The neighborhood in which I grew up was very middle class. We had all types living there from professionals to laborers but everyone got along, at a distance, and it was “safe.” There were no drugs or serious mischief of any kind and the parents let us kids romp freely without worry. We rode bikes in the street (very little traffic), played baseball or football, depending on the season, and we even had woods and a creek nearby that gave us many opportunities to do a bit of safe exploration.
Our street was a long slow curve the ends of which attached to a moderately busy throughway but we always felt comfortably isolated from the mainstream. From our neighborhood we could see the world without being in it and yet we were very close to every possible amenity. Within two minutes “walk” we had a drive-in theatre, a children’s hospital, a church, a community hall (we had Cub Scout meetings there) and just a bit further away was an orphanage (with a dairy farm), a well developed shopping center and most of the kids could ride bikes to the local elementary school. It was a nice neighborhood situated close to everything you might need.
From the age of 8 to 16 I lived some of the most formative years of my life in this neighborhood. It was there that I developed some of the closest friendships I ever had and experienced many personal firsts: kiss, smoke, caught a fish, fight and there are a few I won’t mention. That neighborhood molded the perspective I have on life and the world. Even today, many years later, my experiences there are still the reason for many of my idiosyncrasies.
The one interesting thing about this neighborhood was the presence of several Jewish families. I recall at least six but there may have been more. Of the six, two lived on either side of us. The Rothenbergs lived on the left and the Aptakers lived on the right. We were close to these families. The kids from all three houses played together. The adults talked across the fence. My dad and Mr. Aptaker often discussed their common interest in gardening. From my youthful point of view I thought they were the only two people in the world who could enjoy gardening. I’ve since learned there are many other people with this same affliction.
Obviously, there were differences. They were Jewish and we were not. The differences, however, never got in the way. They were interesting points of discussion only. No one was judged. In fact, I learned about Hanukkah from our neighbors and looked forward every year to buttered Matzo bread. I still buy it and enjoy it today. Unfortunately, I don’t remember everything they taught me about Hanukkah. I was too busy crunching on the bread to take everything in but I do remember it being interesting. Eli (the oldest Rothendberg boy) and I had so much in common as kids the differences hardly registered. I swam in their pool on many a hot day.
These Jewish families were good neighbors. They were friendly and decent people. We were as close to them as we were to any others in the neighborhood, maybe closer. They weren’t spoken against or viewed condescendingly in our family or, as far as I know, by anyone else. The only squabbles we had with these neighbors had nothing to do with them being Jewish or us being Gentile. They were appreciated. We had no reason to think of them as anything other than good people who were good neighbors who happened to be Jewish.
That is why I was quite surprised when I first heard the term “anit-semite.” To be honest, I didn’t even know what that was. When it was explained I was really confused. How could anyone be anti-Aptaker? How could anyone not like the Rothenbergs. These were our friends. They harmed no one. I seriously doubted they were able to. “Anti-semitism” just didn’t sit well with me. That a holocaust could occur in modern times made me view humanity in a poor light not the Jewish people. One of our Jewish neighbors still had the tattoo from a death camp. It was really freaky.
Later, when I attended Bible college I was happily exposed to a lot of very positive data regarding the Jewish nation and it was there that I learned that they were God’s very special people even today. The list of contributions they have made to society is endless and growing. They are truly a God blessed people and the evidence proving this is astounding. Consider just a few of the facts:
- 23% of all Nobel Prize winners are Jewish.
- 38% of those receiving the US National Medal of Science are Jewish.
- 26% of all Kyoto Prize winners are Jewish.
Those numbers represent only the Jewish people who have won these prestigious awards. That doesn’t count the number of other Jewish people who have made enormous contributions to society and are professionals on whom we rely daily. For a more detailed list of their accomplishment you can go here.
These figures are even more note worthy when you consider the fact that Jewish people represent only 0.25% of the world’s population and they have accomplished these great things in spite of the enormous socio/political obstacles they’ve endured. Their numbers have been decimated and their talents ignored and yet they flourish and excel.
On top of these observations is the fact that God, through the Jewish nation, gave us our Bible. Every book in the Bible was written by or under the auspices of a Jew (Luke was a Gentile writing under the authority of Paul, the Apostle). We have them to thank for all the useful influences of the Bible and Jewish people have often been great examples of the good things the Bible teaches.
Tell me, where would we be without the Bible? Which religion, apart from those influenced by the Bible, would you prefer? Where would the world be without the contribution of the people who gave us our Bible? The next time you hear someone vilify a Jew or their nation remember these words…
“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless them that bless you, and curse him that curses you: and in you shall all families of the earth be blessed.” (God to Abraham, Genesis 12:2-3)