During the Days of Awe, which began yesterday at sundown with Rosh Hashanah and will conclude ten days later with Yom Kippur, Jews focus on repenting for transgressions we have committed in the year just ending. However, at Temple Sinai in upscale Northwest Washington Jews are focusing on something else. They are seeking atonement for the sins of the United States.
Nor is this phenomenon confined to Washington. According to the Washington Post:
Synagogues across the country are adding readings to their services focused on racial justice. Rabbis are writing sermons on civic ills like xenophobia, voter suppression, and hate speech. Committees are making sure that members, including those who might only attend services at this one time of year, hear on that day about how they can volunteer for congregational social action projects.
At Temple Sinai, this activist surge meant putting up the memorial t-shirts just before the High Holy Days, part of the traveling exhibit Heeding God’s Call that moves from one house of worship to another. When synagogue members arrive at services this week, they’ll see the somber t-shirts outside and will be able to pick up flyers inside about how to join their fellow congregants in phone-banking to lobby against laws that would loosen restrictions on firearms.
Rabbi Adam Rosenwasser views this activism as a form of repentance, in keeping with the Jewish tradition of atonement at this season. “I think by doing this, we’re saying in a way, ‘We are sorry for the state of the world today.’ We need to do something about it,” he said. “We are all responsible. Even though I didn’t kill anybody with a gun this year — and I don’t think anybody in this congregation did — we are responsible. We’re all part of this community.”
In Ohio, 14 Reform Jewish synagogues collectively decided to focus during the High Holy Days on repenting for the sins of the U.S. criminal justice system. “Collectively standing and saying, ‘We as a community and a society are guilty of the sin of mass incarceration’ — each of us is praying individually for our own atonement, asking for forgiveness for ourselves,” said Rabbi Lindsey Danziger of the Religious Action Center, who is leading the “Reform Ohio” campaign. “We want to extend that deep value of forgiveness to people who don’t have it.”. . .
Rabbi Jill Jacobs, the executive director of the social justice organization T’ruah, said she’s heard again and again this year from rabbis who want to incorporate communal sins into their sermons and programming. . . .
“I think this year, there’s a sense that the America we thought we were living in is not actually the one we were living in. The one we thought we were living in last High Holy Days is not where we are now,” Jacobs said. “This whole holiday — Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur — is very much about doing the inward work of looking at ourselves, both individually and in the community. When we do the confession, we do it in the plural. I personally may not be responsible for every one of the sins I am confessing to, but I am living in a community in which all of these sins are happening, and I can’t be a bystander.”
Jacobs suggested that those who have protested politicians should also ask themselves how they are complicit: “Are we posting things on social media without checking that they’re true? Are we paying attention to the latest outrage rather than the big picture?”
There’s more, but you get the idea. In the spirit of the Days of Awe, I offer no comment.