Tag Archives: accountability

“A Wasted Yom Kippur”

The High Holy Days are just over a month away. The time of the New Year and, ten days later, the time of repentance at Yom Kippur are almost upon us.

As a Jew by choice who will be officially a member of the Tribe only sixteen days before Rosh Hashanah (if I’ve counted correctly), and who had a powerful, meaningful experience at last year’s Yom Kippur, the High Holy Days will probably hit me hard every single year.  Last year, part of what hit me so hard was that we aren’t getting singled out for our sin. We are all confessing, communally, as a community, to grave sins.

This is on my mind today partly because of an article in this morning’s New York Times.  This article is talking about the recent murders of Shira Banki and Ali Saad Dawabsheh by Jewish extremist fanatics. I could quote from all kinds of places in this article, but I think this is probably one of the best ones, from Donniel Hartman, an Orthodox rabbi:

“The interesting question for all of us is, ‘Is this going to be a growth moment or is it going to be another wasted Yom Kippur? Oh, we’ve sinned, and we feel so righteous for saying we’ve sinned.’”

Mouthing the prayers is not the same as meaning them. It’s not even close. It’s the difference between keva (saying the words) and kavanah (feeling the words). And although I have seen many Christians mouth the words of repentance and then turn around and hurt people (what are sometimes called Sunday-only or Christmas and Easter Christians), it never occurred to me that many Jews might do the same thing.

So what is Yom Kippur about? Repentance and atonement? Or feeling prideful that you’re at the service, and fasting, and look how impressive you are? That’s not attractive to me. I doubt that anyone at my shul does this, but I don’t know for sure. And I’m going to be remembering what the words mean when I say them on Yom Kippur, because on that day the community confesses together:

Ashamnu: We have trespassed.
Bagadnu: We have dealt treacherously.
Gazlalnu: We have robbed.
Dibarnu dofi: We have spoken slander.
He’evinu: We have acted perversely.
V’hirshanu: We have done wrong.
Zadnu: We have acted presumptuously.
Hamasnu: We have done violence.
Tafalnu sheker: We have practiced deceit.
Yaatsnu ra: We have counseled evil.
Kizavnu: We have spoken falsehood.
Latsnu: We have scoffed.
Maradnu: We have revolted.
Niatsnu: We have blasphemed.
Sararnu: We have rebelled.
Avinu: We have committed iniquity.
Pashanu: We have transgressed.
Tsararnu: We have oppressed.
Kishinu oref: We have been stiff-necked.
Rashanu: We have acted wickedly.
Shichatnu: We have dealt corruptly.
Tiavnu: We have committed abomination.
Tainu: We have gone astray.
Titanu: We have led others astray.

A couple of those are general enough that a lot of sins can fit into them. V’hirshanu, for example. Tainu, as another example.

And frankly, this year, given what happened to Shira and Ali, in a nation where the police could have stopped the man who killed Shira and the men who killed Ali, all of Israel should be admitting “Hamasnu, Tsararnu, Tiavnu.” Because those murders were violence, they were oppression, and they were abomination.

Now, as a Jew in the United States, do I bear a share of the responsibility for those murders? Yes. Every Jew does. Every Jew should be saying “The murderers were Jews, and how horrifying and shameful that they were Jews.”

But if we simply say “that was shameful and horrifying,” and mouth the Ashamnu on Yom Kippur, have we changed anything meaningful? Or are we just feeling righteous for saying we’ve sinned?

I don’t know how I can help as a non-Israeli Jew, but there has to be something I can do to bring about tzedek (justice).

Justice is one of the things that brought me to Judaism. It has to be one of the reasons I continue in it.

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Filed under Current Events, Holy Days, Israel, Jewish Practices

Looking back, looking forward

1 Tishri 5775

As I dip an apple into honey and taste the sweetness of the new year, I am also taking stock of my life for the Days of Awe.

“Dipping Apples in Honey.” From Elana’s Pantry on Flickr: http://tinyurl.com/oav6c9u. Used under Creative Commons license.

