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Jewish World Review Nov. 27, 2001/ 12 Kislev 5762


Doubts or reservations one may have about reaching out to friends and strangers alike who are in need: From the mail bag


By Wendy Belzberg

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- In a recent column I answered a letter that dealt with the protocol of how to comfort friends and family of the victims of the World Trade Center bombing. We as a nation are preoccupied with how to help along the September 11 healing process. But even in the absence of terrorism, people die, go through painful divorce and suffer serious injury. A young woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, a colleague gives birth to a child with a rare illness, or a neighbor's husband leaves his wife and two young children. This week's column further addresses any doubts or reservations one may have about reaching out to friends and strangers alike who are in need. Reprinted below is the original column and two of the many letters I received from readers. These two women unfortunately speak from personal experience.

Q: I live in a large apartment complex. One of the residents, a father of three children, was killed in the September 11th bombing. I don't personally know the widow but I feel like I want to reach out to her in some way. On the other hand, I don't want to intrude on anyone's privacy at such a difficult time…

A: Were everyone worried about respecting privacy and about intruding, a lot of anguished people would be sitting alone in their living rooms right now, neglected even by close friends. These times and circumstances are unprecedented. There are no rules. So in Emily Post's absence, let me blaze the trail: I urge you, and anyone else in a similar situation, to reach out. Write a note and slip it under your neighbor's door. Drop off fresh flowers, anonymously or not. Offer to cook a meal for the mother with 3 children. Ask, and expect nothing in return. Don't stand on ceremony. The reward will be as much yours as theirs.

Just a note to comment on the neighbor who was worried about intruding on a family's grief. I was suddenly widowed a month ago and I want people to know that this is the moment "to reach out to her in some way". All the acts of generosity and kindness that have been shown to our family are highly appreciated:

Please tell your readers that widows and orphans are particularly needful of any kind gestures. It is such a blow to lose a father and husband with no warning.

  —   Debra Baker Oliva

I congratulate you on your excellent response to the question about invasion of privacy of those in grief…I am the surviving daughter of a murdered father. Although four and one half years have passed, I always appreciate those who expressed, and continue to express kindness.

I understand that it is difficult for others to approach me; often they are afraid of unintentionally saying something hurtful or upsetting me. And yes, some rather odd ideas have been expressed. But I overlook the awkwardness of the words to embrace the kind thought…

Please, let those who ask not be afraid to approach. We appreciate it more than it is possible to communicate. It is perfectly acceptable just to say, "I'm sorry" and nothing more. The stirred emotions that may result is not the upset of being reminded of grief. That grief is with us every day. Rather it is the response of not being so isolated. This is good and healing.

  —   Marlynn Burns


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05/16/01: The gift was counterfeit; settling for the daughter; the lush and the ostrich
05/02/01: 'Jew questions' and falsifying faith; magic marker mayhem; I want kids
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02/08/01: Bar/bat mitzvah blues, homework he-l, from potty to potty-mouth
01/24/01: Naughty neighbor, unprofessional colleague is dead, I'm a Jew, now what?
01/15/01: Rabbis who won't; when the rules of the 'game' change; ungracious grannies
01/08/01: My kid hates Hebrew school; Stay single or abandon heritage?
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10/03/00: I'm not Jewish --- not that there's anything wrong with it; mezuza machlokes; when granddad has cancer
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© 2001, Wendy Belzberg