And so, once again, with that incipient autumn nip in the air, we find ourselves deep in the Days of Awe, our annual chance to recharge ourselves as Jews, as human beings.
It’s always a bit of a mountain to climb, that summiting for atonement. At least, it is if we do it right. Though the rituals of Yom Kippur — Kol Nidrei, the Al Chet and Unetaneh Tokef prayers — are fixed, our encounters with them ought to feel new every time. We are not the same people we were 12 months ago. Each year, we must approach the heavy lifting required of us during Yom Kippur with fresh eyes and open hearts.
It was a stroke of genius for the rabbis of the Middle Ages to introduce Kol Nidrei into the Erev Yom Kippur service. They understood that human beings are inherently fallible, and that vows made even with the best of intentions too often prove impossible to live up to. By nullifying those vows in the Kol Nidrei prayer, we get to wipe the slate clean every year and try again. Maybe next time, we’ll get it done.
However, Kol Nidrei applies only to vows made to God. The vows we made to other people cannot be so easily dismissed. Broken promises that cause pain to those we care about require apology, atonement and a very big ask: forgiveness.
With all of this as backdrop, we hope readers will check out our cover story this week on the topic of reparations, whether the United States owes some form of compensation to African Americans for the grave sins of slavery, Jim Crow, lynching, disenfranchisement and discrimination committed against them, with reverberations that continue today.
The story draws comparisons to reparations paid by the German government to Holocaust survivors, as well as reparations the U.S. government paid to Japanese Americans for their unconscionable internment during World War II.
Germany has paid out billions to Jewish victims of Nazi atrocities. Does America owe anything less to its black citizens? No one quite knows how atonement for crimes committed against African Americans could best be effectuated, but it’s a national conversation we are obligated to take seriously.
Meanwhile, in our Bay Area Jewish community, we will set about the work of atonement. And in that spirit, we at J. sincerely apologize to readers and community members for any hurt we may have caused, for any inaccuracies we may have printed, for any stories we left untold.
May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life for another year of blessings, bounty and hope.