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The Rev. Dr. Scott Black Johnston The Rev. Dr. Scott Black Johnston

The Rev. Dr. Scott Black Johnston is senior pastor of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York, NY.

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Presbyterian Church (USA)

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Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, New York, NY


Dr. Scott Black Johnston: Interfaith Issues

October 12, 2010

Last Friday I preached at Temple Shaaray Tefila.  The synagogue was extremely hospitable to me and to the many church members who attended their Shabat service.  Rabbi Jonathan Stein is a wonderful, welcoming fellow.  Everyone with whom I have talked about the worship service found it moving, challenging (as it always is to worship with a community that is not your own) and fascinating.  I will never forget listening to their cantors sing those hauntingly beautiful psalms in Hebrew.

It was a learning experience for me on many levels.

After the service and the reception, I was standing in front of the synagogue with my wife, Amy, and two other church members.  I had forgotten to remove the yarmulke (or kipa)-the small cap that covers the back of one's head-that I had put on before entering the sanctuary.

While standing there, with my back to the southbound traffic on the sidewalk, displaying the cap that I had forgotten about, a man approached our group, quickly pivoted into me, punched me in the side, and (with a curse) sped away into the crowd.

I was not harmed (sometimes being the size of an offensive tackle has its upside), just shaken.

I don't imagine that I will ever truly know the man's motivation.  He might have been intoxicated.  He might suffer from a mental illness.  Perhaps both.  I can't be sure.  What I can say is that I and those around me had the distinct impression (because I was wearing the kipa, because we were standing in front of the synagogue) that we had just been given a small taste, the tiniest taste imaginable, of what it is like to experience anti-Semitism.

We all know that conflicts between the various religious faiths are nothing short of a global crisis, threatening people's freedoms, people's livelihoods and people's lives.  We also know (because we experience it-every single day-at work, at school, and yes, on the sidewalks of this city) that these conflicts are a local issue too-an inescapable issue for all of us.

[Excerpted with permission from the Rev. Dr. Scott Black Johnston's blog, "Sharp About Your Prayers." Originally posted 10/8/2010]


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