Twenty years ago, race riots erupted in Crown Heights and an innocent Jewish student was murdered in response to the accidental killing of an African-American child. After the murder, the Rev. Al Sharpton came to Crown Heights and further whipped up an already incensed crowd, leaving some in the Jewish community to demand twenty years later that Sharpton be forever shunned by Jewry and criticizing my friend Rabbi Marc Schneier for inviting him to the Hampton Synagogue.
Ten years after the Crown Heights riots, I challenged Sharpton to a public debate, which he accepted, and following our take-no-prisoners, very volatile exchange, I invited him to a kosher restaurant for dinner. He surprised me by accepting and a budding relationship ensued. After the September 11th attacks, I called Sharpton and suggested we travel together to Israel to visit victims of Islamic terror as a means of healing our two communities. Again, he surprised me by agreeing. The trip was moving, as Rev. Sharpton offered genuine comfort to Israelis with their arms and legs blown off. But it was all undone when he decided, without informing any of the organizers of the trip, that he had arranged to visit the arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat in Gaza. The trip thereafter became a fiasco and Sharpton and I returned barely speaking to each other.
But just as I wished to write him off, again he surprised me when he invited me to the Hyatt Hotel and essentially apologized for putting me in such an awkward position.