There was a great moment at shul on the first day of Rosh Hashana, when Marci Civins was blowing the shofar. At one point she held her daughter, who is few months old, over her left arm and used her right hand to hold the shofar to her lips. And her daughter didn’t cry, but beautifully listened as her mum, through the shofar, called to all of us present. For so many reasons it was my highlight of what was a truly lovely Rosh Hashana.
This Friday night begins Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. On this day, Jews around the world refrain from all physical pleasures (eating, bathing and screwing, to name a few), and devote themselves to prayer and supplication, begging the Lord forgiveness of their sins so that they may be written into the Book of Life.
But is fasting and beating our chests really the best we can do to red…eem ourselves?
As lower Manhattan erupts with thousands of protesters taking a stand against economic injustice, the words of the prophet Isaiah resonate more truthfully and appropriately than ever:
“Is such the fast that I have chosen? the day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD? Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the fetters of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him, and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy healing shall spring forth speedily; and thy righteousness shall go before thee, the glory of the LORD shall be thy rearward.”
Thus rather than spending the holiday safe and warm in our cozy synagogues thinking abstractly about human suffering, perhaps we should truly afflict ourselves and undertake the fast of Isaiah, by joining the demonstrators in Zuccotti Park, and holding our Yom Kippur services there amongst the oppressed, hungry, poor and naked.
Not to be cliché, but as Rabbi Hillel the Elder said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?”
I am seeking commitments from at least 20 participants to join — and skilled volunteers to lead — a traditional egalitarian minyan (a Hebrew language, mixed-gender service) this Friday evening at Occupy Wall Street. If you are willing and able to join, please be in touch.
G’mar chatimah tova!
This event has been endorsed by Jews for Racial & Economic Justice (JFREJ) and the Shalom Center.
So if you’re in New York, I reckon you should head along – seems like it will be one of those moments in radical Jewish history… And for those of us not in New York, I think we can take this opportunity to reflect on what it means for us to truly pray for our own, and our communities’, redemption this Yom Kippur. Are these mere words, or what will we do in the year to come to create discursive and material changes in our worlds? How will we make this fast worthy?