The God Squad: From the mailbag…
My question about what rituals you have chosen or invented to honor your dearly departed loved ones turned up this Christian reader who has adopted a Jewish ritual when she visits the Christian cemetery where her family is buried,
Q: Thank you for all your words of wisdom about life and death. Your words are so profound that I often share them with my husband, and I often cut out the articles so that I can still review them later on. I lost my Dad 53 years ago and my Mom only six years ago. So, I find your columns a source of comfort because they help me realize that death is truly a part of our existence. Going to the cemetery to visit and to tend to not only my parents’ resting place but also my grandparents’ is a habit learned from my mother who always cared for the family graves.
Although not of the Jewish faith, I always place a stone on the marker to show others that the souls resting there are not or never will be forgotten. Looking forward to your next column. – (From D)
A: Thank you, dear D, for your kind words. The ritual of placing a pebble on a gravestone is just another example of the spiritual need we feel to create graves and cemeteries as sacred places where we can connect the living with the dead and preserve the chain of memory and love. If our dead have no resting place, then neither do we. God comfort you.
Many Christians with great hearts wrote to me about the Jewish person who is afraid to display Hanukkah decorations on her house during this time of increasing antisemitic violence. This is from E:
I would just like to tell the fearful Jew at Hanukkah that there are MANY Christians who are terribly distressed and sympathetic to their Jewish neighbors. I am outraged at the treatment Jews are receiving AGAIN! If he was in my neighborhood, I would defend him and his family with my life. Standing With You!
There is an old Jewish legend that the world is not destroyed by God because there are at least 36 righteous people living in it at all times. Now we know the name of one of them.
The frightened Jewish person who wrote to me (one of many) referred to an incident in 1993 in Billings, Montana, that many of you may not know or remember. A wonderful children’s book by Dr. Janice Cohn was published then and has recently been re-published 30 years later. I highly recommend it. To me it is the story of how an entire town became their own God Squad. Here is the press release:
Based on an inspiring true story … The Christmas Menorahs: How a Town Fought Hate, By Dr. Janice Cohn and illustrated by Bill Farnsworth. In October 1943, the people of Denmark took great risks to rescue the Danish Jews from the Nazis. In December, 1993 — almost exactly 50 years later — that stirring example of goodness and courage reverberated through time to inspire the American town of Billings, Montana, during the holiday season of Christmas and Hanukkah. Janice Cohn’s powerful book, “The Christmas Menorahs: How A Town Fought Hate,” recounts the true story of how a series of antisemitic incidents and hate crimes galvanized the town to unite and take action, following the example of the Danes. After white supremacists hurled a rock at a
window where a menorah was displayed, sending shattered glass into a young boy’s bedroom, it was time to take a stand against injustice. Two children — one Jewish and one Christian — their families, their community and the local town newspaper, show how love and courage can fight hate. First published in 1995, this expanded 30th anniversary edition of the critically acclaimed book includes new material on the inspiring response in Billings and invites all of us, today, to be upstanders in the face of injustice. Originally conceived as a children’s book, “The Christmas Menorahs” has been proven to resonate with people of all ages. At a time of division and incivility in our country, with the alarming rise of antisemitism and other forms of bigotry, true stories like “The Christmas Menorahs” are needed more than ever to show children and adults alike what our “better angels” can achieve. Author Dr. Janice Cohn, a psychotherapist with a doctorate in clinical social work, traveled to Billings in 1994 to speak directly with those involved in the events there.
Artist Bill Farnsworth’s stunning illustrations evoke the magic of winter with a classic and timeless realism. Perfect for holiday gift guides and features on parenting, education, or social justice, “The Christmas Menorahs” is a must-buy for the holiday season and a valuable tool for teachers, libraries, and classrooms, and for inclusion in anti-hate and anti-bullying programs and in Holocaust education.
(Send ALL QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Rabbi Gellman is the author of several books, including “Religion for Dummies,” co-written with Fr. Tom Hartman. Also, the new God Squad podcast is now available.)
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