(photo credit: Wayne Stiles)
Although I’m not Jewish, my wife and son are, so I spend a lot of time with
Jews, and even occasionally attend synagogue services. One of these occasions is
Yom Kippur, when Jews of all denominations seek atonement through prayer and
fasting, a religious event with no real parallel in either Christianity or
Christians believe that Jesus already atoned for the sins of all
future generations, and that Christians can be forgiven if they accept Jesus as
their messiah. But that’s just a one-time event. Jews celebrate Yom Kippur every
Muslims fast for 30 days during Ramadan which, among other things,
is intended to teach and remind them of the need for patience, spirituality,
submissiveness to God and humility. Ramadan, unlike Yom Kippur, isn’t about
atonement per se.
The synagogue we attend is Reform, which is
significant. Reform Jews, unlike many Conservative and especially
Orthodox Jews, do not believe that the Jewish Temple must be restored in order to
open the door for the coming of the messiah. Rebuilding the Temple, as
Ariel Sharon eloquently explained, would mean the destruction of the Dome of the
They also do not believe that every Jew must move to Israel,
although they do not discourage it either. More importantly, Reform Jews
accept intermarriage, seeing the glass as half full rather than
half-empty. When a non-Jew marries a Jewish spouse, especially a Jewish
woman, and raises their children as Jews, Reform Judaism sees this as a positive
thing, considering nearly one third of all Jews were murdered by the Nazis
during the Holocaust.
During the Yom Kippur synagogue service sermon, our
wonderful rabbi discussed, among other things, the current difficult relations
between Palestinians and Israelis.
In his 30-minute sermon the rabbi
spoke eloquently of the Palestinians’ right to statehood, and of the need for
Jews to be prepared to accept a Palestinian state both for this reason and
because such a state is necessary for the security and future of the
I’ve listened to many sermons on Middle East politics in Arab
Christian churches and in mosques. I’ve never heard any preach that Arabs should
accept Israel as a state to bring about peace.
As a Palestinian, hearing
a Jewish rabbi speak of the “Nakba” from a synagogue podium on Yom Kippur made
me feel that he and his congregation understood me. It caused me to reflect on
the fact that atonement, seeking forgiveness for your transgressions against
both God and your fellow man, is more than just a powerful Jewish notion, it’s
an important component of being an exemplary human being. And it made me wonder
– what if I were Jew?
If I were a Jew, I hope I would recognize, as my wife’s
rabbi does, the need for a Palestinian state. If I were a Jew, I wouldn’t use
the Arab rejection of partition in 1948 as a means of putting the blame for the
conflict on Arabs, or of rejecting the two-state solution.
I would be
magnanimous, as I know Jews can be. I would reach out to the Palestinians. I
would recognize that while there is obviously no equivalency between the Nakba
and the Holocaust, or between the persecution of Jews through the ages and the
plight of the Palestinians today, their suffering is still very
Like many Palestinians, one of my heroes is Nelson Mandela. He led
the South Africans out of slavery and apartheid. But although he fought his
enemies, he wasn’t cruel, he was magnanimous. He spent 30 years breaking stones
under the whip of his Afrikaner jailers, sleeping in a 10 foot by 10 foot prison
Yet when he walked out of that cell, he found the strength to
forgive the people who put him there.
That power to forgive is what can
make peace and security a reality, and is a part of atonement.
So just as
Jews ask for atonement for their transgressions, as a Jew I would also ask my
enemies to atone for their own. Recognizing your own injustices against others
is the power that makes humankind great, and opens the door to a genuine
I would ask Israelis, Jews and Palestinians to recognize what they
have done to each other. I would ask them all to seek forgiveness, but also to
forgive and be magnanimous. Violence is the result of cowardice and fear. Peace
comes from courage.The writer is an award-winning columnist and