“In Judaism, the focus is not on what a terrible person you are for doing something, the focus looks forward to aiming more carefully when you take the next shot.” – Rabbi Adar

Since this is my first Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe) as a prospective Jew (and hopefully my last one as a prospective Jew), I have to consider more than just the past year. Whom have I harmed with my words or actions? To whom do I need to make amends, and how do I go about doing that?

The hardest thing about apologies, for me, is that words are never really enough to get my remorse across. I’m always worried that no matter how sincere I know I am, it’s going to come across to the other person as “just words” being said because I have to say them, not because I mean them.

But I know a few guidelines for making an apology real:

“I’m sorry if you felt bad when I…” is not an apology. It deflects responsibility for the problem onto the other person.

Any explanation for bad behavior comes across as an excuse, and thus negates an apology.

The formula that I read about for making a true apology (about teaching little kids to apologize and mean it, of all places) goes like this:

1. Say what you are sorry for. “I’m sorry that I said hurtful things about you/your __________.”

2. Say why you are sorry for it. “It was really inappropriate for me to say those things about you/your _________, and I shouldn’t have done that.”

3. Say what you will do differently next time – and frame it positively, not negatively. “Next time I’ll wait for you to ask my opinion before I give it.”

4. Ask for – but do not expect – forgiveness. “I ask for your forgiveness for what I did.”

But Judaism also requires that we make amends for what we did, if possible. I have been unsure how to make amends for hurtful words and behaviors when the harm done has no physical basis but is emotional and spiritual (which I am guilty of a lot more than I want to be – in fact, it’s the main thing that I find myself realizing I need to apologize for).

I have had people suggest that I ask the person I wronged for suggestions for how I should make amends, so today I tried that.

Today, I sent an e-mail to a former friend who is a devout Christian, whom I’m sure I harmed many times over the course of our friendship due to my antipathy towards the fact that she was religious. I also sent an e-mail to a colleague whose husband, one of my former professors, died this spring, to apologize for not reaching out to her when it happened. In both cases, I concluded with a request: if there is anything I can do to make amends, please let me know and I will do it to the best of my ability.

I may never hear back from either of them, but that’s not the point. The point is that I have done what I can. Seeing either of them in person is not really possible; we live nowhere near each other. Phone calls are difficult because I can’t hear on the phone very well. So, although it’s not ideal, an e-mail is actually the best way to apologize at this point.

I am still struggling over whether I should reach out to my mother. She harmed me, a lot, and I don’t know if I want to put myself in that position again. There are a couple of other people whom I’ve had fallings-out with, but where the falling-out was mutual, so I’m also not sure what to do there.

I have things I need to apologize for to my partner, but that’s between us, and that will happen this week when he’s home, calm, and rested.

But there’s one other person that I also need to make amends with. That person is me. I’ve been slacking on my physical health all year – saying “yes” to the ice cream far too many times, and avoiding the walks that I know are necessary for my health. I’ve also been a bit lax on the whole mental-health maintenance thing. I need to change my aim from the in-the-moment pleasure to the long-term goal.

So that’s what I resolve to do this year. I apologize to myself for putting the immediate before the long-term, and I resolve to do better this year.

Time for reflection on the past year

Time to figure out what we’re doing here

Replace the guilt with inspiration, and everything is clear

Life in the present seems more fun

Easier than regret, what’s done is done

Living in the moment lasts for a moment

Shana Tovah to everyone! 

– The Maccabeats, “Book of Good Life”

Depression means living in the past. Anxiety means living in the future. What does it mean when you live in the moment and only in the moment? Recklessness. Time to stop living in the moment all the time. I used to be very bad at this; now I’m way too good at it. It’s time to strike a balance.

Mindfulness is the key, I think. Obsessing over the past (which I cannot change), worrying about the future (which will be here when it gets here) and using the present to hedonistically ignore them both is not working. It’s time for mindfulness.

So this year, in 5775, I will aim for mindfulness. Not obsession; just mindfulness, you understand. Awareness. Observation. And because I’m way too good at beating myself up for even minor mistakes (that merger of a Catholic early upbringing and Jewish guilt can create a perfect storm), I’m going to work on not doing that. It’s counterproductive. Instead of beating myself up, I should be beating a fast path to the door of those I’ve wronged – and for minor mistakes that can’t be fixed, I need to learn to let go of it.

