An unexpected detour to a Jewish community near Tel Aviv has left my husband and me pondering how we could emulate this beautiful model of welcoming strangers with kindness in church.
Towards the end of a cultural and historical tour of Israel, my husband and I caught COVID-19 and were left to our own devices in our Jerusalem hotel. Our tour group had to keep going without us while we stayed cooped up in our hotel room. We knew no one in Jerusalem. We had no one to talk to except each other and nothing to do except look at the four walls.
That was when my husband reached out to an old colleague who lived in Israel but discovered he happened to be visiting Australia. Hearing of our plight, his wife Eva contacted Michael, inviting him to come and visit her even though he hadn’t seen her for over 30 years and was little more than a stranger. She reached out in a way that paralleled the Good Samaritan, the Bible story that tells us to help people regardless of their faith and culture.
Eva organised transport from Jerusalem to the moshav where she lives, a settlement of about 250 families called Bnei Zion, in a rural area north of Tel Aviv. She introduced us to her environment and her community of friends, welcomed us into her home and took us to a Shabbat dinner. (By then, we were Covid negative.)
(A moshav is a cooperative agricultural community similar to a kibbutz, except that homes and farms are individually owned. Eva explained that while a kibbutz is an expression of communist ideology, a moshav is more like socialism in that it is a step towards capitalism.)
All of Eva’s friends also welcomed us in the most beautiful way. We had wonderful conversations around the dinner table. Even though we were of a different faith, they respected where we stood.
It was truly a gift of God that we were welcomed warmly into an Israeli community, away from the tourist trail of group tours that clogged up the main historical sites in Israel.
Eva and her husband Peter built their gorgeous two-level home 20 years ago and it looks over a large plot of agricultural land where decorative ferns, fruit and vegetables grow in fecund abundance. These are owned and sold by their neighbour, but Eva is allowed to pick modest quantities for her own table.
What was striking was when Eva invited friends to a brunch at her house the next day, the guests included her stepson and his family. It was so touching to see the closeness between her and her step-granddaughter. We just felt that we’d entered into a community where sharing with one another was practised in a very genuine way.
Looking at what we do as Australian Christians, even though we all go to church regularly, we very much live our separate lives, whereas these people are committed to having a celebratory dinner together once a week. Everybody is welcome – all generations, friends, strangers, visitors – all unapologetically getting together and enjoying the best food and wine. The feeling was lovely. There was no uneasiness between people at all (as can blight family dinners in Australia). Everyone came together, singing the Shabbat greeting song. And the meal they provided was so lavish, cooked from the heart, for pure, shared enjoyment.
Imagine if we could do that as a Christian community, just get together and have a meal once a week.
The message we gleaned was that we could do the same in our churches; we could bring strangers into our communities and look after them as they did. After all, Eva reached out to someone she’d had no contact with for 30 years, organised transport and even took us to the airport in Tel Aviv. She went out of her way to welcome strangers.
Imagine if we could do that as a Christian community, just get together and have a meal once a week. Just relax and chill out; you don’t have to say anything if you don’t want. If you’ve got someone in town visiting, bring them along. In Australia we’ve make excuses like, “Oh, we are all nuclear families – they’re collective communities. It’s different, and easier for them.” But each of them was in their own house on their own land. They’re not so different from us.
It was such a precious 24 hours – an unexpected treasure – and left us inspired to try to create this spirit of regular communal celebration in our own church fellowship.