In the “Al Chet” we say the following:
“For the sin which we have committed before You by scoffing”.
“And for the sin which we have committed before You by evil talk [about another]”.
One of the hallmark features of Yom Kippur are the communal sins which we need to repent for. Most Jews focus on what we have done personally towards G-d and towards others. Little thought is given to how we could be better as a community. Or the sins we bear as a community.
However, the communal recitation of the Al Chet, repeated over and over on Yom Kippur is to drive the point home that we are responsible for one another and therefore need to take communal responsibility for our actions or inactions. Yet for most Jews, the larger communal responsibility message is drowned out by our individual needs and reflections.
I recently commented to a woman whom I met for dinner, how I liked the idea of communal break fasts that are common in Reform synagogues. More than just a glass of orange juice sometimes provided after a fast, I thought that it was a great way to build community. After a long day of fasting and teshuva, it seemed like a great way to meet others on a communal level (and eat too). To my surprise, this person started to talk about how “they probably eat pork just after their fast”! The tirade continued on despite my intentions to explain to her that Reform Jews see things differently than the Orthodox and celebrate differently.
I was in my gym and liked talking to a Jewish gentleman I met there. It happened to be one Friday morning and he just came up to me and remarked, “I hate how Orthodox women drive so recklessly in the half hour before the Shabbos! They almost hit me in their cars many times! Why do they have to drive like that?” And with that trigger, he continued on his righteous tirade against the Orthodox.
In both cases, I was caught off guard but not taken by complete surprise. Sadly, Jewish pride and communal responsibility for one another is not really in the consciousness of most Jews. We are as divided as a people that we only concern ourselves with our own small communities that we live in. We lack the sense of a greater responsibility to the community. There is only disparaging remarks that vilify and despise other streams of Jews. The hatred is palpable and can come up in all sorts of conversations!
Is this the best we are capable of? Honestly, I felt more “let down” than offended by their remarks. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. If you are religious and your training tells you what you must do, then do it! It is an affirmation of your love of G-d through his mitzvot. If you are not religious, but do certain practices because of the greater humanistic good to repair the world, then practice that! Why should we engage in such name calling and criticizing of other streams in the process?
I lament the fact that as Jews we have the need to find fault and judge others. Regardless if you are religious or secular, the fact is, we are all failing to live up to our communal responsibilities to other Jews. We bear the responsibility for not fostering this feeling of love for our fellow Jew, but also for participating in the hatred.
It is easy to scoff at others. It is even easier to negatively judge other Jews by what they do and do not do. There is no climate for acceptance of other Jews from a stream different from you. The idea of communal responsibility is absent in Jewry at large.
Challenge yourself to affirm your practices, whatever they may be. Do so, however, without feeling the need to speak negatively about other Jews who practice differently than you. Challenge yourself this Yom Kippur to call out your own prejudices for what they are. Banish the instinctive knee jerk need to speak negatively about “those Jews”!
Keep in mind; many Jews are so cut off from their Judaism that they don’t even go to a Shul or Temple on Yom Kippur. Our ranks shrink year after year, while we bicker and allow the internal strife to continue.
Make this Yom Kippur the time to challenge your mindset and start thinking how you can include other Jews rather than reject them. Our enemies, including the shooters in Pittsburg and Poway, are a wake-up call! They don’t care what type of Jew you are! You are still a prime target simply because you are Jewish!
In a time where we look internally to mend our ways, we rely on G-d’s qualities of mercy and compassion which we hope He will extend to us. If we want G-d to forgive us for our sins, isn’t it high time we put into action these same qualities towards other Jews? A call for Jewish unity musters the qualities of mercy and compassion to one another. Compassion demonstrated to other Jews, helps us activate the divine compassion that G-d bestows on us , lovingly, on Yom Kippur. The question is, have we done enough to merit it?
Let us start by feeling excited about other Jews, in spite of what stream they come from. Acceptance rather than judgement creates this larger Jewish community that is lacking. It can start now with cultivating the mindset of acceptance. Take a second to stop your foot stomping! Realize we come to our Judaism differently. Focus on what unites us, not on what divides us. Say “hi” to a fellow “brother” or “sister” this year with no other intention other than feeling pride for another of “our tribe”.
Take the time to study the words of Ze’ev Jabotinsky [1880-1940] who was a key leader of world Zionism before World War Two, the mentor of Menachem Begin, and a hero of Jewish unity.
If we can start to make the challenge for Jewish unite a personal challenge we can truly atone for our Al Chets on the communal level this year in 5780.