This year, Yom Kippur made me very happy.
Now I know joy is not something one associates with the Day of Atonement. Normally you think of solemnity, seriousness, holiness.
But the truth is, from a true theological perspective, Yom Kippur is a day of joy. That’s something that Chasidic Jews teach us, that especially the best Chasidim of all, Chabad, teaches us, and what the most learned Jewish religious leader of the last century, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, endeavored to get us to understand.
The whole Chasidic philosophy is based on joy, an element that one doesn’t normally think of when looking at the Jewish world. Too much are we always and only focused on downers, on the Iran deal, on anti-Semitism, on boycotts of Israel. But Judaism is at its essence and fundamentally a religious of simcha, of joy.
We are to be joyful that G-d created us, that He keeps us alive, that He is always there with us. And we are to live our lives joyfully, being grateful for what we have, understanding that everything that happens to us is for the good, even when it doesn’t feel like it and we don’t see it. And understanding that G-d is a G-d of love.
Chasidim emphasize the love part. Those from the super Orthodox yeshiva world emphasize the fear part. They tell us we are to be afraid of G-d, feel we are always disappointing Him, failing to measure up.
You really feel that on a day like Yom Kippur. One year I attended services at a super Orthodox yeshiva and the oppressive feeling one has is that your neck is in the hangman’s noose and you gotta pray your guts out to just barely escape the noose from being tightened. The next year I attended Chabad services and the entire feeling was of joy, of G-d loving us and ready and eager to forgive our sins of the past year, and confident we will do better in the new year.
Anyway I didn’t mean to go off on this theological stuff. What I loved about Yom Kippur this year was the New York Yankees and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.
You know, I have long contended that this generation of Jews has it better than any generation of Jews ever, what with us having a state of Israel, a state of Israel which has diplomatic relations with every important country in the world and one of the strongest militaries in the world. What with us having Jews everywhere in the world living in freedom and fully able to live as Jews. What with the United States embracing Jews in an incredible way, from three of nine Supreme Court justices being Jews to our ways being celebrated, accepted and respected by society. Everyone in America knows about Rosh Hashanah and Passover and Chanukah. Can you name three Muslim holidays?
Anyway I’ve always said things are very good for Jews but this Yom Kippur proved they are even better than even I realized.
Consider that the most famous of baseball teams, the New York Yankees, was coming to the end of their season and still in the race to win their division. The Friday before the end of the regular season was the day before Yom Kippur began Friday night. Now normally baseball teams play on Friday nights. It’s a good night for people to come to the ballpark, what with the work week over and the weekend beginning.
But the Yankees did not play Friday night but rather at the odd time of early Friday afternoon. Why? Because Friday night was Kol Nidre and I learned that before the start of each baseball season, the Yankees specifically ask major league baseball not to schedule them to play in New York on Yom Kippur, out of respect for the city’s Jews. Amazing.
And then we had Mark Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg is the head of Facebook, one of the most powerful forces in the world today. Almost everyone has a Facebook page. Zuckerberg has transformed the way we get our news, relate to other people, present ourselves, connect with others. He is nothing short of a revolutionary right up there with Alexander Graham Bell.
Facebook has been in some hot water recently for a bunch of reasons, including having been manipulated by the Russians to place anti-Hillary ads in order to sway voters and so determine the outcome of our election. Facebook has gotten a lot of heat for being so lax about and complicit in that.
And so, amazingly, Zuckerberg used the occasion of Yom Kippur to say he was sorry. In a post-Yom Kippur message on his personal Facebook account, Zuckerberg wrote: “Tonight concludes Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year for Jews when we reflect on the past year and ask forgiveness for our mistakes. For those I hurt this year, I ask forgiveness and I will try to be better. For the ways my work was used to divide people rather than bring us together, I ask forgiveness and I will work to do better. May we all be better in the year ahead, and may you all be inscribed in the book of life.”
Wow. All I can say is wow. This is one of the most important people on the face of the earth, head of something that is used by many of the people on earth and there were a whole lot of ways he could have addressed the issue. And yet he chose Yom Kippur, the day we ask for forgiveness for our sins, as the vehicle, and explained to the world how he had fallen short, based on the concepts of Yom Kippur. He even talked about the year ahead, referring to the Jewish year ahead, not something 99 percent of Facebook users think of as the year ahead, and talked about being inscribed in the book of life, a Jewish concept if there ever was one.
You know I’ve much lamented that we have no Jewish leaders today, that so lacking are we in true Jewish leaders that clowns like casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and blowhards like Alan Dershowitz are seen as Jewish leaders. But, ladies and gentlemen of the Jewish world, I believe we have now seen the face of a real Jewish leader, Marc Zuckerberg of Facebook.
His Yom Kippur message actually culminated a whole series of things he’s been doing to embracer his Judaism. Last December on Facebook he wrote that for him, “religion is very important.” In May, he quoted a Jewish prayer at Harvard’s commencement. Two weeks ago he posted a picture of his daughter with a family Kiddush cup. And he has surrounded himself with people who are really into their Judaism. His college roommate moved to Israel and became a rabbi. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has spoken frequently about how Jewish rituals helped her cope following her husband’s untimely death in 2015. And his sister, Randi, is open about her Jewish observances. She says her family unplugs for a “digital Shabbat” each weekend, and sang “Jerusalem of Gold,” a classic Israeli song, at the Davos World Economic Forum.
But Zuckerberg’s Yom Kippur message was the icing on the cake, showing a true understanding of the day and a willingness to very publicly share its message with the world. Good for him and good for us.
But back to baseball for a minute. I truly think we don’t realize how much our ways are part of the life of the world. Take Ervin Santana of the Minnesota Twins who was picked to pitch their one game wildcard playoff against the Yankees. Most didn’t give the Twins a chance and in fact they did lose the game. But before the game, Santana, who is from the Dominican Republic, said he believed he could win the game and proved it by quoting none other than David Ben-Gurion. Yes, our David Ben-Gurion.
On his twitter account, Santana tags many of his posts with #SMELLBASEBALL, which he said reflects his passion for the game. Before the big wild card game, he found an inspirational message that fit the Twins’ challenge: a quotation from Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel. “Anyone who doesn’t believe in miracles is not a realist,” Santana wrote in the post.
We are everywhere, we are part of the fabric of the world like no other religion is, no other people are.
I was struck the other day reading the New York Times, American’s most prestigious newspaper. As you all know, the world is falling apart. Hurricanes, mass shootings, North Korea, messing with health care and, of course, Trump. There is big news all over the place and yet there on the front page of the New York Times online edition was this headline ‘Palestinian Gunman Kills 3 Israelis at West Bank Crossing.’
That made me stop. Think about it. With all that’s going on, all the big events, all the big countries, a tiny counry like Israel is in the spotlight, and the fact that a Palestinian gunman killed three Israelis is big news.
Of course, the killings were a tragedy but it was our tragedy, and in the scope of the entire world, a very minor incident that should be of concern only to Jews. But it was duly noted on the front page of the New York Times.
That says so much, says everything about how interested the world is in us, how much it knows about us, how much we, our news is focused on. Think about it. Were three people killed in Brazil that day? Probably. How about China and Russia and Japan and Singapore. One guy shoots three Jews in the middle of nowhere on the West Bank and the world is told about it.
The Jewish people kvetch so much about so much, are always feeling picked on and under threat and not understood and not cared about and in danger, and the truth is that all of those feelings are total baloney.
We have it very very good and it would be nice if we would notice that and feel good about it for a change. And make not only Yom Kippur a day of joy but make every day of the year a day of Jewish joy.