This "memories" page is a compilation of varied recollections about J.J. as contributed by J.J.'s family and friends... from "the diary that we all carry around with us" [Oscar Wilde].
As you email in your "J.J. stories", poems, songs, photos and links, we will post them on the website. It is our hope that, with time, this page will continously evolve.
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October 27, 2005
When I wrote the first piece of memory of JJ in 2002, I was an outsider to Judaism; I wasn't even close to understand what it meant that JJ lived Judaism. What I captured then were his kindness, compassion, strength, and his fun for life. I admired the balance in him and was amazed by the warmth in his entire being.
October 17, 2001, I met JJ as a student of his Hebrew alphabet class at Makor. I was having difficulties of accepting general and broad criticism upon the Jewish People and I wanted to learn the truth about them in order to become a bridge between the Jews and the world for better mutual understanding. Meanwhile, I struggled to find a better way of life for myself.
JJ looked so religious to me that I ran after him to "talk to me." At first, he said, "I don't know when I will have the time," (not a good excuse: all New Yorkers say they are busy) he continued, "I need to work, and to find time for my family and friends." (for friends? I decided then he was telling the truth) I told him, "I will wait until you have time." I did wait and JJ did find time for me. He said with a smile, "I'm ready. I'm always ready." Bur for some reason, the only time we actually sat down together was JJ helping me to read Hebrew phrases syllable by syllable - I wasn't able to put them together.
But we did talk. In the next 11 months, we e-mailed. During that period of time, I thought out loud all the time in my e-mails, about the world, people, and religions. He always responded with brief yet unpredictable comments making me think deeper and broader; but he never mentioned Judaism or anything related, until the end of the summer in 2002. Sometimes I was angry or frustrated about things or myself, but JJ was always there calm and gentle. I felt comfortable to tell him anything in my mind and was sure that he wouldn't laugh at me, or failed to notice the importance of the topic for me. I was right.
After he was gone, it was hard to get used to not hearing from him, or being able to write him anymore. But the most precious part lost, was, and even now, is, that JJ had given so much uninterrupted attention to my day dreams and all the talks about them. He listened, and listened. Sometimes he knew me better than I did. Although JJ very seldom talked about himself, he was not mysterious. His principles and value about life were upright and simple. One doesn't feel confused around him; one just wants to be better.
It was not an easy journey to know God. I learned there's a God when I was in Switzerland, and arrived in New York 7 years ago. I told God that I wanted to understand Him correctly in order to serve Him correctly. I asked Him to give me a teacher who can teach me His truth; and a friend who can share my joy of knowing Him. I had not dreamed that this person could be Jewish, just as I had not dreamed to convert to Judaism. But when the Plan was revealed and understood, what I planned or wanted was not important any more.
What JJ had done for me was truly extraordinary; what his Judaism had
done for me was beyond imagination. The life of a gentile was changed
forever for the better because what she looked and saw in a Jew (JJ).
After I became a Jew, I constantly remind myself how a non-Jew or a non-religious
Jew would look at me, and what a possible outcome it could be. I dare
not to be careless.
I in fact had no idea what a family JJ was from, and what good things he had done for his people and communities, until his parents came back from Israel and received visitors in their house. I read and heard many stories from his Jewish world. I stood there, looked at the pictures, said silently and gratefully, "You were exactly the JJ I knew."
When I left his parents' house, the "sign" thing came to me again; this time, no confusion. I suddenly understood that I didn't have to give up what I have known, and it was not a coincidence that I have met JJ. He was a special gift God had given me for my prayer! My heart was filled with awe and sadness, but I also started to see a little light.
I didn't give up the memories of JJ; I didn't return to my old way of life; and JJ continued to live in my life.
When I started learning Judaism, I didn't even know what was "Sanhedrin", "Mincha" or "Rosh Chodesh". But I determined to learn the teaching of Torah and borrow its strength to turn the great characters I discovered in JJ to my own: talk in a sincere and gentle tone with careful word selections; be sensitive instead of be impatient; be a good listener instead of be a good talker; self-control and self-discipline … (I'm still learning until this day) It was such a difficult year; all the time I missed JJ and our conversations. On the other hand, the Torah learning and remembering the passion JJ had for his God, had helped to control my pain and fear from the passing of JJ. Hashem has become clearer and closer to me. JJ was absent but was never far away: I see his smile and hear his "excellent!" comment anytime I made progress.
When I first arrived in Jerusalem in 2004, I was so ready to love the Land of Israel and the Jewish people, because I got this "pre-school education" from JJ and the "formal teaching" from my Rabbi: A Jew must love and connect with the Land of Israel and the Jewish People; it comes as a package, not an option. But no one told me that not everyone lives in Israel was Jewish, and no one told me that not every Jew who lives in Israel is "religious"; no one really told me how many divisions within the Jewish religious world, and no one told me that the majority of Israelis might not get used to an Asian Jewish face. I received the strongest "culture-and-beyond shock" in my 10 years of living all around the world.
Even under circumstances as such, I never doubted my decision of becoming
a Jew, nor wondered what kind of Jew Hashem wants me to be. The more I
am challenged by the world including the Jewish world itself, the more
I learn the profound value of Judaism JJ had demonstrated for me, so well
prepared and so far in advance!
If I decided to love the people in Israel only after they show me JJ-like-warmness instead of curiosity or suspicions, I would never be able to love them. I told myself, "You must love these people no matter they understand or not; and do your best to find good things in each of them by understanding their lives and backgrounds; remembering how JJ respected you as who you were."
The Land and the People are magnificent. I decided to make aliyah. The aliyah process seemed so long and I was very frustrated sometimes. I struggled: networking shouldn't be the only efficient method to defeat bureaucracy; nor should it be at all. In the Jews, there should be a Torah way. How? During that long 6 months of aliyah process, I often wondered what JJ would have said about the situation. I wonder what made him believed that the government would participate in a program such as "Birthright Israel" in the first place years ago. I wonder he might never think it was an option; maybe, he always thought it is our duty to help the Jewish State to grow better and better and to take part in beneficial Jewish affairs … My first year in Israel made me understand that an individual Jew is, and will be, constantly challenged by difficult or more difficult circumstances as the Jewish State is. But, we must have hope in Hashem, and never stop striving for better.
I still try to cope with the departure of JJ. I often miss JJ and feel sad, but I also can't pretend to forget his admiration for truth, and for life. After 911, he once comforted me saying, "too much sadness lately. Let's hope happiness will prevail." I remember his faith in Hashem.
I want to fully appreciate what I have been given; I want to remember JJ for the sake of what he believed and lived; I want his spirit to live on, although I am still not as capable and strong as I want to be.
May the spirit of JJ continue to live among us, may the light of Torah shine among us. May Hashem guide all of us and give us strength, for we refuse to let go the truth, the beauty, and all the possibilities for goodness and hope we saw in the life of JJ, in Judaism.
Please allow me to thank with deep gratitude: The Greenberg family,
especially Goody and Eric, who have tried so hard to make my life in Israel
These reflections on working with JJ Greenberg, z"l, were collected from many of his current and former professional colleagues in the fall and winter of 2002-3. They reflect the broad professional and personal impact that JJ had during his tenure as Jewish Life Network's Executive Director, from 1995 until his untimely, tragic death in September 2002.
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