Stand before God together

Yom Kippur is a time when all Israelis, secular and religious, should unite.

October 10, 2005 19:05
4 minute read.
michael melchior outdoors 88

michael melchior 88. (photo credit: )


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Yom Kippur is a day in which everyone is present. As we say during Kol Nidre (the opening prayer on Yom Kippur eve] “We condone praying with sinners,” which is really a way of saying that we can all be together, in front of God, whether we have sinned or not. This is a day when everyone is together. Last week's Torah reading (Deuteronomy, 29:9) hints at this idea: “You stand this day all of you before the Lord your God.” When all of you stand together, then it is before God, but when you do not stand together, God has no interest [in you]. The importance of unity is something we must always keep in mind. Expressing extreme opinions may win you headlines, people may listen more, but the price is polarization and disunity. I was brought up with the understanding that all Jews are together on Yom Kippur. Our synagogue was always packed. True, many of the people whom I saw on Yom Kippur, I hadn't seen for a year, and would not see for another year. But on that one day a year, all of us were together. We all shared the same narrative, the same feeling of togetherness. I am alarmed by a recent survey that showed that 73 percent of Israelis who define themselves as secular do not come to synagogue on Yom Kippur. That is one of the reasons I started organizing alternative Yom Kippur services at community centers six years ago. When we started, there were 10 groups. Today there are 250 all over the country. This gives me a lot of hope for the future. This is the type of re-engagement we need after disengagement. But we must remember that no single group within Judaism has a monopoly on Jewishness. No single party can monopolize Judaism. More than ideology, the single, most divisive phenomenon in Israeli society is the socioeconomic gap. There is an immense psychological wall that separates the rich and the poor. It prevents one side from seeing those on the other side. There are 360,000 children who live in poverty. There are families in which every shekel is scrutinized before it is used to buy food or medicine. This is an embarrassment to the state. The good news is that many Israelis are taking responsibility. There are more volunteers. The concept of helping out in one's community is taking off. The problem is many have given up on public service. Many talented people shun the responsibility of public office. Going into politics is something that decent people do not want to do. This is unfortunate. The private sector can do only so much. On Yom Kippur we read the book of Yonah, the prophet. Yonah ran away from the public responsibility that God wanted to bestow upon him. We learn from Yonah that one cannot run away from taking responsibility. Regarding religious Zionism, I hope there will be a reshuffling of priorities. Religious Zionism needs to come to terms with the concept that the Redemption is not only a function of sitting on more land, it is dependent upon our behavior before God. We have a wonderful generation of religious-Zionist youngsters who are willing to make sacrifices for the good of society. They are full of motivation to better the lot of the entire Jewish people. I hope it will be focused on the good of society. Secular and religious need to connect. Judaism combined with universal humanism can bridge the divisions among us. But I am disturbed by the slogan being used by some religious Zionists: “We will not forget, we will not forgive.” By not forgiving one makes the future the hostage of the past. Holding the future hostage is unfair. Our sages taught us that a Jewish community that is united and takes responsibility for the well-being of its members is judged lightly even if it worships idols. God remains with the community despite the transgression. But if there is no peace among the members of the community, God is not there either. Our obligation is to search out every place where there is pain and turn it into the focus of the whole society. The Jewish state's obligation is to help focus public attention on the pain of the individual. I hope that the prayers we say in the month of Tishrei will turn into social action in the month of Marcheshvan. The writer is deputy minister of Diaspora and social affairs.

SPECIAL YOM KIPPUR SUPPLEMENT 2005 Judaism: The mystical challenge of Kol Nidre I Stand before God together I A unifying fast I The 36 Just Men who save the world Jewish Features: Yom Kippur in Vilna I Breaking the fast the Tuscan way I Bnei Menashe join the tribe Opinion: Thoughts on being religious I Forgiving without forgetting

More about:Zionism, Yom Kippur

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