Religion faculty are further emphasizing interfaith dialogue after a miscommunication at a local synagogue.
A student attended a Yom Kippur worship service Sept. 30 at Emanuel Synagogue, 900 N.W. 47th St., as part of the service learning requirement for his world religions class. He attended with two other students.
The student was not aware of Jewish faith customs, and, when asked to pray, he remained sitting, as opposed to standing.
Rabbi Abby Jacobson said a member of the synagogue was offended and told an usher. The member was further offended when the student took off his head covering, which Jacobson said was taken as an act of disrespect.
Jacobson said the student’s Middle Eastern heritage also was referenced.
“This is horrifying and deeply embarrassing,” she said. “We are a community that strives, above all, to be part of the interfaith community.”
The student was contacted after the service by a police officer who was working security since it was Yom Kippur.
Jacobson contacted the student and apologized. She also met with professors in the Wimberly School of Religion to discuss how to better inform students about being respectful in religious services.
“It was an ironic thing to have happen on our day of atonement when we’re supposed to be apologizing for the things that we’ve done wrong,” Jacobson said.
She said the miscommunication also stemmed from the fact that more attendants were present for Yom Kippur. Students were encouraged to attend service on a different date.
“I wouldn’t have wished a Yom Kippur service on any student,” Jacobson said. “It’s five hours long and it’s extra formal.”
Jacobson said she is working with religious leaders to provide clear expectations and a detailed calendar for the university, including special services.
Jacobson said she wants students to learn more about how to be respectful with body language and how to contact places of worship about being accommodating.
“One of the complicated parts of our relationship with OCU is that students have a deadline and often get information from each other, rather than getting information from us directly,” Jacobson said.
Emanuel Synagogue has accepted OCU’s service learning students for five years. Jacobson said she hopes they can improve interfaith dialogue and counter Islamophobia.
Imam Dr. Imad Enchassi, professor of Islamic studies, said he discussed the situation with Jacobson, who’s a close friend.
“They were very embarrassed with the circumstances and the situation has been resolved,” Enchassi said.
He said OCU officials focus on interfaith dialogue and will continue to emphasize it.
The university has an interfaith prayer room in the west wing of Kramer School of Nursing and offers an interfaith minor. Fundraising is ongoing to turn Smith Hall into an interfaith dorm.
Joe Bonfiglio, acting sophomore, is enrolled in Enchassi’s class. He said the course has properly prepared him to visit places of worship, but more information may be useful.
“I would like to know what to expect, so I wish he would go further into detail, but I honestly think he did give us a good baseline,” he said.
Dr. Sharon Betsworth, director of the Wimberly School of Religion, said she encourages her service learning students to explore a religion they’re not as familiar with.
Betsworth also said the situation was well-handled with no harsh feelings because of Enchassi’s friendship with Jacobson.
“There wasn’t anger flaring on our side, and there wasn’t anger flaring at the synagogue,” she said.
Betsworth said the situation caused the religion faculty to think of new ways to approach the class to lessen the possibility of miscommunications.