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    • Maya Stiles Parsons Spier

      Columnist, Editor-in-Chief
    • September 14, 2013 in Columnists

    Yom Kippur and Tikkun Olam: When your arrow misses the mark, pick it up and try again

    When we leave this world, neither silver nor gold nor precious stones and pearls accompany us – only Torah and good deeds.
    Mishnah Avot 6:9

    It’s Erev Yom Kippur, Jewish year 5774 and I am at home in my 5th wheel/office, having eschewed the service at the synagogue for casual dress and birdy dude companionship.  The complete desire not to go anywhere in the midst of a going-and-doing life plus a light brushing of social anxiety won out over my actually sincere desire to go and commune with my Tribe.

    I’m a rather unusual Jew in that I am the converted adopted daughter of a Jewish atheist father.  So, I have a Jewish maiden name (Spier) and memories of my father looking in Holland for a cousin who, it turned out, had been murdered in the Holocaust, and yet, I was not born Jewish.  I am both connected and disconnected, Jewish in faith and decision and personal history.

    I am told that all Jews are unusual and that’s  probably true.  We all have our stories and our paths to Judaism, mine hardly being the most unique among them.

    For me, Yom Kippur and Tikkun Olam are connected on the deepest and most profound spiritual level.  Traditionally the day of atonement for all the ills we have individually perpetrated on this world and each other, it is also a day where Jews take responsibility for each other and for what happens in the world.

    We have two prayers that specifically refer to this – Al Cheit and Ashamnu that own up to particular offenses.  In the Al Cheit (pronounced Ahl Chait), we refer to ourselves in the plural – my fellow Jews and I – we as a tribe have done any and/or all of these sins and together we beg forgiveness.  We are human.  We have failed.  But more than anything, we are responsible for not only our own sins, we are responsible for each other’s.  We have seen others doing what is wrong and we have turned away.  And in turning away, we’ve allowed it.  We’ve been in collusion.

    We are responsible.

    Being responsible for not only our own actions but those of others is the darker, more difficult side of Tikkun Olam.  Being responsible is hard.  It’s not just being kind, lifting someone’s day, picking up the trash you see on your walk through the woods.  It means speaking up when it endangers us.  Stopping the hand of the person harming someone else.  It means protesting tyrannical governments, donating to important causes even when it means sacrifice.  It’s Doctors Without Borders and animal rescue groups and the social worker who follows through in rescuing the little abused kids, even if it’s terrifying to go into that house because the parents are dangerous.

    Yom Kippur means remembering all those times when we did not stand up, when we allowed our fears to overcome, when we’ve foundered under compassion fatigue because we’re just so damned overwhelmed.  Yom Kippur means taking personal responsibility, taking on that burden, saying, “Yes, that quivering, mewling failure – that was me.”

    On Yom Kippur, I must grieve for my human failings and the consequences those have for others.

    And yet, Yom Kippur and the 25 hour fast those of us who can safely do so undertake, is also a celebration of mindfulness.  It’s saying that we do not take our duties lightly even if we all too often fail in carrying them out.  It’s saying that we realize that the responsibilities that come with being human – and Jewish – are important and we must try to meet them.

    It also speaks of forgiveness.  We ask for it.  We pray for it.  We know how desperately we need it.  And, in hope of it, we stand together as a community, taking on the sins of the Tribe and thus, the burdens we all share.

    The Jewish word het or “sin” is also a term used in archery.  It means an arrow that has missed its mark.  (link)  It acknowledges that at least we tried, but we failed to hit the target.  It says that we are only human and we aren’t always going to succeed.  However, it also implies that we are going to tramp across that field, pick up the arrow, go back to where we started, take aim and try again.

    Yom Kippur is about not giving up.  Trying it all over again.  Giving it another shot and perhaps doing better next time.  Yom Kippur is about hope.  It’s about doing everything we can to make it work this time and perhaps succeeding in the all-important task of Tikkun Olam, the healing and repairing of the world, the universe and eternity.  Yom Kippur is about persistence — after all, how else do we get anywhere or do anything in our lives?  Yom Kippur is about all being in this together, voyagers on this big, gorgeous blue marble in the vastness of space and time and that it’s the responsibility of every one of us to do our best – and when we don’t, to pick ourselves up and try again.

    Eventually we will learn to succeed far more often than we fail.

    G’mar Hatimah Tovah – May You Be Sealed for a Good Year in the Book of Life.



    • Nice thoughts. I feel like we should do this everyday rather than one day a year. I try to practice this every day and apologize as needed.
      On another note, did you ever search for your bio parents? Maybe they were Jewish.


        • Maya North

        • September 14, 2013 at 6:22 pm
        • Reply

        For me, Yom Kippur does remind me to do this every day. I don’t always manage it, but I try really hard to be mindful. Oh, and according to my bio information (which came sans names or locations), my bio mother was Episcopalean and my bio father was Lutheran. Oh well.


      • Kelvin

      • September 14, 2013 at 9:14 pm
      • Reply

      Thank you for this. Wonderful. I feel like I understand you even better and why you’re driven to speak out against injustice and cruelty. Fascinating and enlightening. 🙂


        • Maya North

        • September 14, 2013 at 11:52 pm
        • Reply

        Thank you so much for your kind words. I am ethics driven to the point of being a serious annoyance, but I am both impelled and compelled because I cannot live with myself if I don’t.



    • I wish all the world were Jewish after reading this then! The “compassion fatigue” you speak of threatens everything Yom Kippur represents. Wonderful column, as always.


        • Maya North

        • September 15, 2013 at 5:37 pm
        • Reply

        Oh, Kathie, thank you so much! From what I can see, all cultures and all faiths have a lot to learn from each other. Each has its strengths and beauties and each its work to do. However, there is a real reason I chose Judaism before I even knew I had a real connection to it…



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