Ask Wendy

Jewish World Review / Oct. 3, 2000 / 4 Tishrei, 5761

I'm not Jewish --- not that there's anything wrong with it; mezuza machlokes; when granddad has cancer

By Wendy Belzberg -- I am a Gentile working professionally at a multi-faith non-profit organization in Chicago. I am in contact everyday with many Jewish and Christian clients, donors, and vendors. My problem is that my last name sounds Jewish, and everyone jumps to the reasonable conclusion that I am Jewish.

In the context of your professional life, your religion is irrelevant and nobody's business but your own. (Would you be pondering the same question if the color of your skin were black?) And you can tell that Rabbi that I said so. If, however, you were conversing with said rabbi about getting married to one of his congregants or to his daughter, or about being elected president of the synagogue, and neglected to mention that you are not Jewish, then I can understand his dismay.

Presumably your pitch to potential donors is the same whether you are appealing to Jews or non-Jews. The only thing you are guilty of is not disclosing a lack of respect for your donors. The suggestion that people, specifically Jews, will donate only to their fellow Jews is insulting. The cause is the cause. People donate because they believe.

* * *

My 6 year-old son is very close to his grandfather. He lives nearby and picks our son up from school on a regular basis. My father-in-law was recently diagnosed with cancer and the prognosis is not good. My husband and I don't agree on how to handle the situation: What do we tell our son and how much information do we give him? Should we prepare him for what is to come by cutting back on the time he spends with his grandfather?

My friend's father-in-law was diagnosed with leukemia and given 6 months to live. That was 20 years ago. On the information ladder, I place doctors and their predictions on the bottom wrung. Prepare your son-and yourselves-for the worst only after you hear directly from G-d's lips what He has in mind.

If you are reconsidering the amount of time your father-in-law and son spend together in light of the diagnosis, however, allot them even more time together, not less. (Nothing prepares you in advance for life's unpleasant offerings. I fast on Yom Kippur, but I don't stop eating 4 days in advance to make the fast easier.) The more shared experiences, the stronger and sweeter will be your son's memories.

Finally, give your son precisely the amount of information he wants, leaving the door open for him to learn more when he is ready. Answer every question with complete honesty, but when he stops asking, you stop talking.

* * *

We recently moved and left our mezuzah, a beautiful handmade piece we received as a wedding present, on the front door of our old house. When I mentioned to the new owner that the mezuzah had sentimental value, she said that it was Jewish law to leave the mezuzah on the door when the new owner is also Jewish. When I got home, I saw that the prior owners had indeed left their (ugly) mezuzah on the front door (along with their pink shag carpet). Any ideas?

You don't want to know what happened to the family (Talmud, tractate Bava Metziah) who took their mezuzah down when they left. Suffice it to say, you wouldn't want it to happen to you.

A mezuzah protects you, your family and all your possessions. The new owner of your old house may have seemed petty, but she actually did you a favor.

The protective piece of the mezuzah, however, which it is customary -- not law -- to leave behind, is the sacred parchment inside the mezuzah, not the mezuzah, or casing, itself. If the sentimental value of your old mezuzah is so strong, you may want to go back to the new owner with a replacement as a house-warming present. Arm yourself with the fine points of my response. If not, buy yourself a lovely new mezuzah instead.

(When you take the preexisting mezuzah off the door to change the casing, check the parchment inside to make sure it is not damaged.)

Ask Wendy a question -- any question --- by clicking here.

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© 2000, Wendy Belzberg