Esther Broner, an author, college professor and pioneer Jewish feminist, died June 21 in Manhattan of multiple organ failure caused by an infection. She was 83.
Ms. Broner was best known for her role in establishing a women’s perspective on Passover rituals, writing “The Women’s Haggadah” with Naomi Nimrod in 1977 (the text was first published in Ms. Magazine) and running the first women’s seder in 1976 in her Manhattan apartment (similar feminist seders have subsequently grown to be held by a wide variety of sponsoring organizations around the country).
The author of ten books, including “A Weave of Women,” a novel about 15 women in male-dominated Jerusalem four decades ago, and “The Telling,” the story of the development of the women’ seder, she also taught English at Sarah Lawrence College and several other universities.
Several Jewish feminists said she brought a strong Jewish sensibility to a largely secular Jewish feminist movement.
Ms. Broner “brought the comfort of ritual into our lives, with poetry, humor, feathers too, and wands,” Gloria Steinem, a founder of Ms., said at Ms. Broner’s funeral at Plaza Memorial Chapel in Manhattan.
“She was a holy trouble-maker … a remarkable blend of the spiritual and political, the dreamer and the do-er,” said Letty Cottin Pogrebin, a fellow Jewish feminist. “She railed against injustice because she’d experienced it in the form of sexism in academia, the publishing world, traditional Judaism, and the organized Jewish community.”
Pogrebin was among several prominent writers and political leaders – including Phyllis Chesler and the late Bella Abzug – who over the years attended Mrs. Broner’s innovative seder, which has come to include female-oriented text and rituals.
Her interest in a seder that emphasizes women’s perspectives on the Exodus story grew out of her experiences at her family’s seder in Detroit, where she once asked her father if she could add something to the ritual meal, and her father agreed,.
“Often she reminded me of one of the biblical prophets in her stance,” said journalist-filmmaker Lilly Rivlin. “She would get a stern look on her usually smailing face, as if the dark heavens came down to cover her visage.”
Ms. Broner studied sociology and creative writing at Wayne State University, and received a Ph.D., with a specialization in religion, from what is now Union Institute & University in Cincinnati.
Her husband, Robert, died last year. Ms. Broner is survived by two daughters, Nahama and Sari; two sons, Adam and Jeremy; a brother, Jay Masserman, and two grandchildren.
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