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Gary Adkisson: Love thy neighbor as thyself

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A friend of mine from Kentucky shared a story recently which I then researched.

It is an oft-repeated story on many websites, but admittedly may be more fable, parable or allegory than factual; historical fiction perhaps, but worth sharing as it conveys a meaningful message.

The story goes like this. In Crown Heights, New York, there was a Jew, Yankel, who owned a bakery.

He survived the camps. He once said, “You know why it is that I’m alive today? I was a kid, just a teenager at the time. We were on the train, in a boxcar, being taken to Auschwitz. Night came and it was freezing, deathly cold, in that boxcar.

"The Germans would leave the cars on the side of the tracks overnight, sometimes for days on end without any food, and of course, no blankets to keep us warm,” he said. “Sitting next to me was an older Jew -- this beloved elderly Jew -- from my hometown I recognized, but I had never seen him like this.

"He was shivering from head to toe, and looked terrible. So I wrapped my arms around him and began rubbing him, to warm him up. I rubbed his arms, his legs, his face, his neck. I begged him to hang on. All night long; I kept the man warm this way. I was tired, I was freezing cold myself, my fingers were numb, but I didn’t stop rubbing the heat onto this man’s body.

"Hours and hours went by this way. Finally, night passed, morning came, and the sun began to shine. There was some warmth in the cabin, and then I looked around the car to see some of the other Jews in the car. To my horror, all I could see were frozen bodies, and all I could hear was a deathly silence.

"Nobody else in that cabin made it through the night -- they died from the frost.

"Only two people survived: the old man and me ... The old man survived because somebody kept him warm; I survived because I was warming somebody else ...”

Let me tell you the secret of Judaism. When you warm other people’s hearts, you remain warm yourself. When you seek to support, encourage and inspire others, then you discover support, encouragement and inspiration in your own life as well. That, my friends, is “Judaism 101.”

I believe it is also Christianity 101. Ecclesiastes 4:10-12 talks about the power of two versus one. “For if one falls down, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to help him up! Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? And though one may be overpowered, two can resist ...”

I am thankful we have people in our community like Sister Kathleen Atkinson and the many volunteers at Ministry on the Margins, who daily live out this story. Likewise, the United Way, Heartland Cares, Heavens Helpers, Global Neighbors and so many more agencies that carry out God's work.

But it isn’t enough for us to simply make a donation and let ministries and nonprofits do this work. None of us is exempt from the command; “Thou shalt Love thy neighbor as thyself.”

In fact, in Matthew 22:36-40 Jesus said loving your neighbor and loving God with all your heart, soul and mind are inseparable and the basis for all other teaching.

As we approach this holiday season let’s not only give generously, but love generously because it saves not only the warmed, but the warmer.

Gary Adkisson is publisher of The Bismarck Tribune.

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