Archived Sections, From the Editor

Take a Jew to lunch this week

You might just learn something to enrich your own faith

Through early May Guthrie Theatre was staging William Shakespeare’s play, “The Merchant of Venice.” This tale confronts us with the wealthy Christian merchant, Antonio, and the wealthy Jewish moneylender, Shylock. It quickly becomes clear that these two men hate each other.
Antonio hates Shylock because he’s a Jew. Shylock hates Antonio because Antonio hates him. Shakespeare’s own view of those in the Jewish community is ambiguous. He has the citizens of Venice, virtually all Christians, baiting and reviling Shylock. All who are anti-semitic when they sit down to watch this play will find fuel for their prejudices in Shakespeare’s lines. Those who believe Jews are wrongly treated in society will resonate with Shylock’s speech: “If you prick us, do we not bleed? … If you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”
Not long ago I took a step I had meant to take for about 40 years. (What took me so long? Lack of opportunity … procrastination … avoidance.) I invited a Jew to lunch. I’d told him in advance, “I want you to tell me what you think Christians should understand about Jews.” The Jew in question was Rabbi Barry Cytron, who heads the Jay Phillips Center for Jewish-Christian Learning, and as it happens, he ended up taking me to coffee. He suggested to me, “We should also be asking what Jews should understand about Christians.” That was a pretty good sign we’d have a good exchange. We did.
We reflected during our conversation about some tragic realities. One of them was that, historically, predominantly Roman Catholic St. Paul has not treated Jews nearly as badly as has predominantly Lutheran Minneapolis. We wondered together why that should be. (For years Jews could not buy houses in Minneapolis, which led to their congregating instead in St. Louis Park.)
Our conversation was wide-ranging. It took two hours. I thought they might throw us out of Starbucks, we were there so long.
After that conversation I was convinced of one thing. Every Lutheran should take a Jew to lunch or coffee. We’d all be richer for it.