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John Wilson

Stranger in a Strange Land

Greatly love the intellect

I was born in 1948, a few days after the founding of the State of Israel, and like many evangelical Christians of my generation I grew up amid speculation about what that might mean eschatologically. Many preachers were sure what it meant: We had entered the End Times. My mother and grandmother were not quite so dogmatic, but they were nevertheless convinced that the return of the Jews to Palestine was an event of immense spiritual significance. God's covenant with the Jews was still in force, and they had a prominent role yet to play in salvation history.

In any case, I was raised to be philo-Semitic. But I didn't know anyone Jewish, not even casually, and my ignorance of Jewish life and history was almost complete.

In September of 1962, having graduated that June from a small Lutheran school that ended with eighth grade, I began ninth grade at a large public school, John Marshall Junior High, in Pomona, California. The school was already showing signs of the changes that the sixties would bring, but there were also touches that appear in retrospect as incongruous vestiges of an earlier era.

One such vestige was "The Ambassadors," a group of students selected to "represent" the school. We were told: "You are the cream of the crop." We were given blue sweaters to wear, like lettermen, and we met at the beginning of each day as a class (our "home room").

A newcomer seeking friends, I quickly fell in with a group of three other "Ambassadors": Richard (known as Dick), another Richard, and George. We ate lunch together, we talked, we watched girls, we loaned one another books.

Then one day, still fairly early in the schoolyear, when the four of us were walking along, I heard someone say, "Here come the Jews." That was all. The tone was unmistakably unfriendly, but there was no name-calling, nothing in the least dramatic.

Ridiculous and improbable as it may seem, I didn't know until that moment that my new friends ...

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