I’ve put off writing this piece for a long time. The subject is sensitive for a number of reasons. But given the things going on both here, in Europe and the Middle East these days, perhaps it’s time to visit this subject, although I’d be the first to admit the example I’m presenting isn’t the most profound.
My parents, after their divorce, both lived in Boynton Beach, Florida. My father lived the last fifteen years or so of his life in very poor health. When my wife and I would come to see him, sometimes after spending time he wouldn’t feel like going out to eat and would need a rest. So we were on our own.
We’d cast about in the phone book (this before the Internet) for a good place to eat. I spotted a restaurant called Streb’s, which recognised from my days at St. Andrew’s in Boca Raton. It had a location in Boynton Beach, not so far from where my father lived. So we ate there a couple of times.
Streb’s had two dishes which especially caught our taste. The first was an excellent centre-cut pork chop, a dish that’s very difficult to prevent turning into sole (as in shoe). The second was the baked sweet potato; it was the first restaurant we ever saw this at, and my wife, a big fan of sweet potatoes in just about any form, was enthusiastic about this. Sometimes when we’d get there in late afternoon we’d catch the early bird special, which was a good deal (although they included a mandatory tip, something we don’t see back in Tennessee).
When we went down during the spring, we’d see the advertisement for the Passover meal. We didn’t think anything about it; South Florida has a large Jewish population, and in any case we were impressed that such an Old Testament holiday was celebrated.
We finally got my father to go with us one night. He went. Once. And only once. We could not get him to go back. He would not explain why. When my brother spent their last Christmas together on the earth, they went to a restaurant called “The Clock”. I think it was named that because you sat there and struggled to get the food down while watching the time, hoping it would pass quickly and you’d get out of there.
My father passed away and my mother, brother, wife and I went down for the “final visit”. Again the question of eating came up and I suggested Streb’s. We went there and my mother immediately picked up on why my father didn’t like the place: it was a “Jewish restaurant”. My mother philosophically observed that it was really good to go and eat where the Jews did; they had no tolerance for poor food or bad service, so you were guaranteed a good meal if you ate with them.
I find it sad that my father would forego a decent meal because of an attitude like this. But he was raised in a WASP world where there were Gentiles and there were Jews and n’er the twain met. That kind of social segregation was the rule in Palm Beach when I grew up (and still is to a large degree). Fortunately the schools, public and private (including St. Andrew’s) were not, so I had Jewish friends.
My mother’s more “philosophical” attitude was conditioned by the fact that she was a Southerner. More to the point she was raised in a Baptist home where the Bible was taken literally and seriously. The Jews were and are “God’s Chosen People”. God did not choose the WASP or the Scots-Irish in this way. When Judah Benjamin (later to become the first Jewish person to hold a cabinet level position in North America, in the Confederacy) was attacked by a Kentucky colleague for his religion, he replied that, while his ancestors (or one of them) were on the mountain receiving the law of God, his attacker’s were in the remote fastness of Northern Europe, raising pigs. His attacker had to back down, not only because he knew the Bible, but because his own constituents were still doing the same thing!
Traditionally Christians have embraced what is called “replacement theology”, i.e. the concept that Christianity has basically replaced Judaism as God’s operating covenant. Much of the hostility that Christians have had towards Jews has been justified by this and other ideas. But, while the Jews (and many Christians) weren’t paying attention, people like J.N. Darby were positing from Scriptures that God’s purpose for the Jews hadn’t run out and that we should regard them more favourably.
Now with the Iranians pursuing nuclear weapons, the Egyptians governed by the Muslim Brotherhood, the Wahhabis still enthroned (literally) in Saudi Arabia and the West (especially the Europeans) in fear of these people, anti-Semitism, made odious by the Holocaust, is making a comeback, and becoming fashionable again. But our memories are short.
We have forgotten that the Jews have survived the destruction of their nation and their Temple under the Romans, plus the endless persecutions of Christian and Muslim alike over the centuries. Blaise Pascal noted that the continuation of the Jews was a divine act, and he was right. But we have also forgotten all the Nobel Prizes awarded to Jews for all kinds of accomplishments, and that Palestine was a sparsely populated Ottoman backwater when the British established the Mandate after World War I. Today Israel is a (maybe the) leader in technology, even courting the Russians, who have been unenthusiastic about Israel, to say the least.
The Jews have awoken to the fact that, in the Evangelicals, they have a reliable ally. Same has a memory of some of the same things my mother had from the Bible, that supremely Jewish book. They remember the mighty heroes they learned about in Sunday School–Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David and at the end Jesus Christ–were all Jews. They remember that Paul, for all the differences he had with his fellow Israelites, proclaimed that they were still at the centre of God’s plan. So they have become the darlings of the State of Israel (well, at least the Tourism ministry).
Many Jewish people find this astonishing, even disturbing. Many are sceptical to the point of atheism; being affirmed on the earth because of a literal interpretation of the Scriptures is hard to take. But why? The Jews, masters at appreciating and laughing at the ironic and nonsensical in life, should be the first to catch the drift of this strange turn of events.
But it’s those Scriptures, and the living witness of those who are descended from the people who walked their pages (or scrolls), which confirm the Jews and Judaism. God’s promises are still true, and it’s not good–and that includes eating bad food at a restaurant–not to live in them.
They will come from far away. They will come from the north and from the west, and they will come from the land of Sinim. Sing with joy, you heavens! Rejoice, you earth! Break into shouts of joy, you mountains! The LORD has comforted his people and will have compassion on his humble people. But Zion said, “The LORD has abandoned me. My Lord has forgotten me.” Can a woman forget her nursing child? Will she have no compassion on the child from her womb? Although mothers may forget, I will not forget you. I have engraved you on the palms of my hands. Your walls are always in my presence. Your children will hurry back. Those who destroyed you and laid waste to you will leave you. Look up, look around, and watch! All of your children are gathering together and returning to you. “I solemnly swear as I live,” declares the LORD, “you will wear all of them like jewels and display them on yourself as a bride would.” (Isaiah 49:12-18)