Friday, March 02, 2007

Somewhere in Early Twentieth-Century Jaffa Is a Broom I’d Like to Borrow

The great-grandmother of a friend of mine lived in Jaffa in the early twentieth century. She and her family were observant Jews, and when a missionary came to call one day, she grabbed her broom and chased him down the street. It’s a famous family story, one that her great-grandson and his wife and family, dear friends of mine for nearly twenty years, tell with pride.

I could have used that broom last week.

I was sitting on a local main street waiting for a bus home. Since the bus stop was full, I sat on a nearby bench, but since for some unfathomable reason the municipality installed the benches facing away from the street, I found myself twisting around a bit, trying to keep an eye on the road.

It was then that a tall, slightly heavy-set man approached me. He was holding a folded piece of paper in his hand with a title printed on it in Hebrew and Aramaic. I took a quick look at it without touching it. “What’s that?” I asked him, giving him the frosty tone and glare I reserve for people who try to give me unsolicited literature.

“It’s about Yeshua,” he answered.

Great, I thought, a missionary. One of those creeps who tries to get Jews to abandon Judaism by using deliberate mistranslations and outright lies. Aloud, I said only, “Oh,” and pointedly turned away. He got the message and walked off.

Unfortunately, he had a partner, a tall, slender man with a beard who also approached me, holding out another copy of the tract. For some reason, I found myself getting into a debate with him, but after a few moments I pulled myself up short and told him, “Look, this is dumb. I don’t even know why I’m debating with you. This isn’t a matter for debate. I think that what you’re doing is disrespectful and a hutzpah. I would never ask you to adopt my way of life. Besides, all your pretty talk can’t hide the fact that your faith teaches that if I don’t believe as you do, I’m going to go to Hell when I die. My religion is much kinder. It teaches that the righteous of all faiths have a place in the World to Come.“

He asked me to define “righteous,” and I admit it, I was taken in. (This is why I never joined the debating team, or perhaps why I should have.) Of course, the definition is not the point. The inclusiveness is. I told the missionary once again that I wasn’t the slightest bit interested, and he said that I should pray to understand the text of Isaiah 53. I retorted, “I don’t have to,” and there it ended, or so I thought.

Several minutes later, my bus still hadn’t come. As I waited, I watched both missionaries join up with each other. One of them approached a man who was sitting in a wheelchair, his Filipina caregiver beside him, and handed him a tract, which the man politely took.

At that point, my blood boiled over. I leaped to my feet and started yelling in a voice that could be heard down the block: “That’s disgusting! To give missionary material to a man in a wheelchair who can’t talk back to you—that’s sick!

The two missionaries glanced at each other and back at me with an expression that said, Let’s get away from this crazy woman!

And off they went.

I don’t flatter myself that they walked away because of me. They probably had somewhere else to go, other things to do, more tracts to try to foist on unsuspecting Jews.

But oh, how my hands itched for my friend’s great-grandmother’s broom.

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