By Harriet P. Gross
I am seeing the world through a different lens since the loss of my husband. I’m afraid my lens has lately been fogged with grief. But even through my distorted vision, I’ve realized — perhaps a bit belatedly — that some things never change.
Along with the many, many welcome words of strength and support I’ve received, along with the condolence cards and the contributions to so many worthy institutions and causes honoring Fred’s memory, I received one jarring letter. “Dear Family,” it was headed. Here is a portion of the text:
“Please accept my sincere condolences on your recent loss. I have experienced loss in my life and understand the feelings that go with this situation. The death of a beloved family member is never easy…”
Now, here it comes: Maybe you’ve already recognized what was awaiting me by the time you read the above. But I did not:
“Fortunately, and if you are so inclined, we can seek help for our grief and sorrow in the Holy Scriptures. Psalm 34:18 says, ‘Jehovah is near to those that are broken at heart, and those who are crushed in spirit he saves. And Psalm 55:22 says ‘Throw your burden upon Jehovah himself, and he himself will sustain you.’”
Psalms are always good, but “Jehovah” sends up a red flag warning. It’s a word not much used by Jews today. And here, it soon leads into a quote from Revelation, the end-of-days book of Christian scripture: “What a loving hope for the future,” I’m promised. After more condolences, I’m advised to “…take heart in the wonderful promises Jehovah has made to us regarding our departed in his Word.” By now, it’s clear what “word” my correspondent is referencing.
Has anyone else reading this received the same mailing after experiencing a loss? It looks as if someone may be perusing obituaries and targeting those that are obviously Jewish. It’s signed by one “Jimmy Johnson.” Not, I would hope, the football maven. But — who knows? There’s a cellphone number given, which I’m not going to call. Below it, in bright red letters, is the by-now-expected hope that “the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who have given heed will live.” And those of us who do not heed? Well — the enclosed pamphlet from Jehovah’s Witnesses tells all.
Should I laugh, or cry? In this time of pain, crying took precedence. But then came something to really laugh about. An email arrives from a fellow scribbler I know only through our occasional, mutual work for a same publication. Freelancers often recommend to other writers the opportunities they come across that aren’t right for them, with hopes of benefiting someone else. So amid the welter of condolences, I received one such message from a woman across many miles who had no reason to know about my recent loss. The post she shared promised an ongoing job editing and writing for the twice-monthly newsletter of a Jewish group. Good timing, good terms. But when I read the small print, I found that knowledge of, and experience with, Messianic Judaism were the prerequisites. In all my many years, from college forward, I’ve had plenty of both.
So I answered my correspondent that I would decline applying for her “find,” although of course with my thanks that she had thought of me. “You know I’m Jewish, or you wouldn’t have sent this,” I posted back. “But obviously, you know more about me than about Messianic Jews! Because of my years of learning and writing about the many branches and streams of Judaism, including those on the fringes, I have all the qualifications necessary to do this job, and to do it well. But I don’t want to do it, because I do not consider Jews who say they believe in Jesus to be Jews any more. To me, they are clearly Christians!”