Power and Atonement

I always struggle with Yom Kippur services. One of the things I atone for, year after year, is that I am a little judgmental about people who only show up to synagogue for the High Holy Day services.

BY: Malachi Kosanovich


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That’s not the part that interests me. That’s not the part that caught my heart.

I go to Yom Kippur services, and I stand in this room with all these other Jews, and we atone as a people for the things that we have done wrong. And I have no idea what is going on in their lives. I have no idea what is in their hearts, what they are atoning for, what pain they have caused, what pain they are suffering.

It is not my place to know. We are, in many ways, strangers. Many of them have never seen me. I have never seen many of them. We are lost in our own guilts, our own griefs.

I wonder if this is the power of Yom Kippur. Although there are times during services during which we atone as a people for our crimes, I wonder if the real power isn’t in atoning for our own transgressions in a room full of other people – not as a people, not as communal transgressions, but as a community with so many individual transgressions.

We have all shown up. We all know that we are not blameless in the face of G…d. We know that we have hurt others. We know that we have hurt ourselves. We have not locked ourselves away in a room with our grief. We have not retreated to a mountain or a park or a lake to be alone with our sins. We are together. We can lean on the strength of every other Jew in the room.

It’s an incredible strength – this room full of guilt. It’s the strength of the group of friends who come over when your heart is broken. It’s the strength of the family who surrounds you when someone you love has left, has died. It’s the strength of loved ones who support you during illness. And for a day, it’s this strength coming from a group of strangers. It’s part of what it means to be a people, a nation.

It’s absolutely, heartbreakingly incredible.

While we stand in shul confessing our sins in the plural – we have done this, we have done that – we also stand confessing our individual sins – I have broken this,

Continued on page 3: Power and Atonement »

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