For the last 900 Sundays or so, Jay Goldinger has led the volunteer Food on Foot effort helping salvage hundreds of Los Angeles’ homeless from the dangers and despair of the gutter towards a future of full of hope.
At the end of the first week of the no-nonsense program, the participants are given a hand-mirror: “take a good look”, they’re told, “you’re looking at the enemy.”
Yom Kippur is the Jewish people’s mirror.
During the 25-hour fast, clad in white, old and young, religious and secular flock to synagogue, where we repeatedly list our communal and personal sins, followed by prayerful wails beseeching for an acquittal or at least a suspended sentence from the Heavenly judge.
The formula of prayer, supplication, repentance, and the possibility of change generally leaves us physically exhausted, spiritually elevated, and most importantly -- optimistic that the coming year will be better—perhaps much better.
All the prayers and fasting however, don’t tip the heavenly scales of justice one whit if our sins/mistakes/crimes targeted other people. No clean slate from G-d, unless we made it right with the injured party.
This Yom Kippur, when I hold up the mirror, there will be no clean slate. Those YouTube images of Syrian children, poisoned, gassed to death by their own president will not disappear. Nor should they.
Because their murders desecrate G-d’s name and His mandate to humanity to walk justly, to stand up to evil, to take personal responsibility, to protect the widow and orphan and the weak.
This Yom Kippur who can say they did enough to stand up to the evil unleashed in Syria?
Not Ban Ki Moon, who admitted as much about the United Nations, an institution that long ago forgot how to effectively stand up against tyranny, more often than not silently acquiescing to bullies and cynical voting blocs
Not Human Rights NGOs, most of which sit strangely on the sidelines instead of smashing the barriers ofgovernments’ inaction and silence.
Not the religious elite, who have largely been AWOL as millions of Christians throughout the Middle East suffer terrorism, discrimination and ethnic cleansing.
And not our cultural elite who have done little to stem the shrinking moral attention span of America’s young people.
One recent study found that our nation’s social-media users were 12 times more likely to view Miley Cyrus’ racy MTV performance than view a news story depicting the ongoing atrocities in Syria. And sadly neither our president nor Congress can claim they have done enough.
While we can pray that Mr. Obama’s belated Russian gambit will help reduce or eliminate the threat of more poison gas attacks, we should not forget that Congressional leaders did little to back the president on Syria when the issue was raised weeks ago. And now, it seems that hopes of holding Bashar al-Assad personally culpable for hiscrimes against humanity are waning and the end of the deadly civil war is nowhere in sight.
At the end of the Yom Kippur services Saturday night, the Shofar -- ram’s horn -- will be blown -- just one time. It’s a reminder that the gates of heaven never really close for those who truly want to repent.
But there is a caveat. The road to personal change and true peace can only be reached if we are prepared to take personal responsibility for our actions and have the courage and conviction to confront, not avoid Evil.