They hit it off quite well when they first met years ago in South Florida…this rabbi and this preacher. It is not quite clear what drew the two clergymen to each other and it may matter only as a reminder of how unique this relationship was. Yet, it’s not your everyday occurrence that a preacher, and a Baptist preacher at that, and a Reform rabbi who would later tell a group of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship leaders, meeting in Birmingham, Alabama to discuss friendship with the Jews, that “The biggest problem you are going to have with the Jews is that you are Baptist.” Nevertheless these two, maybe “loose fits” among their peers, kept plugging away, slowly but surely, plowing through the stuff and various things that had kept their kind of people separated for decades. But in time, before either one realized it, these two souls began to trust and respect one another as individuals in whom what had divided their respective groups, never became a real issue. From that trust and respect, a twenty-five year relationship began and a friendship began to flourish.
As they talked during lunch one day, the preacher mentioned to the rabbi that he had a Jewish cousin living in the area, but he had not seen her since they were young children. To which he said, “What’s the name?” The preacher called the name and rabbi said, “…. She goes to my temple!” They were both surprised at the strange coincidence, so the preacher explained that the cousin’s mother was his father’s half sister who converted to Judaism about the time she married a Jewish merchant back in the 30’s or 40’s. He said, “Well, I’ll tell you one thing….her mother Sarah can make one of the best pound cakes you ever put in mouth.”
As the rabbi and the preacher saw each other every few weeks at various clergy gatherings and interfaith meetings their friendship continued to grow and in their routine conversations, the cousin’s name would occasionally pop up, in a passing reference sort of way.
But in time, the rabbi left the area and the preacher moved on, to say, ‘greener pastures.’
Years went by and though there had been no communication between the two, the rabbi and preacher stumbled upon each other at the Wildacers Conference Center, a Jewish retreat center in Little Switzerland, NC, where they were attending an interfaith workshop for those who were serious about working across faith lines. They were both somewhat surprised to see each other, not so much because neither knew the other was aware of the Wildacers Conference Center, but that they had not seen each other for so long—maybe eight or ten years—nor had they heard a word from or about one another.
The two quickly renewed their friendship. Early in this revived friendship, the preacher asked the rabbi when he last talked with his cousin. The rabbi said “Oh, we talk a lot and she and my wife email each other all the time.” Next time you talk with her, tell her ‘hello,’ for me, the preacher said. “O, I will. Your name comes up often.” Not knowing how much the rabbi knew, the preacher asked if he knew that the cousin’s mother, Sarah, had died. “Yeah, I buried her in Savannah,” he said in a matter-of-fact-fashion.
And in a twisted kind of way, this new revelation became another thing the rabbi and preacher had in common…..not often does a rabbi bury a preacher’s aunt.
After the interfaith workshop, the preacher and the rabbi kept in touch with the preacher even arranging for the rabbi to fly to North Carolina where he would conduct Friday evening worship service in the local temple and the Baptists would worship with the Jews and he would preach at the Baptist church on Sunday and the Jews would come and worship with the Baptists. The Baptist church paid for his flight from Sarasota, Florida and the temple gave him an honorarium.
Their respect and appreciation for each other continued to deepen as the preacher and the rabbi met for the annual interfaith workshop at Wildacers, a short, three or four day meeting for the preacher, but a somewhat extended period for the rabbi since rabbis, up-and-down the Atlantic Coast, would meet after the interfaith program for one of their study sessions.
Other than the fact that each was getting older, everything seemed to be going well for both these ‘men of the cloth’—-until, after the interfaith workshop of 2008, when the rabbi was diagnosed with a serious illness, one which could not be ignored. Word of his illness spread quickly among the participants in the interfaith workshop, many who lived as far north as New Hampshire, as far south as Florida, west to Ohio and even further to Oregon. Realizing the special relationship the rabbi’s family had with his cousin’s family, but not knowing whether she had actually heard of the news of the rabbi’s condition, the preacher decided to call the cousin…as much for her and the rabbi’s sake as for the preacher’s sake, since he had not actually been in contact with the cousin for many years. Not knowing for certain if the old telephone number he had was still good, the preacher call that number and as ‘fate’ would seem to have it, the cousin’s daughter answered the phone.
Despite the fact that the cousin already knew of the rabbi’s condition, the preacher’s telephone call reopened communication between him and the cousin. As often as not, time and space as well as religious customs and cultural traditions have ways of playing havoc with ‘kinship.’ Yet, in this case, those things that so often—and so long—make ‘strangers’ of cousins, ‘outsiders’ of family members, ‘foreigners’ of distant relatives were overcome by the shared concern of this Baptist preacher and his Jewish cousin for a rabbi friend. It was not some great cosmic, ‘burning-bush moment’…some heavenly battle between the forces of good and evil…or some profound holy act sent from on high that reunited these old relatives. It was simply a three- way friendship of a Baptist preacher, his Jewish cousin, and a rabbi whose health concerns became the bridge connecting the two cousins—separated for decades by a common clock, a common map and a common quest for spiritual meaning that had led the preacher and his Jewish cousin in different directions.
Of course this story sounds sort of ‘goddish’—which it probably is, since God, in His creative genius, used the friendship of a rabbi and a preacher to revive the kinship of a Baptist preacher and his Jewish cousin!
For Your Information:
Sarah Martin Segall is buried beside her late husband, Max Segall in the Jewish section of a Savannah cemetery in Savannah, Georgia.
Jesse D. Martin is buried next to his wife Louise Martin in the Christian section of a cemetery in Albany, Georgia.
Elaine Segall Singer lives with her husband Don, not too far from their two older children, in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
Rabbi Jeff Ballon, lives with his wife Ann Lois and serves as rabbi of Temple Bnai Sholom, Huntsville, Alabama where he is undergoing chemotherapy.
Rev. D. Wayne Martin, retired Baptist pastor and Chairman of the Interfaith Task Force of the CBF of Georgia, lives with his wife Iris in Lilburn, Georgia.
Dear Rabbi ,
I am humbled down writing this friendly message requesting you to teach us the truth of the word.
we have been taught for many years bad doctrine of teaching. i have gone through your website i decided to request you to teach us and you plant your work here in Africa.
I believe through you many things will change and many will receive good teachings.
many are ready to receive teachings from you, and if possible you to plan to come and start your work.
The reality is that many are lost due to false teachings. now i hope through you and your real teachings many will understand the fact.
send us teachings,
Bro Stephen and Flora