clasped hands

How Can a Non-Jew Comfort a Jew?

Image: Two people hold hands, one comforting the other. (Pixabay)

Someone reached the blog today with a great question: “How can a non-Jew comfort a Jew in a time of —?” Unfortunately, the line was cut off, but I still love the question.

The main way that Jews comfort one another is with presence. That means we spend time with the person who is suffering. If they are nearby, we might actually be physically present with them; if they are far away, we might do it with a phone call or a card.

“But what do I SAY?” I can imagine the questioner asking me.

If the trouble is grief over the death of a loved one (or for that matter, a pet) we say very little. In fact, it is a tradition is Judaism to speak to mourners only when they speak first. Instead, we spend time with them, we feed them, we do housework for them, we help keep life going for them.

Things not to say: “He’s in a better place,” “She’s with Jesus now,” “You’ll get over it.” We assume that death is a terrible blow to the bereaved, and accept that some people do not ever completely heal from some losses. We do not necessarily believe in an afterlife (we might, or might not) and theological discussions are a bad idea at such a time. Instead, just be present to the person – comfort them with the fact that you are still their friend.

If the trouble is something else, it is still good to stay away from theology. “It’s all part of God’s plan” is actually not very comforting to a lot of people, not only Jews. Instead, try, “I’m here for you.”

Be careful with offers of prayer. It is fine to offer to keep someone in your prayers but it may be misunderstood. For some Jews, there is an echo of being prosetylized at in the past. Offering to pray with a Jew is best done with silent prayer. Jews do not pray in Jesus’ name.

Be very slow to give advice. In fact, don’t give advice unless the person asks for it. If you are bursting with excellent advice, ask first: “Would you like my advice?” and if the answer is no, back off. I know, it’s hard, but one of the ways to be a really good friend is to not give advice when it isn’t wanted.

Comforting a Jew is very much like comforting a non-Jew. We’re all human. Life is sometimes hard. What is more comforting than anything is the warmth of human presence and an extended hand.

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rabbiadar

Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi based in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, mom, poodle groomer, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at https://coffeeshoprabbi.com/ as the Coffee Shop Rabbi.

7 thoughts on “How Can a Non-Jew Comfort a Jew?”

  1. Thanks, R. Ruth. Nice combo of Jewish similarities & differences, with practical suggestions.

    Last month, an acquaintance tried to comfort me, in the death of my high school classmate, by claiming, “Now you have another saint in heaven!” I replied, “She’s dead. Dead is dead!” Luckily, the acquaintance was quite receptive when I later described my views to her.

    Re: advice, my Dad used to say that he finally reached maturity, when he stopped offering advice unless someone asked him for advice.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As a non-Jew (a Catholic) who has comforted Jews before, this is good advice.

    On a related note with the theology, I also wouldn’t recommend quoting from the New Testament. It might actually be best not to quote from Scripture at all since Christians often look at the Old Testament with an eye towards the New Testament, but I especially don’t recommend quotes from the New Testament.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m glad you mentioned that some deaths permanently alter the life of the mourner such that they may never “get over it.” Losing my little sister was too bizarre to grasp. I had no intention of out living her. In fact I specifically told all my siblings, “I’m the oldest; I get to die first. I don’t plan to die for a long time so settle in.”
    Will I ever stop thinking, only she would remember that experience, that playmate, what dad said that one time? No, I won’t. And each time I think of her it will hurt a bit. Yes, I can look for what I’ve learned, what I can do better because of what I have experienced. But would I rather have her back? Yup.
    I am much more comfortable with people who understand the myriad feelings I have about losing her over people who want me to just get on with it. I get on with it most of the time, but sometimes I cry. That’s life… and death.

    Liked by 1 person

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