Diana Bletter’s third book, “A Remarkable Kindness,” follows four American women who have moved to a seaside village in northern Israel for different reasons.
Her first novel, which celebrates the positive power of friendship and finding inspiration and deeper meaning through spirituality and ritual, intertwines her personal experiences and illuminates a mostly unknown ritual.
“I’m a member of the hevrah kadishah [the burial circle] in a small beach village in northern Israel,” Bletter said. “I help prepare and dress dead women for their burial. We are the very last people to be with the dead.”
Although few Jews outside of the Orthodox community are aware of hevrah kadishah (translated as “holy society”), the group exists in every Jewish community. These groups of volunteers are on-call to prepare a deceased person for burial according to Jewish tradition.
“One time after performing a burial rite, I stepped out of the burial house and thought ‘this would make a great story,’” Bletter said. “Nobody had ever written a novel about members who perform this mostly-hidden, ancient, beautiful rite.”
The story, which features Lauren, Emily, Aviva and Rachel, focuses on the strengthening of their intimate bond through their participation in the burial circle. As their lives slowly transform, each woman finds unexpected strength and resilience through times of love and loss, and the outbreak of war.
“I want my readers to make sure they appreciate every day of life that they are given,” Bletter said, “to learn about a ritual that honors the dead, and to come away with the joy and wonder of being alive.”
Bletter, a native New Yorker, grew up hearing about the sacrifices her relatives made to live in Israel and was inspired by their courage. She moved with her family to Israel where she worked as a freelance journalist, reporting on untold stories behind headlines in the news.
“I wanted to give up so often,” Bletter said referring to writing this book. “Writing is very difficult and very lonely. My husband, Jonny, always told me, ‘Anyone can give up. If you give up, you will never forgive yourself.’ And he was right. No matter what you are trying to do, you cannot – under any circumstances – give up. The miracle can be just around the corner.”
Bletter’s love for writing began in the sixth grade, when she wrote a poem, which was published, about the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
“I loved the idea that I could transform my feelings into words and then turn those words into art,” Bletter said. “I was hooked.”
Since then, her work has appeared in a wide variety of publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, The Huffington Post, The Forward, Kveller, Glamour and The North American Review.
“I would tell aspiring writers to keep writing,” Bletter said. “Keep reading. Do not give up. Set aside time each day, even if it’s for 10 minutes, to write. Always carry around a book. Carry around a pen and paper to take notes on things you see, hear, smell and experience.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Bletter will speak about “A Remarkable Kindness” at Books on the Square in Providence on Thursday, Nov. 12, at 4 p.m. Learn more about Bletter’s work at her website, dianabletter.com.
STEPHANIE ROSS is a freelance writer and marketing coordinator in Boston.