As should be obvious from last week’s post, “Rosh Hashanah, China and ISIS,” I like finding connections. So as the High Holy Days prepare to conclude, I offer some new ones. If they seem far-fetched, think about the complexity of human nature.
Let’s start with joggers. A few days ago, I was walking on Lake Street. A jogger was running east on the opposite sidewalk. A car also was heading east. At the corner, the jogger made a sudden left turn to cross the street at a pedestrian-protected intersection. The car approached but didn’t yield. The jogger came to a sudden stop and shook his fist.
From what I witnessed, the jogger made a misguided assumption that the driver would see him. As an avid walker and former runner as well as motorist, I know that’s foolish. Yes, all too many drivers are oblivious. At the same time, runners and pedestrians often pop out of virtually concealed positions at corners, sometimes mid-block, unaware that drivers often can’t see them. Does responsibility rest only with the other guy? What about common sense? As a long-ago New York City public service campaign once warned, “You could be right. Dead right.”
Which leads to Hisham Melhem, bureau chief of Al Arabiya News Channel in Washington, DC. Last Saturday he wrote a risky article, “Who brought the Arabs to this nadir?” According to Melhem, Arabs—particularly intellectuals, activists and opinion makers—won’t come to grips with the terrible tragedies inflicting the Arab world until they assume the main responsibility for them. The Arabs must “own their problems.” Like the jogger, many—seemingly most—Arabs feel free to point fingers at America, Israel, Europe, Lady Gaga—but never at themselves.
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, ties in perfectly. Jews, concluding ten days of soul-searching, must own our misdeeds to find forgiveness. Sins against God require repentance, so Jews will fill synagogues tonight and tomorrow. But prayer does not atone for sins against people. We must ask their forgiveness. And in all cases, we must not only recognize wrongdoing and vow not to repeat it—we must actually do what is right.
It’s hard for all of us to own our mistakes. Joggers, walkers, cyclists and motorists must understand that we all use the same streets and sidewalks. Our right to move where we want when we want must be placed in perspective. So too, the Arab world must learn to respect others. That also goes for the rest of us too often wrapped smugly inside borders, cultures and religions that define ourselves as good and anyone different as bad.
None of us is perfect. That, I believe, is the appeal of Yom Kippur to many Jews who otherwise never attend synagogue. At some level they seek a moral, even spiritual, accounting. They recognize the need to accept, if only for one day, that they as individuals are not the sole measure of the world.
In this New Year 5775, may we build new connections. In doing so, may we build the prospects for peace.
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