stories, I could see immediately that they fit together neatly; all three happen in handful of decades,