As smoke clears, rabbi looks on the bright side

As smoke clears, rabbi looks on the bright side

Few minutes of hate give way to many days of love, support

On Monday, Rabbi Nosson Schuman went shopping with his wife to buy new sheets to replace the ones scorched by a Molotov cocktail thrown through their bedroom window on Jan. 11.

Less than a week later, the second-degree burns on four of his fingers were still tender. Despite the discomfort, Schuman had shaken hands with police officers and politicians, typed responses to hundreds of e-mails and Facebook messages, and strummed his guitar at an interfaith sing-along that attracted 300 VIPs, clergy, and ordinary people (see accompanying article).

The leader of a congregation of fewer than 20 families probably never expected to be the center of this sort of attention. Sometimes, however, the darkest cloud can have a sterling silver lining.

“Like John Lennon said, ‘Imagine,’ but this was real,” Schuman said Monday, recalling the Saturday night gathering. “There were people from all different faiths…, people of all different skin colors. Everyone was there in unity. It wasn’t a prayer service, but a night of thanksgiving and hope.”

He admitted that playing Shlomo Carlebach tunes at a Catholic college in the company of gentiles singing church hymns is not de rigueur for rabbis ordained by the “black hat” Yeshivas Rabbi Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn, where Schuman, now 44, studied for nine years.

“I try to give respect to everybody, whether Jews who don’t practice their Judaism the way I do, or anyone else,” he said. “Everyone is made in the image of God and was created to be beloved by God. We Jews have a unique mission with our 613 mitzvot, but it’s in conjunction with the world as whole, and we have to treat everyone as partners.”

He has not forgotten the ugly incident that started it all.

In his account, an object smashed through his bedroom window, spurting flaming oil, at about 4:30 a.m. He and his wife were awakened by the noise.

“When I saw flames, my first instinct was to put them out,” he said, “so I threw the quilt over the windowpane and luckily that worked…. The carpet was on fire, too, but luckily I was able to get to the fire extinguisher and put it out.” He realized only later that his hands were burned.

The suddenly famous rabbi reckons that “there were about 10 minutes of hate and four days [so far] of an outpouring of love and support from New Jersey and all over the country. There is much more love than hate out there, and we have more friends in the non-Jewish community than we ever realized.”

A version of this article appeared in The Jewish Standard; it is reprinted with permission.

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