Shanah Tovah, everyone.

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For We Were Strangers in Mitzrayim

11 Tamuz 5774

Trigger warning: This is about the boys who were killed in Israel and then in Palestine just recently, whose deaths have caused such a furor that Hamas and Israel are exchanging massive firepower at each other right now.

I don’t quite know what to say. I’ve hesitated to write anything for more than a week, for various reasons.

We were strangers in Mitzrayim. This is a hell of a way to demonstrate that we remember that. Actually, it’s about the farthest thing from a demonstration of remembering it – it’s demonstrating that we are forgetting it.

What we are seeing is former victims now becoming bullies. This happens a lot with children. The bullied kid gets big enough that he begins to bully.

By the way, I don’t care who started it. Neither should you. That isn’t the point. The point is that children were killed, mostly by adults, because some people decided it was okay to throw their weight around and bully someone weaker.

I think it’s horrifying. I think it’s horrifying that Hamas operatives felt it was okay to harm children. I think it’s equally horrifying that Jewish extremists then felt it was okay to retaliate against children. Nobody’s hands are clean in this situation. Nobody gets to say “but they started it.” That’s a childish excuse and it doesn’t hold water even on the playground or in the sandbox. It certainly should not hold water in an international conflict.

As far as I know, none of the boys involved were part of any political movements in Israel or in Palestine. None of them were soldiers (most of them weren’t old enough). None of them signed up to be sacrificial victims. And none of them deserved what happened to them.

The Israeli boys were killed by adults. The Palestinian boy was killed by a gang of teenagers, from what I understand, and his cousin was severely beaten by three Israeli police officers (who were also adults).

Why? I cannot come up with a good reason why. It’s the playground bully written large. It’s the fight for control of the sandbox. It’s senseless. And the reasons given by either side are also senseless (and often very childish).

As a new member of the Tribe (almost) I also didn’t know if I had any right to write about this. I’m not a Jew, yet. I’m only Jew-ish. I’ve never been to Israel. I’ve never been in the thick of this situation. But I’m taking on not just the Jewish belief system but the entire tribe, right? So I’m going to go with “I have a right and a responsibility to write about this because I will be a Jew, and soon, and this is part of what I’m accepting as the burden of being Jewish.”

Moving on.

An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. So why do we keep on doing it? Why is it that we keep on trading bomb for bomb and life for life? What is wrong with us? Are we so married to our ideologies and our territoriality that we aren’t willing to see the people on the other side of the firing line as human beings? Do we not remember how it was in Egypt and in Babylon? Do we not remember what it was like being second- or third-class citizens? We talk about it every year on Pesach to keep the memory fresh. Has everyone already forgotten for the year? Do we only remember it during the spring?

There has to be a solution that provides both for Palestine and for Israel. There has to be a two-state solution, where we respect boundaries and borders and stop insisting that everyone else should stay out of our sandbox. I don’t think that what’s going on right now in Gaza and in Tel Aviv is what G-d wanted of his children (and what drives me the most crazy about this? It’s just a continuation of sibling rivalry – Isaac and Ishmael – bickering over whose idea of G-d is going to be more important). This is insanity, folks.

None of those boys should have died. And none of them should have been “avenged.” And the people who carried out the revenge killing and beating are equally guilty and should be held equally responsible for what they did as the Hamas terrorists should be for what they did to the three Israeli teenagers.

Because this? Is not the act of a nation that shows mercy to the stranger. Not at all.

I can’t say it’s not what I signed up for. But I am going to say that it’s not what I was hoping to see in the people I’ve chosen to join. Because we can be better than this, and we should be better than this. And if that knowledge doesn’t frame our discussions and our negotiations, even in blog posts, then we’re no better than the Egyptians that enslaved us.

For we were strangers in Mitzrayim, and we are admonished over and over again in Torah to remember that, and to be gentle to the stranger. Now the Palestinians are the strangers, and we really ought to be better than this.

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