Weekend Open Thread: A Final Act of Atonement in These Waning Hours of Yom Kippur




Fewer than two hours remain in the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, the “Day of Atonement,” as this is published, but there is one more area of contrition that I would like to suggest to those who honor this holiday.  It is expressed here:

I am sorry, dear God, for whatever I may have done to lead my fellow Americans to think that I as Jews thought that a Muslim ban was acceptable policy — including any silence.

One of the benefits of being a Jew in America is that, wherever we see persecution, we retain as a cultural memory that “we have been there before.”  This is an explicit part of the eight-day feast holiday of Passover, where we are asked to recall that “we were slaves in the land of Egypt” before God delivered us in a way that has always struck me as needlessly harsh on the Egyptians.  (Seriously, God could have just turned the Pharaoh into a gigantic dirigible stretching all of the way down the Nile, and then publicly exploded him; surely that would have made the “Let My People Go” point eloquently and without the massacre of first-born sons of those who did not have lamb’s blood smeared on their doorpost of their houses.  (Hiding the knowledge of the need to do so from the powerless Egyptian people was perhaps the first-ever and most historically prominent Jewish conspiracy theory ever, certainly of the “blood-related” genre.  So thanks for that, Prophet Ezra the Scribe.)

Jews are supposed to construe the enslavement in Egypt as something that happened to them personally; the failure to do so, the externalizing of the insult from being personal, is actually one of the things that is sneered at in the traditional Passover service.  But what does one do with such a grievous insult from the distant collective past, if one does not allow it to cool with time?  You have basically two options: (1) let it impel you towards sympathy and understanding towards those similarly inflicted now, or (2) nurse the anger, resentment, and fear of repetition of the grievance and use it to justify greater than ever efforts to prevent its recurrence.  To some extent, the latter is natural and inevitable — it’s good that, after having experienced something like the Holocaust, a people pledge to themselves “Never Again” (although there are always the questions of “at what cost security?” and of what constitutes satisfactory reparations, which can make it much less good) — but it is surely a problem if the latter becomes untethered to the former.  If your guideline becomes that anything you do to ensure your security is justified and you have no responsibility to speak up for the similar rights of others, then the abyss is staring deeply into you indeed.

This in turn brings up the topic of collective guilt, which we proclaim to abhor, as Americans, but which is with us always.  Collective guilt is convenient; more to the point, it is efficient — or, at least, efficient to implement.  (In the larger sense, it’s not efficient at all, because efficiency presupposes effectiveness, and collective guilt tends to bring forth as many new problems as it supposedly solves.

You looked at the photo above (taken of me, and the same of of many other people, at last Monday night’s Democratic Party of Orange County meeting by activist and committee-member Mirvette Judeh), so you’ve probably already gotten some idea of where this is going.  Yes, we experienced 9/11 — and we do not want to let it happen again.  For some of us, the experience of injustice propels us to look out for injustice against others we all; others of us are impelled mostly to demanding greater security, which — in the instance of Muslims (9/11, San Bernardino, Ft. Hood), but for some reason not young white Christian nationalist and often bigoted men (too many instances to mention) — leads us to impose collective guilt on people.  Other people.

Yes, that was part of where I was going, but no really most of it, because this is written for the occasion of Yom Kippur, not of Passover or Holocaust Remembrance Day.  I have a different “collective guilt” in mind — not one involving personal or ethno-religious grievance, but one regarding collective atonement.  (And non-Jews, you get to play too!)

Our government is doing some awful things right now.  (Disagree in comments, if you must.)  But many of them involve greed (the new tax plan) or selfishness (letting people languish without the basic necessities of life, whether healing or housing.)  A probable minority (appropriately enough) involve dehumanization and delegitimization of others on ethnic, racial, or other demographic grounds.  Among these, Trump’s Muslin Ban — the THIRD Muslim Ban, let’s remember — looms large.  In terms of keeping away The Other, this is sort of like the Great Wall of Mexico, except that this one is really happening.

For most of us here in California (although perhaps less so OC), Trumpism is happening somewhere elseOUR STATE didn’t vote for Trump, and if not for the arcane Electoral College that we’ve allowed to leave in place, if it were up to a majority of us it wouldn’t be happening at all.  But when it comes to the likes of the Muslim Ban, do some of us, or all of us, still have reason to atone, to seek forgiveness?

I think that we do.  In fact, the problem I see is that seeking forgiveness verbally alone is too cheap a price to pay.  The notion that this screwy and cruel, perverse and pointless, ban against people coming from (select) Muslim countries is allowed to exist without continual howling from the public is  atrocious, a national shame, and one gets the sense that Trump wants our complicity in this injustice because once people are complicit in an injustice they naturally get defensive about it.  They learn to justify it; they yearn for the conflict to go away and leave them alone.  And we can been pretty damned sure that no plague of death of first-born sons is coming along to impose collective punishment upon us, because God’s ways seem to be much more subtle and mysterious these days.

As an American, I hate the Muslim ban because it cruelly and needlessly alienates us from a great swath of the world.  (In fact, the Muslim countries exempted from the band are largely the ones who had the most to do with 9/11 — that being Saudi Arabia and its fellow klepto-autocratic regimes.  Don’t worry, surely the rest of the world hasn’t noticed.)

As an American, I hate the Muslim ban because it empowers the “War Constitution” theory that recently prospered under the Younger President Bush  To the extent — courts soon determining this yet again, for the third time — that it rises out of religious animus rather than rational and articulable specific concerns about national security, it empowers bigotry (which really doesn’t need the help these days) and raises its prominence as a national organizing principle.  But I have a set of deeply felt objections, close to my heart, that most readers here will not share.

I am incensed — stricken, embarrassed, anguished, etc. — that in the public mind this is being done in my name as a Jew.  As, in other words, a potential birthright citizen of the state of Israel, whose interests Trump and his chiliastic supporters ironically claim to be seeking to promote.

“Was I unclear?”, I ask myself.  Did I somehow give the impression, through action or inaction, that this stigmatizing ban upon travel from countries whose people largely just want us to leave them alone was something that I wanted, to make me more safe as an American Jew?  Did I not do enough to dissociate myself from discriminatory and bellicose policies and mean-spiritedness of both my own country and my official ethnic homeland?  Did I not talk to enough of my fellow Jews and tell them “we cannot have a part in this”?  (Probably not — Trump doesn’t exactly listen to my kind of Jew.)  Did I too readily shrug because it was, after all, happening to someone else — not to a country into whose population I have married, not to countries, in fact, that I have ever visited, although I looked at one or two once long ago from across an Israeli border?

I atone, Dear God, for whatever I should have done differently in this respect — and I wish that I knew what it was.  I would pray for your intervention to make these enshrinements of bigotry go away, but I suspect that part of the point on Yom Kippur is that I am not supposed depend on you to ensure that what’s right is done in this world; you, instead, are supposed to be able to depend on me.

This is your Weekend Open Thread, with 75 minutes of Yom Kippur remaining.  Talk about that or whatever else you’d like, within reasonable bounds of discretion and devotion.


About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)