Skip to content

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.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. shana permalink
    10/06/2011 5:12 pm

    thanks sue, just came from a walk in the woods – notice the beautiful day, the grass drying in the field, a place and some time to breathe easily as I get ready to acknowledge the shattered world right next to the beautiful one and get ready to try again ….

    • sue swartz permalink*
      10/06/2011 6:01 pm

      The shattered world next to the beautiful one — yes, that’s it. Thanks for the reminder of the beauty. I’m slow on that particular uptake.

  2. Lynne permalink
    10/06/2011 9:17 pm

    It is crazy. Fundamentalists, of any persuasion, are dangerous. And, at this time of repentance, reading of this craziness makes me wonder if there are areas of my life in which I see truth and reasons to act in a certain way, and yet … is that justification for my thoughts or actions just as crazy? Or maybe not that crazy, but still, not right. I mean, how can people look at themselves in the mirror when they behave in such a manner? And yet … they must feel ok.

    • sue swartz permalink*
      10/07/2011 8:19 am

      I’ve no doubt that people feel totally justified when they torch a mosque or advocate violence against abortion providers or pay minimum wage to the otherwise jobless or a million other things. That doesn’t make it morally right, however. We all justify ourselves, true, but to attack people (fellow Jews, no less) on Rosh Hashanah takes a special kind of insanity. I suspect you’re not anywhere vaguely in that territory.

  3. Sarah permalink
    10/09/2011 3:33 am

    Important words, well said. AJH’s words, “We are not all guilty, but we are all responsible,” are to me the reason that we recite the Vidui in the plural “we.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: