Belfast-born Ruth Griffiths met NIFI Co chair Steven Jaffe at a recent Israel event hosted by her church in Berkshire at which Steven was invited to speak. As well as enjoying listening to Steven’s familiar accent, Ruth followed up the meeting by reflecting on her own journey as a Christian towards an understanding for Israel and the Jewish people.
My journey began as a child growing up in Northern Ireland. My mother told us Jesus was Jewish and what Hitler had done to the Jews. My father read us Bible stories every morning – always from the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) – and his favourite person was Abraham.
Apart from a short detour to Nigeria, we moved to Magherafelt, Co Derry in the 1960s. I never understood why, but I was always intrigued by Jews. I took it that that was because, apart from a couple of Hindu shopkeepers and the occasional Muslim doctor passing through the hospital (where my father was a consultant), there was no one living around Magherafelt in those days beyond an even mix of Catholics and Protestants.
As an agnostic teenager, I didn’t understand why there was trouble in Israel, but I noticed it and the fact some folk wouldn’t buy Jaffa oranges! I remember the sinister masked gunmen in Munich in 1972 and wondered why there was so much hatred (i.e. anti-Semitism) going on as surely everybody knew Hitler had been a demonic figure and the Jews badly needed, and now had, their own state.
At Keele university during the mid-seventies, and now a Christian believer, I met a few Jews. The strange thing was that although I felt Jews were significant for some inexplicable reason, I didn’t particularly ‘click’ with the ones I knew on campus. So, I went trawling through the library, thinking that the reason for my interest might be found there, but found the Jewish texts quite impenetrable. (I’m not particularly patient!)
Nobody else talked about Jews. Then I met Trevor (we’ve been married for nearly 35 years) who was also a believer. Around 1975/76, he arrived to see me, very excited about the book he was carrying under his arm: Battle for Israel by Lance Lambert, who still lives in Jerusalem. This had been written just after the Yom Kippur war. Amongst the description of victory being snatched from the jaws of defeat, Lance talked about God looking after Israel in a way I’d never heard anybody talk to date, and a seed was planted.
One evening in the late eighties, I was ironing and listening to a Christian bible teacher called Roger Price. He began talking about why the Jews are significant and my ears pricked up! Roger demonstrated to me that the Jews have always been and still are God’s Am Kadosh – Holy people; He has not finished with them, He is inherently bound up with them. If they should disappear, be wiped out, if His word and promises about them are broken, then He is no longer God. I suddenly ‘got’ why I’d been so interested in the Jews and immediately began dancing round the ironing board with as much joy as I did when I realised I was expecting our first baby! The Jews were/are significant because of God.
In the early 90’s, we met up with Christians who didn’t just pray for Israel’s protection, but moved actively to help Jews make aliyah. I told my Russian-speaking mother, Deirdre Wade, who made 5/6 trips to Western Siberia with Operation Exodus to locate Jews and then help them make the long, momentous journey back home to the Land.
At her 70th birthday party, she imported a troupe of Jewish dancers who had everybody up and moving round the floor with memorable vigour!
Since then, Trevor and I have become increasingly aware of how our Christian faith has Hebrew roots. This has helped make it much richer and 3-dimensional. For example, I now understand that when Yeshua (Jesus) gave thanks for food, once before, and the other time after the meal, he was demonstrating an obedience to both the oral and written Torah. So by seeing Him as a Torah-observant rabbi, it helps me appreciate the bible much more as a whole – and God himself.
We completed a short course in Hebrew, taught by a member of our Reading church, but although I’m an EFL tutor, I didn’t get much further than ‘Na’im me’od!‘ To which my jovial husband responded ‘Me’od na’im!’. Our poor 20-something American teacher had never come across Bruce Forsyth, and so, didn’t get the joke!
And now I’ve met Steven, an Ulster-born Jew. Same geographical roots and travelling down sort of parallel lines.
I shall end by saying ‘Next year in Jerusalem“, because amazingly, we’ve never been. I do still wrestle with the tenth commandment when our friends come back from a trip! I guess God thinks it’s very important that I experience contentment before He paves the way for us to go ourselves