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This Yom Kippur, We Must Atone for the Sins of Israeli Policy

Israel could not have sustained all these years of occupation without the political, diplomatic, and financial support of much of the worldwide Jewish community.

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Apology: repentance and atonement for sin. Not only Palestinians, but people around the world who support the Palestinian cause, would welcome such words of contrition, even if they came not from the Israeli government but from masses of Jews in the U.S. and around the world.

There’s a common view in most countries, with good reason, that Israel is a U.S.-sponsored outpost of American-style neocolonialism. A message of atonement from any sizeable portion of the Jewish community would begin to raise questions about that view, especially if it were accompanied by signals of change from the U.S. administration. That would go far to make the global political climate more amenable to constructive dialogue and eventually to peace.
So when U.S. Jews ask themselves and each other this Yom Kippur, “What sins? What are we called to atone for?”, the answers can have a profound impact that is both religious and political.

If this all seems too hopeful and naïve, perhaps it’s because I spent so many Yom Kippurs of my youth in synagogue, reciting not only those long confessionals but also the final prayer of the day, which says that even at the last moment God gives sinners a chance for what’s called in Hebrew “t’shuvah” -- repentance or, more literally, turning around and heading in the opposite direction. It’s no coincidence that Yom Kippur concludes the Jewish New Year season, the time of fresh hope and new beginnings, even when it seems impossible.

That’s hardly a distinctively Jewish idea, though. It’s the same kind of hope that spurred the abolitionists, the suffragettes, the civil rights movement, the California farm workers, and so many other successful progressive movements. Most of them were able to go on fighting for justice, even when the world scorned them as naïve and gave up on their cause, because they were driven by a faith that was at once both spiritual and political. Who said religion and politics don’t mix?

Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Read more of his writing on Israel, Palestine, and American Jews on his blog:

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