Surviving a loss, rediscovering joy
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Surviving a loss, rediscovering joy

Rabbi's book chronicles a parent's journey from sorrow to renewal

Shoshana Grossman died at age 17, leaving her parents immeasurably saddened and shaken – if not in their faith, then in the belief that they would ever be joyful again.

Earlier this month, Shoshana’s father, Rabbi Rafael Grossman, author of “My Shoshana: A Father’s Journey Through Loss” (Eschel Publishing), told an audience in Teaneck that now, some 40 years later, he and his wife Shirley have learned to rejoice in life’s goodness.

He wrote the book “to deliver this message of hope,” said Grossman, “that as excruciating as the pain and grief may be, we honor our deceased love ones by showing the strength to re-emerge into all of life, with its joys and challenges.”

According to Fair Lawn resident and literary agent Anna Olswanger, who is given a credit in the book, after the death of Shoshana, Grossman “was sure that he would never quite have the same faith in God or regain his joy in living. But as the years went by, he appreciated how Jews throughout history had managed to sustain hope in the wake of personal and communal calamities.

“He regained his hope,” said Olswanger. “He wrote the book as an expression of his love and his never-ending sorrow, but also of his sense of renewal.”

Grossman, who lives in Englewood, is a past president of the Beth Din of America and the Rabbinical Council of America.

The rabbi hopes his book, written as a personal letter to his daughter, will help people who are grieving, she said, pointing out that with the recent murder of 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky in Brooklyn, “it’s on everybody’s mind.”

“It’s almost an unspeakable thing,” she said. “It brings up guilt in a parent – you didn’t protect your child.”

The recent book launch, held at the home of Grossman’s son Shukie, drew more than 50 well-wishers and friends, including some of Shoshana’s classmates.

“Five of her high school friends came,” said Olswanger, noting that the family had lived in Long Branch when Shoshana died and that she had attended Bruriah High School for Girls in Elizabeth. One friend came all the way from Israel; several others traveled from West Orange, Manhattan, and Princeton.

After remarks by Olswanger as well as by Shoshana’s mother Shirley and sister Aviva, her brother Hillel suggested that Shoshana’s memory would be kept alive through this new publication. After pointing out that he had grown up in houses filled with books, he said, “After all these years, we are gifted with a book about Shoshana that vivifies and reifies our experiences with her…. I thank my father for having torn these emotions from within and putting them on paper.”

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Rabbi Rafael Grossman wrote the book, “My Shoshana,” to deliver a “message of hope.”

Olswanger has known Grossman, senior rabbi emeritus of Baron Hirsch Congregation in Memphis, for many years. After Shoshana died, the Grossmans went from Long Branch to Memphis, where Grossman “buried himself in work,” Olswanger said. A member of the congregation, she was one of his students.

“It took him a long time to articulate what he wanted to say,” she said, explaining why he waited so long to write the book. “His book tells how he lost his joy and his hope but how life goes on and how good things happen as well. It brings back your hope. Look at Jewish history,” she said. “The Jews have always gone on.

“It’s hard to override emotions with an intellectual choice,” she added, “but he saw things in his life and in his world” that lifted his spirits. For example, she said, he remembered how Israel was at a great disadvantage during the Yom Kippur war, yet the country overcame the challenge.

The literary agent said that in the course of working on the book with Grossman, she lost both her parents.

“Having him as a role model and teacher showed that as much as it hurts, you get over it and survive; you become joyful again,” she said. “It’s a very Jewish message. Jews have been through so much but we never give up hope. It’s a mitzvah to be joyful.”

The book, which will officially launch in the fall, is available from the publisher. For further information, visit Grossman’s website, www.rafaelgrossman.com.

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