Op-Ed: In this dismal year, Yom Kippur needs a rethink

Men pray at Jerusalem's Western Wall before the start of Yom Kippur.
Men pray at Jerusalem’s Western Wall before the start of Yom Kippur.
(Kevin Frayer / Associated Press)

This is, according to Jewish tradition, a busy time of the year for the Lord.

Earlier this month, on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, He put on His silken judge’s robe, shined up His wooden gavel, pulled out his Big Book of Life and, having reviewed our deeds of the past year, wrote down exactly what kind of year we were going to have.

For me, a fallen Jew, I imagine He wrote something like this:


“Auslander, Shalom: Failure, Misery, Death (note: slow/agonizing).”

Fortunately, there is something of an appeals process. Ten days after His judgment, according to Jewish tradition, we observe Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, our last chance to admit our wrongdoings, apologize for our sins and promise to do better next year.

It is a day, once a year, for us to say, “Sorry, my bad.”

“Eternal One,” we pray, “we do not say, in arrogance and stubbornness, we are blameless and do no wrong. We have stumbled; we have fallen.”

And fall we do, upon our knees, and beat our chests, one beat for every sin.

“We have rebelled (oof), we have deceived (wham), we have caused grief (ouch).”

There’s a handy list in the prayer book, in case you forget.

It can be hard to remember — last October feels so far away, especially this year. Which brings me to my point.

I’m all for confession, Judaic or otherwise. It’s not about guilt or shame, at least that’s what my rabbis told me.

It’s about looking at oneself honestly, without making excuses, without blaming anyone else, in order to assess yourself, your actions, your self. And so this year, 2020, I think it’s time for a change.

Trump? COVID? “Murder hornets”?

This year, I think God ought to atone to us.

Wildfires. Earthquakes. Drought.

I don’t know if the Lord’s going through some sort of mid-eternal-life crisis or what, but He’s been way, way out of line.

I’m not suggesting we’ve been perfect children, but frankly, Dad’s behavior lately is bordering on abuse.

Unemployment. School closings. Poverty.

He’s obviously going through something. Depression, withdrawal, I don’t know what — but it doesn’t excuse His behavior.

Not that I’m a big defender of mankind, mind you, far from it. There have been times when I wanted to collectively spank the species myself. But Bolsonaro? Putin? Twitter?

What, Dear Lord, have we done to deserve this?

We deserve an apology.

We deserve a little contrition, Oh Lord, a solemn and sincere “My bad” from Our Father In Heaven who Hath, at the very least, Been Asleep At The Wheel.

It is the mark of a good parent to be able to admit to your children when you’ve been wrong. And unless Our Father in Heaven wants us to call Our Child Protective Services Who Art in Heaven, he’d better start atoning. Fast.

“For the sins I have committed with viruses (oof), for the sins I have committed with racial injustice (wham), for the hunger in Yemen (ouch) — forgive me, Oh People.”

I was going to let it slide.

I was going to give Him a pass.

I didn’t want to upset Him further.

Then he killed RBG.

It has been, according to Jewish tradition, 5,780 years since God created the world.

For almost 6,000 years, we’ve been apologizing to Him.

This year, it’s His turn.

Shalom Auslander is a novelist, memoirist and screenwriter. His latest novel, “Mother for Dinner,” is available now.