This is Erev Yom Kippur. Ten days ago, on Erev Rosh Hashanah, we learned of the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Before the evening was old, Mitch McConnell and the president declared their determination to rush to fill Justice Ginsburg’s seat with a far-right judge, an intention they are working hard to fulfill.
So much, for now, for the re-cap. Just put that to the side for a moment; it’ll come back around again.
Every so often during the year — whenever there’s a Jewish holiday — I ask myself why I, as someone on the Agnostic-Atheist Spectrum, keep celebrating these holidays, but I know the answers. A lot of it has to do with being brought up that way, with maintaining an identity and a connection to my family, those living and those dead. (My idea of Pascal’s Wager is reminding myself that, if there is an afterlife, I don’t want to spend mine explaining to my Yiddishe grandparents why I stopped being Jewish. And then my Aunt Lillie would show up —— let’s not even go there.)
But aside from the fear-of-perpetual-guilt, there’s also an emphasis in Judaism on getting this life right, on cultivating right relations between people.¹ And that’s particularly true around the High Holy Days, when one is supposed to try to fix relations between one’s self and others one has hurt or done wrong before one can ask God for forgiveness. The making things right makes sense to me. Ideally, I’d just go around apologizing all year ’round, but I don’t, so I appreciate the yearly reminder. I actually take this ritual pretty seriously. I think I’m mostly a pretty innocuous person, but I have my moments, particularly when I’m angry or scared or just plain stupid, when I can lash out or not realize I’m saying the most keenly hurtful thing possible — either way, it’s important to me to make amends.
It was hard to start apologizing, to say “I was wrong,” but what really set me back was how hard it was for people to hear and accept my apologies. Almost everyone tried to turn the situation into a joke; some even got sharply angry with me, they were so uncomfortable. People reacted as if I were trying to wrong-foot them or as if I were exposing a soft spot for them to poke.
And this is where I want to start circling back to to the beginning of this post. We, as a society, have come to regard an apology — a sincere apology that signals a change of heart, a change of mind, as a fault, a flaw, a fatal error. And we avoid exposing ourselves to such judgement, to the power over us that an apology might give someone.
We see this attitude so clearly in politics. No politician wants to admit to being wrong lest the other political sharks start circling, letting blood, tearing out chunks of flesh. Constituents, too, may feel betrayed and lash out in anger.
We need to make it possible for people to apologize, to make amends, to change their minds. The decision to hurry Justice Ginsburg’s replacement onto the Court would be the perfect place to start. A majority of Americans² — up to 62% — want to wait until after Inauguration Day to seat a new judge. If you’re one of those Americans, write and call and e-mail your senators. If they’ve come out for replacing Justice Ginsburg before the election or during a lame-duck period (if there is one), tell them you’ll regard them more highly for listening to their constituents and for changing their minds.
Will it work? I don’t know. But please give it a try. And no matter what, sometime by the third of November — VOTE.
- And here, everyone who’s Jewish and is reading this, who was probably nodding along during the guilt bit, is sitting up to argue and explain at length why I’m wrong. It’s what we do. You know what they say: where there are two Jews, there are three opinions.
- “A new poll showed that the American public agrees with him and opposes Mr. Trump’s plan to rush a new justice onto the court. Of those surveyed by Reuters and Ipsos since Justice Ginsburg’s death, 62 percent said her seat should be filled by the winner of the November election, including the vast majority of Democrats and even half of Republicans.” Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman. “Trump and Democrats Brace for Showdown Over Supreme Court Seat,” New York Times. 25 September, 2020.