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]