As Yom Kippur approaches, I reflect upon the past year and where I have fallen short of being reasonable, mindful, honest and respectful. Each year, I do this in hopes of becoming more spiritual, feeling more connected to G-d, to myself and to those around me. I work very hard to face my character defects, even the ones that are immensely difficult to look at. I recently found myself engaged in a situation where I was angered by the behavior of others. It what was ultimately revealed to me that in the past, I too had been guilty of perpetuating the same behaviors. This was a lesson that came full circle, and was very humbling for me. I felt that this situation was important to reflect upon for Yom Kippur.
Last weekend, I took a trip to San Diego with my girlfriend to visit her family. One night, we decided to go out for dinner and were then going to meet up with some friends to go bowling. As we were eating dinner, we heard yelling and thought that people were protesting across the street. After we finished eating, we headed towards my girlfriend’s car. It quickly became clear where the source of the yelling was. There was an intense man walking back and forth yelling quotes from the bible, preaching his own interpretations of Jesus’ teachings. He screamed about addiction, he screamed about homosexuality, and yelled at us about our sins. It was painfully clear that he believed that gays, Jews, and alcoholics were all going straight to hell. He demanded that we embrace Jesus if we wanted to be saved. Surrounding this outraged man were about 15 teenagers, all carrying signs stating that Jesus was our savior, and unless we embraced him now we would be spending an eternity paying for our choices. My partner and I could not avoid walking through the crowd because they were standing right by our car. At first, my partner asked me if I wanted to let go of her hand because she was concerned that the situation was growing too uncomfortable for me. I was not ashamed, and held her hand tightly as we walked through the group. A young woman stopped us and asked us if we believed that Jesus was our savior. My partner proudly stated that we are Jewish, and the young woman responded “but don’t you want to know who G-d is?” My partner smiled at the woman, and politely told her, that she did know who her G-d is. As we pulled out of our parking space, we approached a stop sign directly next to the group of activists. As I looked out the window towards the crowd, three young people holding signs approached the car door. I looked into the eyes of a young man as he asked me, “Where are you going when you die? How will your actions measure up?” His eyes seemed angry and judgmental and his body language was confrontative. I looked over at my girlfriend who smiled back at me, and took her hand as we pulled away.
The next morning, I kept thinking about that young man’s face, and felt angered and baffled by his judgement. I knew that I wanted to write about this experience in my blog, but I found that I had lost the clarity, intention, direction and purpose that were needed to write about this experience. I sat down several times, trying to write and express how I felt, but the words would not come. As I replayed the situation over and over again in my head, I lost my train of thought distracted by the anger and judgment. I found myself obsessing on them for having forced their ideals upon us, and got wrapped up in my overwhelming emotions . I finally stopped myself, in order to figure out where my writers block was coming from and realized that my anger had blinded me and I was unable to see the situation with clarity. Realizing this, I was shocked by the vicious cycle of anger that I too was guilty of perpetuating, and was alarmed by my own self-righteousness.
While I strongly disagree with the approach used by this particular group of people, it is essential that I see their humanity. I discussed the situation with a friend the day after it happened and she told me she believed that the look I had seen in the young man’s face was more likely fear than anger. She helped me to see the humanity in those religious believers by exploring where the root of their behavior may have come from. These religious followers believed so strongly in what they were preaching that were driven to shout it from the street corners. It takes a tremendous amount of faith to do what those people do. In that moment I no longer viewed that group of people as being full of hate, judgmental or dangerously closed minded as I had before. When exploring their humanity, I felt like I understood them.
I recently heard a story about a Rabbi who had a special place in his heart for people who were criminals, alcoholics, and prostitutes. The Rabbi embraced these outcasts of society, believing that he could help them to return to righteousness. Some of his loyal followers questioned why such a holy and religious man would have such compassion upon these people, and were confused as to how their beloved Rabbi could relate to these people. He responded, “When I look at them, I see myself and I know that if I cannot see myself in them, I have not looked deep enough.” The situation that I encountered last week revealed to me that through my own judgment, I too am guilty of judging others. This Yom Kippur, I will reflect upon my own thoughts and beliefs and strive to live in acceptance in this coming year. “I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and my attitudes.” May this next year be filled with humility, love, compassion, and kindness. Shana Tova.