On my way to the synagogue in Istanbul, I reached into my jacket pocket to put on my yarmulke, hesitated and looked around. Was anyone watching? Was I ashamed of being Jewish?
Unlike my home in Israel, no one else on the crowed street was Jewish. Putting on the yarmulke was going to single me out. “Is it necessary to make a public display? Why bother to point out that I am Jewish? Why not wait until I’m in the safety of the synagogue?” I wondered.
I didn’t hesitate because I am ashamed of being Jewish. For over 30 years I have studied, written at length, lectured and argued that Jesus made me more Jewish, not less. I am proud of my Jewish heritage and my Jewish Messiah.
So why did a little white silk yarmulke bother me so much? I suppose it made me wonder just how much being Jewish really means to me and how much I was willing to stand out as a Jew. Standing on that street corner I understood that only when I was willing to face the consequences of being a Jew, could I live as a Jew.
Even on the trip to Turkey I was confronted with the painful truth that being Jewish, or Israeli, is dangerous in many places around the world. Some of the Messianic friends I was traveling with were carrying American passports. They said it would be easier to enter as Americans. “Why did you immigrate to Israel if you are going to hide behind your US citizenship,” I asked them. “What is the point of embracing our Jewish heritage and living in the Promised Land if we are afraid, or ashamed, to live as Israeli Jews?”
When I finally placed my little yarmulke on and looked around, it was as though a divine hand had lifted my head and I could see beyond the crowded streets and noisy Turkish market. I understood that living as a Jew in a hostile world is the only way I would be able to preserve those things that are important to me. That I would never truly experience the wonder and beauty of being a Jew, or a follower of Jesus, until I had the courage to stand up for my beliefs when it counts.
Putting on my little yarmulke forced me to identify with and represent my people as I slowly walked toward the Ahrida Synagogue, the oldest and most beautiful synagogue in Istanbul, founded before the Muslim conquest in 1453, which remains in constant use until this day.