Zev Aelony’s story
During Zev Aelony’s involvement with Koinonia from 1959-1965, he was one of the infamous “Americus Four” arrested for voter registration of African-Americans during the civil rights movement. The Four—Zev, Ralph Allan, John Perdew, and Don Harris—were tried for treason, a crime which carries the death penalty in Georgia, but were exonerated.
“I was strongly influenced by a visit by two young soldiers to visit Clarence Jordan to which Clarence invited me. The two youths in uniform came after having read the first of Clarence’s “Cotton Patch” translations of a book of the Christian bible, and having been told by their pastor that the author lived nearby. After some iced shrub (a soft drink then made there from the skins of muscadines after they had been pressed for grape juice) was served to all, one of the teenagers noted the gold cross on Clarence’s bible and said that they were part of the same mission and pointed to the emblems on their sleeves, bloodied swords pointed upward.
“Clarence pointed out that they were the opposite of the cross and gently led them into a discussion of what they were getting into. They were on their way to Vietnam (this was before we acknowledged troops were there) to defend the Christians against being slaughtered by a tiny Buddhist Communist invasion. They suggested that we had probably never heard of the country. They themselves had never heard of it prior to a lecture they and their unit had been provided to prepare for their mission. They didn’t really know where it was.
“Clarence didn’t try to pressure them, but very gently discussed the error about the Christian majority and moreover discussed his own refusal to fight in WWII, and why he thought that to have done so would have been wrong even after having committed himself in the ROTC. He pointed out that for Jesus it was wrong to use a sword even to defend God (the reference was to John’s having grabbed a knife from the Seder table to give Jesus a chance to run through the olive trees and easily get away from the heavily armored soldiers, and Jesus telling him to put it down, that that wasn’t the way they should act even to defend the Son of God). In the jail I had the opportunity to read several translations of the Christian bible as well as our own [the Torah]. I cannot achieve the gentility I admired in Clarence, Martin [England] and some Quaker Friends, and Hillel in our [Jewish] tradition, but I continue to try.
“L’Shana Tova Tikutevu to Koinonia! I wish you and the Koinonians a wonderful new year (ours just began, but we do tend to celebrate them all as our immediate family includes Christians and Moslems as well as Jews).”
Zev continues to be active in his hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is currently working on the political campaign of a Muslim man who is running for Congress on a peace platform. Zev writes: “You probably have seen that our peace candidate, Keith Ellison, won the primary. While the scurrilous attacks on him continue, we expect to win the November election. I hope that he will play an important role in helping us to understand our fellow earthlings and to come together to heal and love rather than to seek vengeance.”