jE-Scapegoat
jE-Scapegoat

The sacrificial goat: Adorable eScapegoat takes it on the chin for our sins

Sidebar: “Anonymous sins from the eScapegoat”

Just in time for the Day of Atonement, the eScapegoat is back for another round of bleat and tweet.

For Yom Kippur last year, the S.F.-based Jewish education nonprofit G-dcast introduced eScapegoat, a Web app that modernizes the biblical custom of transferring sins onto two goats, one to be sacrificed, the other cast into the wilderness.

Calm down, PETA. No goats were harmed in the making of eScapegoat.

Instead, 21st-century Jews may go to G-dcast’s eScapegoat Web app, spell out their sins (à la Twitter, in no more than 120 characters) and press “submit.” The sins then go online for all to see. As G-dcast puts it on the website, “Like in biblical times, only nerdier.”

This just in to the sin feed: “I really, really love bacon-wrapped scallops.”

“Sometimes I read my wife’s Web history.”

“Every once in a while, I eat an oneg cookie before it is oneg.”

“This is a good way to use the Torah for something public, anonymous, sharing and provocative all at the same time,” says G-dcast founder Sarah Lefton. “It’s a warm-up to get yourself in the frame of mind of the Days of Awe, a chance to think for a minute and type your 120 characters.”

The eScapegoat app was an instant hit in its inaugural year, with more than 50,000 users submitting sins. Many had fun with it, uploading such peccadillos as “I yell at people from my car, even if they aren’t driving poorly” and “I claimed the soup was vegan. It wasn’t.”

This year, Lefton and the G-dcast team offered an upgrade. The animated goats remain just as cute as ever, but now, for $99, Jewish institutions may opt for a Mini Goat, a customized version of eScapegoat ready for prominent posting on their home pages.

More than 50 Jewish institutions across the country have said yes to the Mini Goat. Local first adopters include congregations such as Emanu-El in San Francisco, Shomrei Torah in Santa Rosa and Temple Sinai in Oakland, as well as Jewish day schools and JCCs, among them the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto.

Images from the G-dcast website help explain the origins of the eScapegoat.

“We’re really interested in new expressions of Judaism,” says Sally Kauffman Flinchbaugh, the Palo Alto JCC’s chief operating officer. “This is one of those. It’s a place where people can express themselves in a new and relevant way. One of the things G-dcast is so good at is educating the general population and Jews in ways we hadn’t thought about.”

The OFJCC’s Mini Goat site includes G-dcast’s new eScapegoat video, which stars two adorable but star-crossed goats, one destined for flames, the other a desert cliff.

All custom sites feature the institution’s logo, space to include community events and links to new curriculum materials, which allow educators to teach adults, teens and kids the origins of the scapegoat.

Leviticus 16 details the once-a-year Yom Kippur sacrifice of two male goats, one to be served up as a burnt offering. For the other, dubbed “Azazel” (often translated as “outcast” or “wilderness”), the High Priest would lay hands on it and, according to the Torah, “confess over it all the iniquities and transgressions of the Israelites … and it shall be sent off to the wilderness.”

Rabbi Joshua Fenton, associate director of community engagement at the S.F.-based Jewish LearningWorks, is a fan of eScapegoat, which has been featured on CNN and NPR and in the Wall Street Journal and the Israeli daily Haaretz. He says it augments an essential component of repentance: the act of confession.

“It’s the best of experiential education,” the rabbi says. “It takes the concept and makes it super real for participants. It connects people to the historical reality that was Yom Kippur.”

That reality predates Solomon’s Temple. The Leviticus passages refer to Aaron himself as the one to dispatch the sacrificial goats, at a time when the Israelites wandered the desert.

Animal sacrifice went out with the destruction of the Second Temple nearly 2,000 years ago. But according to Fenton, G-dcast’s digital scapegoat provides an important lesson for Jews today, especially at this time of year.

Sarah Lefton and Jeremy Shuback try out the app.

“There is a real and potentially transformative aspect of the app,” he says. “Not so much confession as introspection. You have to look inward and actually think, ‘Who am I and how did I miss the mark?’ It requires an honest look inward.”

To that end, beyond an abundance of lighthearted submissions to eScapegoat, the feed is full of more serious confessions, striking for their poignancy and brutal honesty.

Among them: “I haven’t been able to fix my family.”

“I was indifferent to other people’s suffering.”

“I slept with someone else’s partner.”

Lefton was surprised at how touched she felt after reading some of the posted sins. “You know there’s a world behind the comments,” she says.

To Fenton, innovations such as eScapegoat are a “wonderful way to pique curiosity. One can imagine individuals engaging with the app and then reading more.”

The rabbi also appreciates the hipster twist eScapegoat provides to a truly ancient custom harkening back to Moses himself.

“I can do this on my phone in a coffee shop,” Fenton says of the Twitterization of atonement. “That’s the sweet spot [G-dcast] is looking to occupy.”

Find the eScapegoat at www.escgoat.com or on Twitter at @SinfulGoat

 

Anonymous sins from the eScapegoat

• “I’m sorry I watched the baseball game instead of the news about Gaza and Israel.”

• “I never listened to my voicemail at my last job.”

• “I’m sorry that I don’t call my family. Like, at all. Ever.”

• “I said I was going to yoga, but I really went to Tropical Smoothie.”

• “I forgot to invite my good friend to my wedding and then didn’t say anything until it was too late for her to come.”

• “I make my life seem better than it is on social media. I’m actually unhappy.”

• “I need to spend more time with the wife and kid.”

• “Sometimes I walk with ear buds in just so I don’t have to talk to anyone. I’m not listening to music.”

• “When I’m not home, I leave my A/C on for the cats.”

• “I hide in my bedroom so that I don’t have to deal with my kids.”

• “I played games on my phone after my parents told me to turn the lights out.”

• “We did Chinese takeout on the first night of Pesach. Halfway through I realized the fried rice had pork.”

• “I picked a fight in order to end a friendship.”

• “I shopped at Walmart last week.”

• “I get impatient when people are telling me their life stories. I just don’t care.”

• “I ate M&M’s out of the bottom of my purse.”

• “I stole money from a purse I found that someone had left at the park in the restroom.”

• “I drink four to five glasses of wine every night and don’t even feel it anymore.”

• “I’m sorry for all of the times I could have spent time with my father, but didn’t.”

• “I am jealous of others who seem to be worry free.”

• “I was annoyed that family members I haven’t seen in 30 years found my number.”

• “Being jealous of my brother because things seem to be so easy for him.”

• “I am sorry that I eat my sister’s toast!”

— From @SinfulGoat on Twitter

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.