Abe works in The Fellowship’s Jerusalem office, so I had only interacted with him via email. I was eager to grab a bite with him after work when he was visiting our Chicago office. It was exciting to get time with someone who lives in Israel and also works at The Fellowship.
Even though I had just met him in person, as we talked over dinner it really felt like we were becoming fast friends – kindred spirits. We discussed the things most normal young guys talk about: work, life, the news, girls, biblical prophecy, etc. …
Although Abe’s Jewish and I’m Christian, I was really amazed at how similar our spiritual journeys seemed to be. Also interesting was how we were exposed to the other’s religion through working for The Fellowship: Abe interacts with Christians almost every day as he manages The Fellowship’s tourism efforts, and I routinely deal with topics related to Judaism as The Fellowship’s social media specialist.
As It Is or as It Should Be?
I was intrigued by Abe’s observations about Christianity.
“Christians are good at seeing the world as it should be. But where we (Jews) balance you out is that we see the world as it is.”
“Go on,” I said.
Abe gestured to the people around us in the café. “All these people – the Christians, atheists, agnostics – they are all somehow a part of God’s plan for the world. Jews believe that.”
“Huh.” I had to think about that for a moment.
“After all,” Abe continued, “you are fulfilling OUR prophecies.”
“What do you mean?”
“Think about it. We HAVE to be different to fulfill God’s plan. How can His covenants with us continue if the Jews don’t remain a separate people? How can the prophecies be fulfilled of the Jews being restored to Israel by the nations [Isaiah 49:22] if everyone is the same? Our differentness is part of God’s plan.”
I had to admit, he had a point.
Rituals vs. Relationship?
Abe also told me what he has learned from the Christians he interacts with.
“Your idea of a personal relationship with God is one we Jews struggle with very much,” he said. “But it has really helped my faith.”
“For instance, if I miss Minyan [a Jewish prayer recited three times a day], I’ve started just talking to God instead. It’s great! I’ve realized that I can still have a relationship with God on a face-to-face level outside of that ritual.”
This core concept of Christianity – a concept I’d been taught and practiced my whole life – had been totally foreign to Abe.
Abe continued, describing how he thinks Christians often miss out when we downplay the value of faith rituals so integral to Judaism.
“Our daily habits become who we are, so if we want to become more like God, why wouldn’t we want to prioritize daily prayers and other rituals and practices in our life? Especially those that affect our moral values – like respect for nature, keeping kosher, honoring people, giving to charity.”
Another good point. I had often downplayed the role of ritual, but Abe’s comment helped me think about how it forms one’s identity, and how ritual and tradition have been instrumental in helping the Jewish people retain their culture and values as they lived without a homeland for the past 2,000 years.
Differences and Similarities
It was getting late, but we both shared some final thoughts.
“I wish you could see how everyone everywhere is a part of God’s purposes – whether they agree with you or not,” Abe said to me.
I agreed and replied, “I wish you saw what I see in Jesus,” to which Abe responded with a conciliatory nod and shrug.
Not wanting to end our night focusing on our differences, I asked him where we think Christians and Jews can work together.
“Ultimately, Jonathan, we both want the world to be a better place. We both want to work for that better world. And we both pray to, and worship, the same God, even if we approach Him in different ways.”
Abe continued as he gestured to the two of us, “And this, right here, is The Fellowship.”
“This Is The Fellowship”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“All that’s been happening this evening. The talking, debating, sharing experiences, learning from each other. This is what The Fellowship is all about! We need these conversations to make us better. If we’re all the same, how can there be fellowship? We need to be different to have fellowship with one another.”
“Do you say that to all your tour groups?” I added. We both laughed.
I was reminded of Proverbs 27:17: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” This verse is often used to extol the value of friendship, but the image it uses is more complex than that. Iron must be worked for long periods of time before it is useful for anything. And sometimes God uses people who are very different than us to show us aspects of ourselves – and to reveal more aspects of Him.
I truly feel like I was “sharpened” by my conversation with Abe, even if I was challenged by some of the things I heard.
And you know what? We went to dinner AGAIN the next night! #Fellowship
-Jonathan Goldthwaite is The Fellowship's social media specialist