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The Illuminated Kaddish - Interpretations of the Mourner's Prayer

By Edited Oct 5, 2015 1 0

The Mourner's Kaddish, the Jewish prayer of mourning, is recognised by Jews all over the world. Artist and designer Hyla Shifra Bolsta has taken this universal player and offers us new interpretations presented in calligraphic text and beautiful artwork.

Hyla has a deep understanding of Jewish tradition and ritual. She is a member of the Mendocino Coast Jewish Community, participating in Jewish study with Rabbi Margaret Holub. Hyla is also studying Chassidism with Rabbi Avram Davis.

The Illuminated Kaddish - Interpretations of the Mourner's Prayer by Hyla Shifra Bolsta
Credit: H. S. Bolsta

Kaddish - A Prayer Recognised by Jews All Over the World

The Mourner's Kaddish, the Jewish prayer of mourning, is recognised by Jews all over the world. Artist and designer Hyla Shifra Bolsta has taken this universal player and offers new interpretations presented in calligraphic text and beautiful artwork.

Hyla has a deep understanding of Jewish tradition and ritual. She is a member of the Mendocino Coast Jewish Community and participates in Jewish study with Rabbi Margaret Holub. Hyla is also studying Chassidism with Rabbi Avram Davis.

Hyla has selected the Tree of Life to represent this publication because it is one of the most well-known symbols in Jewish art. The artist's portrayal shows the rich variety of life through colourful and imaginative animals and plant forms. Motifs from the Tree of Life recur throughout the publication.

For many Jews, the Kaddish is part of their upbringing, it's in their blood, and they know what it means. For many others, the prayer is recited by rote, with little or no understanding of its meaning. The author engages her audience in a profound dialogue, challenging readers to think again about their understanding of the prayer. Hyla's midrash – her own personal interpretation – invites us to pause and reflect on these age-old words.

The opening pages present the Mourner's Kaddish in full, accompanied by a transliteration. Hyla also offers a translation together with four interpretations found in Siddurim (Jewish prayer books used on Sabbath and weekdays throughout the year).

When acquiring a book for the first time, many readers pass quickly over the Preface. Unusually, the author has placed the Preface, not at the start of the book, but a few pages on. In this case, not reading the Preface would be a great loss. The author tells how the death of a close friend led her to a closer study of the Mourner's Kaddish, and inspired her work in this publication.

V'yamlich Malchutay

V'Yimlach p. 36
Credit: Hyla Shifra Bolsta
The Illuminated Kaddish: Interpretations of the Mourner s Prayer
Amazon Price: $27.50 $10.61 Buy Now
(price as of Oct 5, 2015)

Layout of the Publication

In her Introduction Hyla explains the custom of reciting the Kaddish. The ritual started in Medieval times and its meaning dates back to the Talmud. How does this prayer help heal our broken hearts? Hyla says (The Illuminated Kaddish, p. 21): ″Repetition's familiar cadence transforms us. Rhythmic sounds help sooth and offer solace just as the same lullaby night after night reassures a baby to sleep″.

The remainder of the publication is divided into four chapters:

  • Part I – Calligraphic Illuminations – The author presents her artistic interpretation, exploring the Kaddish line by line through sensitive but beautiful calligraphic illuminations. Take a look at V'yamlich Malchutay.
  • Part II –Paintings Visual Interpretations– In this section, Hyla takes phrases from the prayer and interprets them as richly coloured paintings such as The Great Compassion.
  • Part III – Quotes from Rabbis Scholars and Torah – In this chapter Hyla explores thoughts on life and death through a variety of thought-provoking quotations from Rabbis, scholars and the Torah.
  • Part IV – Like the Preface, this part of the book is vital to its understanding. It contains a useful glossary of terms together with notes and acknowledgements. The author explains the origins of the Mourner's Kaddish together with an examination of the word 'Amen', its meaning and roots.

The Great Compassion

The Great Compassion
Credit: Hyla Shifra Bolsta

New Life for an Age-old Prayer

The Illuminated Kaddish brings new life to an age-old prayer. It's not just a book for mourners – it is a singular work of art that will inspire and comfort. Rabbi Lewis Barth, PhD., former Dean of Hebrew Union College, LA, California, Professor of Midrash and Related Literature said: ″Hyla's manuscript is an original midrash, a wonderful artistic interpretation of the Kaddish, an enchanting and spiritually moving visual experience.″

The Illuminated Kaddish – Interpretations of the Mourner's Prayer, by Hyla Shifra Bolsta, is published by KTAV Publishing House, Inc., and available from all good book stores, ISBN 978 160280191-2.

Jewish Art: A Modern History
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(price as of Oct 5, 2015)

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Bibliography

  1. Hyla Shifra Bolsta The Illuminated Kaddish - Interpretations of the Mourner's Prayer. Jersey City: KTAV Publishing House Inc., 2011.

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