Most of the people at the Soperton observance of the National Day of Prayer offered personal prayers. All of them were earnest and sincere and came in good variety. It seemed that everybody there was Christian.
As I listened, I began to consider the reference of America being a Christian nation. From the downtown gazebo I could look straight to the Ricks house and the funeral home next door, and I can remember when the Estroffs were my neighbors.
Hardly anyone in the prayer group had a reason to know the Estroffs and all they meant to Soperton and America. Some may identify the name with Vidalia's most successful clothing store. That family was close kin to the Soperton Estroffs.
A. Estroff was one of Soperton's early merchants. The Historical Society has a picture of his half-block of stores on Railroad Avenue in spitting distance of the gazebo. He was into clothing and hardware. Along about 1920 the Bank of Soperton sponsored a small collection of large pictures, one of which was of new farm implements arriving at A. Estroff's Soperton Hardware (now the Crow Mart building). The Estroff Department Store was right next door (the Southern Belles Florist). The office was at back on a second level over-looking the customers and merchandise.
A. Estroff immigrated to America from Russia. People said that he spoke English with a strong accent. He used his newspaper ads to praise America and to warn of the dangers of European despots like Hitler. He was decent, honest, and honorable, as was his entire family.
The family home stood on Georgia Avenue facing the Pullen house. At some point, before my time, the house burned and the new home (now Sammons Funeral Home) was built.
Mr. and Mrs. Estroff died together in a car wreck. Their son, Bill, and wife Faygie, had four children, and you may find their names on street signs between Wommack Avenue and the Adrian Road: Norman, Glenn, Sarabel. Oops, no Abram. But the youngest son does have a street, but with no sign. It's the dirt lane along the railroad that splits off Wommack Avenue. The houses on the lane have Wommack Avenue addresses, but they are really on Abram Lane.
*"WE WORK AND PLAY TOGETHERWE HEAR OUR COUNTRY'S CALL
REGARDLESS OF OUR RACE AND CREED
WE ARE AMERICANS, ALL"
The Estroff children grew up Jewish.
My siblings and I grew up Christian.
The Rickses went to the Soperton Baptist Church on Sunday.
The Estroffs went out of town to Synagogue on Saturday.
As individual families, the Estroffs and Rickses had some wide cultural differences. But the key thing... the important thing is....
WE PLAYED TOGETHER
Many years ago I saw Norman at the family business in Orlando, FL. I last saw Sarabel at their father's funeral in Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah. Abram still stops by in Soperton when business takes him this way. Mr. Bill attended the Million Pines Festival for many years. When he gave the keynote address at the 50th anniversary of the Soperton Lions Club he expressed his undying love of his community and club. Nellie Fuqua was a dearly loved member of the Estroff family, and she helped us Ricks children to grow up decent.
THE POINT IS
When we become like little children and we play together we learn Godly love. We can discuss politics, religion or whatever, but I don't do it with the Estroffs or any other person who I played with as a child.
I believe in Jesus. I believe He is the Way. But I know in my heart that God created freedom. He allowed Adam and Eve the freedom to choose.
I do not accept the idea called Judeo-Christian. There is no such thing. The two religions are poles apart. I try to respect every person, but we don't have to agree with everything to be friends. All we have to do is play with each other.
Jesus never denied his Jewish upbringing. He condemned the distorted teaching and examples set by the religious leaders of the time. He emphasized the value of all people. Jesus knew his human family tree. He knew that even the Arabs were children of Abraham.
The founding fathers, not just those of the Revolution, but also those who carved out the wilderness, knew first hand what it meant to be without freedom.
The European history of the Catholic Church shows hundreds of years of non-Christlike behavior, and suppressed religious freedom. The Church of England was suppressive. Every national government was suppressive. We can't understand it, because we've never been there.
America would not ever have been America without the Martin Luthers of Euope who fought the bonds of Catholic practice in favor of freedom of conscious, and individual access to the throne of grace.
Roger Williams proclaimed religious freedom as a Baptist in Rhode Island.
John Leland, a Baptist of Massachusetts and Virginia, expressed the real "founding father" concept of religious freedom:
"The notion of a Christian Commonwealth should be exploded forever...Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians." --- A Chronicle of His Time in Virginia
When we can respect our differences and play together, we move a tad closer to loving God supremely, loving each other more, and loving all those about us, especially our enemies.
PRAY FOR THE HEART OF AMERICA
IT BEGINS IN YOUR HEART AND MY HEART
William A. Ricks
* We sang this song in elementary school.