Every year on the Jewish High Holy Days, we offer a prayer called the “Al Chet.” It is a prayer about the sins we have committed over the past year for which we ask God’s forgiveness. It is powerful. It is thought provoking. It is communal (always in the first person plural).
This past Saturday, following the murderous attack at Congregation Etz Chaim in Pittsburgh, I thought of that prayer. I then thought of our young children who Sunday would be gathering for Religious School. It was then that tears poured from my soul. How have we allowed this next generation to inherited the sins of our generation? How have we not put an end to the violence and hate and vitriol? How have we perpetuated a culture of indifference?
I looked at the ancient prayer again, and I rewrote the words (with gratitude to Rabbi Jonah Pesner of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism who inspired my thinking on this)
Al Chet Shechatanu/ for the sin we have committed by not putting an end to gun violence
Al Chet Shechatanu/ for the sin we have committed by allowing hate to spread
Al Chet Shechatanu/ for the sin we have committed by our indifference
Al Chet Shechatanu/ for the sin we have committed by thinking that things will change without our stepping in
Al Chet Shechatanu/ for the sin we have committed by allowing the next generation to inherit our mistakes…
It’s not enough to ask forgiveness …. we ask you, humanity, to challenge us toward effectuating change. This cannot continue.
That challenge in on our shoulders. We must learn the biblical commandments to seek peace and pursue justice. We must take to heart the lesson repeated 36 times in our Torah, “Do not treat others like a stranger, for you were once strangers.” We not only hear, but follow the wisdom of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” None of it will happen unless we get involved. We can no longer sit back.
Hate crimes are nothing new. But we are living in a time when people feel emboldened to turn vile words into murderous action. They are inspired and invigorated by a tone that thrives on mockery, bullying, xenophobia, and thuggery.
But we are strong. We are lights. We are community.
We are life. We are goodness. We are seekers.
We pray, and we act.
We demand better.
We embrace peace.
With love and Shalom,
Rabbi Zach Shapiro
Temple Akiba of Culver City