Why I’m beating my breast on Yom Kippur
We have gone astray, we have led others astray.
Friends, I was going to write an extended meditation about the Vidui, the confessional prayer we return to again and again during the 25 hours of Yom Kippur, where we communally admit to abuse, betrayal, cruelty, gossip, insult, hatred, neglect, oppression, rebellion, theft, and xenophobia (to name a few). I was planning to admit my love for this prayer and the role that repentance plays in our lives — even in exaggerated form — and then, while procrastinating, I read the headlines coming out of Israel.
Headline #1: Last week in Anatot, a West Bank settlement just 20 minutes out of Jerusalem, dozens of residents armed with sticks and rocks attacked a Palestinian family and the Israeli activists who were with them. Not a single one of the attackers was arrested. According to eyewitness reports, (Jewish) women cheered on their husbands when they verbally threatened (Jewish) female activists with sexual violence. The videos are chilling. Did I mention this took place on Rosh Hashanah?
Headline #2: An 18-year-old Jewish settler is alleged to have set fire to a mosque in the Galilee village of Tuba-Zangariya, not far from the spiritual center of Safed. The words “price tag” and “revenge” were scrawled at the scene. The young man being detained attends a seminary. All this during the Days of Awe. Holy Days.
Headline #3: Israeli soldiers were surrounded and assaulted yesterday at a West Bank roadblock — not by Palestinians, but by dozens of settlers, mostly young men. Oh yeah, and then there were the 200 olive and fig trees uprooted in the nearby Palestinian village overnight.
This is nothing less than disgusting.
And it calls for repentance. Just like most of the other million miserable things that happen in the world each and every day, I am not directly responsible. You are probably not directly responsible. And yet — it happens.
Because we are silent, it happens. Because when it starts small or doesn’t affect us or costs money to deal with, we look away. Downplay it. Don’t want to be alarmist. Because we have too many things on our plate to pay attention. Because it’s too hard. Because we secretly like that other guy getting kicked in the teeth. For God’s sake, people, we have so many excuses.
Myself included, and I feel terrible about that, even as I know that if I were never to sleep again and had all the money in the world, I couldn’t fix it. I can’t even fix my own small corner of the universe, let alone the human condition. And THAT is why I am going to take fist to chest this Yom Kippur. Because I feel lousy about how badly human beings mess up despite our best intentions. Because I’m heartbroken.
Because as Abraham Joshua Heschel admonished: We are not all guilty, but we are all responsible.
Because going easy on myself, on all of us, is a cop-out. Because maybe next year we can do better. G’mar Hatimah Tovah — a good inscription and an easy fast.