Seems I am always drawn to friendly Australians. Fr. John Grieg, a gentle giant-of-a-priest (his hands would make two of mine), who is vice-rector of a seminary in the heart of Sydney, joined me for church last Sunday. Then the two of us rode Jerusalem’s ultra-modern, light-rail “tram” from the Old City’s “New Gate” out Jaffa (biblical Joppa) Road, to an open-air market in a predominately Jewish area known as Mahane Yehuda.
Our destination was a kosher eatery known as Fishenchips, a place that features–guess what? Good as London, the best in Jerusalem, and maybe the rest of the world. We placed our order at what turned out to be no more than a very efficient and inviting market stall, and then found a table across the alley and among the myriad storefronts selling fruits, vegetables, pastries, spices, teas, coffees, and assorted “Judaica” (menorahs, yarmulkes, Star-of-David jewelry, etc.).
When we decided the piped-in rock music was too loud for conversation, we moved to another table–but ran directly into a young, red-haired Israeli about to sit at the same place. Affable John invited youthful Peter to join us, and to my surprise Peter did. Turned out that he was a “Kiwi”–a transplanted New Zealander, so my Aussie friend found it easy to engage him in conversation.
“Peter” is a biblical name, but you don’t hear it often in present-day Jewish contexts. The young man acknowledged that his conversion to Judaism was still in process. He and his family had been nominally Christian back in New Zealand, but his father’s relentless search for “answers” had led the entire family to relocate to Israel, embrace a different faith, and take up life as “settlers” living just north of Beersheva.
But life seems so hard here, I observed. While New Zealand, John added, is such a serene and beautiful place. Regardless of what his parents decided, why would a young man ever want to give that up? (And especially since immigrating to Israel as a Jew would lead quickly to his induction into the IDF–the Israeli army.)
“I want life to be real,” Peter answered. “Everything is too easy back home. Nobody there has to work for anything. But to survive and be happy here, you have to struggle. For me, struggling is part of what makes life real.”
What came to mind were the words of Jesus, upon greeting young Nathanael in Galilee: “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile” (John 1.47). Soon young Peter will join the ranks of the sons of Jacob-Israel, whose very name means “wrestles with God.”
And who can say? Perhaps amid his own struggling, that red-haired New Zealander will one day come face-to-face with Him whom Nathanael named “the Son of God, the King of Israel” (John 1.49). For that we can pray.
From Jerusalem to our friends in Greensboro, Shabbat Shalom!