‘I get the impression you are Jewish’

Rolfe Neill
Rolfe Neill

From a column published April 10, 1977:

“I didn’t know whether to send you an Easter Card or not,” began the letter from the lady on Lockridge Road, “because for some strange reason I get the impression you are Jewish.”

Me? Jewish?

Ma’am, I am not worthy.

Einstein’s equations elude me. Saul Bellow writes masterpieces beyond the grasp of my creativity. Anne Frank’s young courage I could not measure up to.

No discovery bears my name like that of Dr. Jonas Salk identifies the vaccine to prevent polio. No inventive genius such as Sarnoff is named Neill.

As a percentage of the world’s population, Jews are too small to register as even a statistical blip. Yet, 15 percent of the Nobel Prizes have gone to Jews. In the arts, in education, in the professions, in concern for humanity, in philanthropy - who exceeds the Jews? Who equals them?

The letter writer continues: “So, since God is the root and Jesus is the new tree above the ground, then doesn’t that explanation mean that it will be very easy for Jews, who were cut off from God because they did not accept Jesus Christ as God’s son and His new religion as what He wanted them to follow, to convert and be accepted back by God?

“Are you Jewish and. . . . What do you think?”

Thank you for the compliment of thinking I’m Jewish. As for what I think:

Religion is so personal that generally I stay away from discussing it. I have my opinions. Once, long ago in my early teens, I decided to become a Presbyterian missionary. Fortunately, for the church and myself, that passed. Today, my views are a good distance from there.

I am uncomfortable judging the worthiness of another’s religion. I can accept your saying you have the True Way - but only if you will acknowledge that someone else may be right and you in error.

If I were a judge, I would be forced on the circumstantial evidence of Jewish contributions to the brotherhood of man to admit Jews to the Kingdom of God, however one chooses to define that Kingdom.

Isn’t evil so pervasive that those who combat it need all the help they can get?

Isn’t the only true definition of religion to be found in the daily life of its adherents, and not in the inscribed creed of denomination?

To me, the most difficult part of religion isn’t defining it but applying it. Perhaps we waste time in theological tap dancing because in our hearts we aren’t ready for the hard task of being brotherly.

Neill is a former Observer publisher.