Us and them.

Author:Johnson, Maria Poggi

Six months out of grad school and into our first jobs, my husband and I fell in love with a house, a beautiful, eccentric Victorian. It was, of course, a fixer-upper, with a few caved-in ceilings, and it stood on a block that might be called borderline--there were some neglected houses nearby with bad landlords and worse tenants, a certain amount of drug activity, and there had been a shooting across the road the month before. This was why we could afford the house. On the plus side, there were a number of long-established stable families, and on the next block was a synagogue that was the center of a growing community of strictly observant Orthodox Jews. We persuaded ourselves that things couldn't get too bad, took a gamble, and bought the house.

Not only did things not get bad, they got very good indeed. Seven years later, the fixing-up is far from complete, but we have welcomed four babies into our home among the paint-pots and half-built bookcases, and the block, now free of trouble spots, has welcomed four new Orthodox Jewish families with twenty-three children among them. There is a thriving and cohesive community on our street, and to our surprise we have been cheerfully welcomed into many aspects of its life. We've been invited to numerous festive meals (of course, we could not return the favor, although my husband's single-malt scotch has been enthusiastically pronounced kosher), we have joined in neighborhood patrols when there was a spate of vandalism against the succahs, we have performed the office of what I believe is called a Shabbos goy, which involves setting the timer on an Orthodox family's heat and lights for the Sabbath when they forget to do so. We have taken our turn with the scissors when Binyomin had his first haircut at his third birthday party, and we have spent many hours sitting on doorsteps chatting idly and watching children practice riding tricycles. Having become good friends with a couple of families has made us automatically acquaintances of all the Orthodox in the neighborhood: children wave to me and mothers greet me when I walk past the Hebrew day school on my way to the office. We only wish that the sense of community among the Christians we know could rival what we have experienced among Orthodox Jews.

Living on the fringes of such a strong community is intriguing and deeply appealing in itself, and, of course, for us as Christians the fact that it is a Jewish community, intensely and vividly Jewish, is particularly meaningful. My theological views are much what they were--I'm a theologian by profession and had a pretty good handle on the whole Law/Gospel/Covenant thing at a theoretical level--but my grasp of and relation to my own faith has been altered profoundly by living on familiar terms with a religious reality that precedes and underpins my own, even as it differs dramatically. The imaginative and emotional resonances of the Holy Week liturgies and the Eucharist, to give just two examples, are deepened by the fact that I have friends for whom the phrase "paschal lamb" refers to what one eats on Passover.

Another effect has been the way I teach the...

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