There’s been much talk about how the internet seems to have inspired a sense of outraged apathy with people tweeting or posting about various causes, but not actually doing much of anything. And unlike the protest marches or sit ins that were prevalent in the 1960s and ’70s, people might post a meme or share a tweet and think they’ve done their part to further a cause or combat a dangerous political agenda. They haven’t. But there’s still time to start.
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement and holiest day of the Jewish calendar, begins at sundown tonight. It’s a time of fasting and prayer and contemplation. The notion being that we may have been inscribed into the Book of Life on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, but on Yom Kippur the book is closed and one’s future year is theoretically sealed for the year ahead (there’s much discourse about always changing one’s fate, but that’s a long post for a different time).
In preparing for a talk about the Jewish High Holy Days, I reread a portion of my book Ancient Prayer in which I wrote about the Shema prayer and something struck me. While reciting the prayer on a daily basis (and before bed) part of the prayer is whispered:
Blessed be the Name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever.
As I wrote in the book,
“as children, we were taught that this particular prayer was a private one said by the angels directly to God, and that we say it quietly so as not to anger them or infer that we are on their level. The only day that this prayer is said out loud is on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when Jewish people fast and pray, and are considered on the same level as angels.”
The political climate feels by turns like a punchline or a punch in the gut, depending on who’s saying what. The rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, around the world, locally and on-campus is depressing and terrifying, with all too disturbing echoes of Nazi Germany, according to my relatives who are Holocaust survivors.
Instead of feeling helpless though, I feel as though there’s so much that we can and should be doing. I know that I’m trying and will continue to do so. After years of speaking out privately and in small groups about the injustices perpetrated on Holocaust survivors by groups claiming to serve their best interests while in actuality mostly serving their own, I finally published an essay that was syndicated widely nationally and internationally. It isn’t that I didn’t try to write articles on the topic, but the groups in question have such huge influence and spending power, that they mostly shut down (or sue) anyone who speaks out against them. I also previously hadn’t been publicly vocal about my absolute support of Israel, most especially in light of the BDS movement which claims to be about sanctions against Israel, but is an unjust cause and barely veiled anti-Semitic movement. I wrote about being inspired by actor Joshua Malina’s own support of Jewish causes on his social media.
But it isn’t just my support for Jewish causes that I’ve been more public about. I’m a proudly staunch feminist who feels queasy at the way many younger women seem to decry feminism as something unpleasant or shrill. I believe that we have to take better care of the planet and each other. I believe in compassion and simple kindness and ensuring that the elderly in our community are afforded respect and dignity in all things. Earlier this year I had an exchange with a new to me editor who shot me down when I suggested a piece on products, for example home cameras for caregivers of parent and grandparents. Her reply was that “no one wanted to read about products for old senile people” and that I should come up with something else. That was the nicest part of what she said. I’m still ashamed of myself for not educating her on the difference between elderly and senile, or for explaining to her that someday if she is fortunate to live that long, she, too will be in need of extra care and compassion from those in her life.
There is so much that needs fixing in our world, and I think that by starting and continuing a conversation rather than a flame war, we can inch toward resolution.
And so when I go to the synagogue tonight and tomorrow I will pray for myself and my family and those I love most. In addition to those whispered words and those shared aloud with the congregation, I vow to be more outspoken and actionable about the things that matter most to me in the year ahead. And I hope that you will too. And I hope that none of us forget to truly listen to each other instead of simply shouting into the void.