By Jan Shannon
On Friday night, I went to a special service at Temple Beth Shalom. I have never been to a worship service in a synagogue before, and I wish I had been there under circumstances that were more positive.
Together we said the Shema Yisrael, “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one.” The Sh’ma, as it sometimes called, is the essence of Judaism, so why were so many non-Jews saying it? Because of one atrocious act of hate, a swastika painted on the temple sometime during High Holy Day services, because of that we were all here together. The swastika is associated with Nazism, anti-Semitism, hatred, violence, death, and murder, all of which are concepts of division and the tearing down of relationships, but we were at the temple to prove that one ugly symbol was not going to be strong enough to tear Spokane apart.
“Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one.” I believe that. I believe that there is only one God, and I believe that God wants all people to be one as well. Not one as in all exactly the same like some giant Stepford township of docile robots, but one community with all people loving and caring for one another without regard to race, religion, age, gender, or sexual orientation.
As I stood and prayed, sometimes in English but mostly in Hebrew, I realized that I was reciting words written thousands of year ago, and reciting them in concert with people who trace their lineage back even farther. The continuity going all that way into the distant past and yet at that moment uniting those present was truly amazing.
The Jews have survived for thousands of years, through internal conflicts, wars with other people-groups, plagues, anti-Semitism, and attempted genocide, and as I stood there among them and prayed the ancient words, “For you, Lord, are the Most High over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods. Let those who love the Lord hate evil, for he guards the lives of his faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalms 97:9-11 NIV). I realized that Jews have been praying these same words for all those thousands of years, remaining faithful to the God of their ancestors through all the wars and genocide.
Why do they continue to believe? Has their God “delivered them from the hand of the wicked”? It sure doesn’t look like it! The answer is a resounding YES and the proof was in the temple on Friday night. God HAS preserved this people, his people, through all that they have suffered; the living proof was standing all around me singing and praying songs of thankfulness for God’s protection and songs of praise to the Most High God.
Before the service, some of us had been discussing the possibility that the graffiti had been done by just some ignorant youth who might not really realize the impact of their actions, and so maybe the attack shouldn’t be viewed as a hate crime until more evidence of a motive was found. One of the women sitting near me, who graciously offered to help guide us visitors through the complicated (to us) portions of the service, is a Holocaust survivor who told me that when she heard the news that her temple had been desecrated, all the memories of that horrific time came flooding back. Maybe this was the act of some ignorant youth, but the impact on the Jewish community is profound nonetheless. A swastika has only one meaning to the Jews and its image brings fear of a kind that I cannot imagine.
For 44 years of my life, I was in every majority demographic group with all the attendant privileges that brings, and the only type of bullying or harassment I had experienced was the very slight prejudice I found while being a female member of the US Air Force. All that changed in 2006 when I discovered that I was gay and it was like walking through a door into another world, a world where I was the target of harassment, rejection, abuse, and even loathing by those I used to call friend. The last eight years have taught me hard lessons about bigotry and prejudice, lessons I could not have learned any other way. As an out lesbian, I face the possibility that I will be passed over for jobs, or worse, that I will be selected for jobs solely on my “minority” status rather than my qualifications for the position. My church was recently picketed by the worst kind of bigots — the kind that hide their hatred behind a façade of religion, so I have a glimmer of what the people at Temple Beth Shalom felt, but only a glimmer. I can never truly understand the deep-seated, millennia-old fear that the Jews feel but I can try.
Beth Shalom means, “house of peace” and my prayer today is that God will continue to guard and protect my brothers and sisters of faith, of all faiths, as we stand together in peace. “Hear, O Israel; the LORD our God, the LORD is one.”
Jan Shannon is a full-time seminary student at Iliff School of Theology, a wife, mom, granny, and gay Christian.