the russian jewish jehovahs witness

I have often thought about how I’d react to a missionary knocking on our door. What would we say? How would we react? I thought I had it all worked out until the jehovah’s witness at my door turned out to be a little old Russian Jewish lady.

As she told me of her ancestors, with their long beards and black coats back in the shtetl, a big thick cloud came over all my planned responses. I sunk into a state of shock as I realised how this old woman and I came from the same place. We both had a strong connection to our history and both immigrated to the land of opportunity. Unfortunately, while I had my parents watchful eyes guarding me, it appears no one was guarding her. In fact quite the opposite. While I stood there trying to explain to her that Moshiach isn’t here yet and maybe she read something out of context, all I could feel is sympathy. This woman, who would have arrived on the shores of Australia hoping to redefine herself and her environment had a heavy history to deal with. Coming from a place of war, of serious loss and deprivation, the emotions and memories an immigrant faces can be devastating.

Yes, we all decide which way to turn and what to believe in, but our starting points are not the same. Coming from a place of vulnerability can make some strong and make others fall. That is not to say that this missionary had been fooled or forced to think something she didn’t want to. She probably does believe all that she espouses. But, where did this come from? As I ended our conversation and closed the door I realised I had so many questions for her. I could have sat there for hours listening to her story, trying to get a glimpse of why and how a little old Russian Jewish lady, knowing full well about her rich history, could so fervently turn her back on it all. Did she think she was so much wiser than the great Rabbis who knew these texts back to front? Did she think they ‘skipped over’ the one line that she had all her hopes hinged on?

All I could feel is sympathy. I wanted to give her a big hug and connect on the most basic of levels – one of family, heritage and continuity. This is something that drew me towards Yiddishkite and something that propels me ever since. Was she that angry at her family or the world that she would turn her back on it? And yet, I look in our own backyard, at the families that surround us, and it is true. There are so many holocaust survivors and their descendants that simply can’t face their history. History was too ugly to face, through war, through Stalin, through pogroms and communism. Once you’re free of the environment you want to leave all the other stuff too. The associations are already there, imbedded into your psyche: “I was persecuted for being a Jew. Now I am not persecuted, I don’t need to be a Jew.” I’ve heard many ‘survivors’ of those times say “why dwell on the past?”, “we have to look forward”, “what’s gone is gone”. And while this may be a good approach to let old fears and nightmares rest, this is the beginning of the end for Jewish life. Our history is who we are, and it stays with us whether we like it or not. As my one of my favourite quotes says: “everything is illuminated in the light of the past. It is always along the side of us…on the inside, looking out. ” (Jonathan Safran Foer, in Everything is Illuminated).

In the small glimpse that I had I saw a passionate Jewish neshama lost in the jargon that can be religion. If only she could experience a yom tov, a Shabbos, maybe she could reconnect to her ancestors without the bitterness. Maybe she could express who she really is. Maybe she’ll come around again. Maybe seeing another Russian Jew following our heritage gave her as much food for thought as it did for me.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Edward says:

    JW’s come from all walks of life and different religions looking for the the truth from the Bible.
    And now have the truth and a better life now and wonderful outlook for the future and want to share it with others.
    that is why the spend their time,energy,money and study to share it for free with others because of their love for God and fellow man.

    1. Robert says:

      Hi Ed, pardon my ignorance but I seem to have misunderstood something. You state that JW’s look for truth in the Bible. I assume you are referring to the “New Testament” here (the “Old Testament” being the Jewish Torah). A few questions about this new bestseller then:
      1) If J#$@s was/is/will be/could be/should be the messiah, then he must be in the line of King David. Isn’t the lineage of Kings is transferred through the father? Does this mean the “Virgin Mary” story is a fallacy?
      2) Are you saying that somewhere along the line, the creator and sustainer of life, the universe and everything… err… changed his mind and found it necessary to release “Instructions 2.0”?
      3) Instructions 2.0 _still_ says that the Jews are G-D’s chosen people. I can’t seem to find the bit where it says it’s OK for a Christian to encourage someone they know to be a Jew _away_ from Judaism. (I’d think the creator would be more than a little… “upset” with this).

  2. laurabb says:

    Jews always have the truth, they just need to ask the right questions to understand it. In this circumstance the woman didn’t have the intricate knowledge of Judaism and didn’t go looking for it where it exists. Like anything else in life, you have to look within first.
    Unfortunately, where there is weakness or vulnerability people can quickly sink into externalities and lose themselves. Luckily enough, many Jews return to their source because no matter how far they leave they will always be Jewish in their neshama.

  3. Mr. Cohen says:

    The best way for Jews to react to Xtian missionaries is to STAY AWAY from them.
    Away as in FAR AWAY.

    We Jews are NEVER obligated to talk to missionaries or listen to them. On the contrary, it is a sin to listen to them for even one second [unless you are a true expert trying bring them back to Judaism.]

    Most Jews who are brainwashed by deceptive Christian missionary cults got that because they were not wise enough to STAY AWAY from missionaries.

    Why waste even one minute of precious time listening to deceptive Christian missionary cults when you could instead be studying Torah or reciting Tehillim or thinking about the greatness of G_d?

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