Dear Ocean County, Love your Jewish Neighbor
What is happening in our county
In our current times, we are watching our nation make many efforts to overcome racism and prejudice in all its many forms. As we know, America is one giant melting pot, full of various people groups from all over the world. Because of our nations polity, a people group that are large in number who live in one location can begin making a cultural impact on the area, and they are free to do so. Any city in America displays this through neighborhoods like Chinatown and Germantown as seen in Philadelphia and New York City.
At times, in more suburban areas, certain people groups do the same. Due to the fact that in these areas, population density is much less than cities (and the mere psychology of Suburbia is one of comfort and the idea of “my space” verses “our space” as is more common in cities), the sprawl of a certain people groups with a way of life different from what you commonly find around America’s suburbs is felt more severely. People can feel like their space is being invaded. Thus, people take it much more personally.
The story of this inevitably leads to the offended side looking at the culturally different, sprawling people group among them with a raised eye brow. This group commonly dresses differently, lives with different customs, and even celebrates different holidays. These aspects tend to make the mingling with this people group by the surrounding suburb a bit more challenging within commerce and even public education and transportation.
Yes, I'm writing about the sprawling Jewish Community in Ocean County
I am writing this as a pastor of a new church in the Point Pleasant area, and I’m writing from Ocean County. It is no secret what I have in mind while writing this: the immensely growing Jewish population in the Lakewood and Jackson areas.
As a Christian pastor, I see the things spoken against the Jewish community, and it deeply saddens me. I regularly hear people speak harsh and ill works about them. These words have come from my neighbors, my own congregation, and yes - even from my own mouth. We seem to think that our tongue has received a free pass to speak this way concerning our local Jewish community in ways that we would never speak of other minority groups around us.
Some may say that this is because of how certain people within the Jewish Community have treated those within the larger Ocean County areas. As we know, in any community of any people group, there are always those who act and behave poorly. That is inexcusable. But in our current situation, when that happens, it unfortunately leads to the classic stereotyping of an entire community due to the already, somewhat unrelated existing tensions that underlie the relationship.
Now I know not all of Ocean County is Christian, and I cannot expect people who do not identify as Christian to live in a Christian manner. All I desire to do here is speak of what the Christian Scriptures teaches concerning the love we need to have for our neighbor. We need to look at the vision of what we find there, because it comes from the mouth of our Jewish Messiah, Jesus himself.
Learning from Jesus's parable of The Good Samaritan
In the Israel of Jesus’ day, there was a lot of tension between two people groups who lived close to one another - the Jews and the Samaritans. And there was an understanding that the Jews should love their neighbor, but there was a confusion as to the definition of who exactly their neighbor is. Is our neighbor those who live like us, our friends, those who dress like us and act like us and celebrate our same holidays? If we are willing to be honest, these questions have not changed much in 2,000 years.
Jesus gives a response to this question by the parable of a Good Samaritan. The story is simple - there was a man who got robbed on a road. The people you would have expected to care for him did not, but stepped on the other side of the road and left the man for dead.
But the man who stopped to help was - as you know - a Samaritan. The ones who looked different, worshipped differently, lived differently, had different customs and a different way of life. Jesus’ point was this - loving your neighbor looks like taking care of each other and serving one another and helping one another. And in that story, the Samaritan, the people group the Jews were at enmity with, ended up being the very neighbor that the man needed.
The Scriptural message is clear. Being a good neighbor exceeds ethnic and cultural boundaries. The Jewish community in Ocean County - they live right next to us. And some of us live among them. The Bible calls Christians to be good neighbors to them. Jesus modeled this while he was on this earth. Help them. Care for them. Open doors for them when you entering the grocery store. If they are behind you in line at the coffee shop, buy them a cup of coffee.
Love Your Neighbor, Expecting Nothing In Return
What if we did so, and we received nothing in return? The Christian vision for neighborly love does not require that the recipient of our love return our actions - we are called to still be good to them while expecting nothing in return (St. Luke 6:27-36). Even if there is nothing in it for us, we must love those around them.
I can only pray that us who are non-Jewish in Ocean County can learn to be good neighbors to our fellow Jewish community. They deserve it. Not because of what they have done, not because of how they have or have not treated or loved us - but because they are human beings like you and I, human beings who are in the Image of God.