First Steps to Loving and Understanding Our Jewish Neighbors - page 2

 


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First Steps to Loving and Understanding
Our Jewish Neighbors

by Randy Newman, M.Div., Ph.D.
Senior Teaching Fellow for Apologetics and Evangelism,
C.S. Lewis Institute

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  For the purpose of this book, however, we don’t need to explore the debate about “Who is a Jew?” any further. The Jewish people you’re likely to meet won’t be wondering if they’re really Jewish. They’ll either identify themselves as such or not. Some, to be sure, may be wondering what that means. They may not have been raised in a very observant family and now they would like to connect to their roots. In fact, a growing number of Jewish people in America are reclaiming or re-establishing or finding for the first time their Jewish roots during their middle age. These kinds of newfound identities could be fertile soil in which to cultivate conversations about the Messiah. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s wait a bit before we explore how we reach out.
  For now, it’s worth reflecting further on understanding who we’re talking to. Jewish people love to point out that Judaism is more than a religion. And it’s more than a race. And it’s more than an ethnicity. Some like to say, “It’s a way of life.” Jewish people weave together doctrine, diet, humor, tone of voice, and a dozen other aspects of life all under the banner of “Jewish.” Part of the reason why Jewish evangelism is so difficult is that most Jewish people see Christianity as so alien. Being Jewish is not just having a different set of beliefs. It’s different flavors of food, different ways to tell jokes, different views about politics, and different planets of social customs. If I had to condense what it means to be Jewish to four prevailing themes, I’d say they’re pain, pride, pleasure, and promise.

Pain

  I’ve already mentioned enough things to highlight the reality of pain in the Jewish mindset. A fair number of Jewish holidays commemorate times when enemies tried to wipe us out but God spared us. For Passover we remember our deliverance from slavery to the Egyptians with a feast called a seder. For Purim, we rejoice that wicked Haman’s plot to kill us didn’t succeed and we nosh on cookies called hamantaschen. For Hanukkah, we dedicate ourselves to God, who empowered us to retake the temple from Antiochus Epiphanies, and we eat potato pancakes. One Jewish comic quipped that most of our holidays could be summarized with three short sentences: “They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat.”

Pride

  Because we have survived so much, against such odds, so many times, we have developed a kind of Jewish pride that has been, in my opinion, both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because it builds upon itself. It looks at past accomplishments and spurs us on to even greater ones. Not only do we survive persecutions but we also produce Nobel Prize winners, cure diseases, write masterpieces, advance social improvements, and rise above our circumstances. We can do anything—or so we think. This kind of pride has enabled the country of Israel to thrive economically and agriculturally even though it consists largely of desert. The Jewish people have developed a will to excel even when the odds are against them. When Jewish people reflect on their corporate rags-to-riches status, they grow more energized to excel still more.

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