A while ago I sat with an acquaintance, a devout Christian, discussing a mutual friend who was grieving the loss of a loved one. Our conversation centered on whether or not the individual’s grief had exceeded the bounds of normal mourning and become debilitating.
I’d held this same discussion only a few days earlier with another acquaintance, one who is Jewish. During that conversation, my Jewish friend had described to me her faith’s designated period of mourning, which, as she explained it, was far longer and more ceremonial than what most Western society considers usual. As I listened to her explanation, I realized that the Jewish customs of mourning genuinely ministered to the survivors.
I felt as if scales had fallen from my eyes. How wise to accept mourning, even deep and long-lived grieving, as necessary and healthful, and to provide ceremony and time for its passage! Why had I never encountered this civilized concept before? My friend’s explanation of Jewish mourning rituals forced me to acknowledge that that we as a society were perhaps not doing our loved ones any favor by allowing them only a brief interval of grieving before insisting that they now “get over it”…“get back to normal”…”take an antidepressant med”…“stay busy to take your mind off it”.
During the second conversation about grief, this time with my Christian acquaintance, I mentioned this (to me) enlightened view of the grieving process. Nodding in response to a comment made by my acquaintance, I explained, “Well, a Jewish friend told me that in her faith…” And although I know that I continued my explanation intelligently and comprehensively, I cannot now recall anything of what I said from that point forward in the conversation, because I found myself focused on only one thing: the expression of utter distaste that flitted across my Christian friend’s face the moment I said the word “Jewish”. It was there and gone in an instant, but it was unmistakably there: the grimace of aversion the moment I said the word, “Jewish”.
I’m sure my own eyes must have widened in shock at response to what my brain had so clearly registered. Sitting before me was a sophisticated, intelligent, 21st century individual, one whom I was sure that, if charged with prejudice against Jews, would have vehemently denied it. And yet a single expression unmistakably crossing a face had just clearly said otherwise.
Prejudice knows no sanity. The spiritual leader to whom my Christian acquaintance declares allegiance was born, raised, and lived a Jew. His name was not actually Jesus Christ; Jesus is a Greek rendering of his name, combined with a Greek title. His Jewish name was probably Yeshua Ben Yosef. And he, Yeshua, is the spiritual ancestor from whom all Christian faiths claim descent. Yet more than 70 years after the horror of the Nazi death camps, I witnessed a Christian’s face betray utter distaste at the thought of a modern Jew.
As I think of it now, remembering, I am no longer shocked, although perhaps even more dismayed. Does prejudice never die? Do the old hatreds never end?
I began the conversation with my Christian acquaintance discussing the topic of grief. And I ended it grieving — grieving the unbounded, undying continuation of hate and ignorance and prejudice.