I was raised in the Bronx and like many other Jewish boys who grew up there, I attended Talmud Torah daily from 3 to 6 P.M. There I learned Hebrew, Jewish history and Jewish culture, and I was taught the traditions and obligations of being a Jew. My father’s tailor shop was located only two blocks away from my Hebrew school. Directly across the street from my father’s shop was one of the largest churches I had ever seen. I passed by there every day as I walked to my father’s shop after Hebrew school. Then at 7 P.M. my father and I went home together.
One December as I was walking to my father’s store, I was met with an unusual sight in front of the large church. I stopped dead in my tracks. There on the lawn stood three figures of turbaned men, each carrying a box. Nearby there were several life-sized toy animals (cows and goats). There was also a small shed, and in it, two more figures, obviously a mother and father, on either side of a little doll that lay in a wooden box filled with hay. Above this entire scene I saw a wooden sign that even a seven-year-old could read. It said, Born is the King of Israel.” I might not have known much when I was seven, but I did know that we Jews were Israel and they, the Gentiles who attended that church, were not. The first thing that came to my mind was, “The people who delivered this stuff went to the wrong address. They should have brought it down the street to the synagogue.”
I ran to my father’s shop as fast as my legs could carry me and yelled, “Daddy, Daddy! Somebody made a big mistake. OUR king is on THEIR lawn!” My father smiled and assured me that there was no mistake. He told me that the baby in the manger didn’t belong in front of the synagogue. That king, he said, was not our king. From that point on, I wondered about this strange, strange thing: that Gentiles would acknowledge that baby who was born the King of Israel and we Jews would not.
Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” (John 1:49)