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RABBI ROSE: Putting friendship to the test
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RABBI ROSE: Putting friendship to the test

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We should not allow political differences to divide us from relationships with friends and family.

We’d been friends since we’d met more than 25 years ago, when we’d bumped into each other in the university parking lot.

We were a “mutual admiration society” and we each had the other’s back, no matter what. We laughed a lot. We could always talk; about anything, and everything. She was smart; a former economics professor, and we loved to shoot the breeze regularly on the phone or over coffee. We talked about life, the day’s headlines; societal, political, economic, and which movies to take in.

For as long as I knew her, she never ended a conversation without asking which book I was reading, and when I was laid-up with shoulder surgery, she sent me a three-pound translation of Don Quixote. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to read it or just weight-lift it for physical therapy.

Suzanne and I had been able to speak freely with each other on any topic, but that changed during the first year of the Trump presidency. Her news sources were different from my news sources. Her “truths” were different from mine. In retrospect, I suspect there were the beginnings of a fissure in our friendship during the long presidential campaign.

It wasn’t long before events overcame us and our friendship was taxed, seemingly beyond repair. It was apparent, for the first time, that what I had always assumed were “our” deeply held values and views, were now divergent; I was shocked, and at a loss as to how to sustain our friendship.

The regular calls became fewer and fewer. Not knowing what to say, we talked about our kids, college and career choices, and before we knew it, we were talking about grandchildren. But we had completely stopped talking about everything else. It seemed to be the only way to sustain a friendship that was now fraught with divisiveness.

As time passed, she had fewer and fewer friends in her circle, and she started to withdraw. It was happening all around me. People—family and friends—were withdrawing from book clubs, their houses of worship, and activities they’d enjoyed in the past because they couldn’t find their way around the conflict. It was the same scene on both sides of the aisle.

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There were days, after my friendship with Suzanne seemed to be withering, when I would scroll down through my phone contacts, and almost call her.

Then, one day, the phone rang. “Rose, I have a brain tumor.” Suddenly, everything else in the world fell away, and we talked as friends talk when there is no one else who can understand.

We talked during the treatments, we talked when she was too weak to walk. We talked when COVID made it impossible for her to see her children and grandchildren. And our friendship was put to the test when she wept on the phone and mustered the strength to say she’d had enough, and was ready to let go.

We resurrected our old friendship over her remaining months. With a spirit of trust and love, she reached out; writing me a note or two, her beautiful handwriting and thoughts now almost illegible. She did her best to talk with me on the phone, until the last stroke took her speech as well.

After our last conversation I became overwhelmed with sadness. How many of us have lost touch with or avoided friends and family due to the political divide? I was infuriated by people who, in their misguided patriotic resolve to protect their personal freedoms, show little regard for the greater good. I was indignant that so many Americans were choosing to squander God’s greatest gift—life.

None of us know when it will be our time; or when our last opportunity to heal or make amends will come. We’ve missed out on so much over the past few years, and not just because of COVID. We’ve missed out simply because we have willingly chosen to break bonds of family and friendship over politics.

I received a phone call shortly before Suzanne died. It was her husband asking if I could guide him through the process of death and mourning. He bought a plot. He made arrangements with the funeral home. And when she finally passed, he called.

“Suzanne asked that you conduct her funeral. You were her closest friend and you’ll know what to say.”

I was blessed with one more opportunity to confirm my friendship, for which I am eternally grateful.

Rose Lyn Jacob is the rabbi of a five-county area in the Virginia Piedmont, including Culpeper.

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