Asking for Forgiveness for a Better World

Photo of a pen on paper with the beginnings of a letter

If this were a typical New Year, Jews the world over would gather in local synagogues to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the start of the High Holidays. Instead, this year, we celebrated the  Jewish New Year  with online services and virtual celebratory family meals.

While no one could have anticipated the impact that a worldwide pandemic would have on such an important holiday, it does put things in sharp perspective.

Rosh Hashanah ushers in the start of a 10-day period of intense reflection (called the Ten Days of Repentance) that culminates in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. For 24 hours, observant Jews will refrain from eating and drinking as we  atone for sins committed during the past year and ask God for forgiveness.

The Yom Kippur liturgy is intense. “On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed, And on Yom Kippur it is sealed. How many shall pass away and how many shall be born. Who shall live and who shall die…” Harsh words for any holiday. With the national COVID-19 death toll over 200,000-plus, it does put it into perspective.

A central tenet of the days of repentance is asking those whom you have done wrong by for forgiveness. Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove, of New York City’s  Park Avenue Synagogue,  took a creative approach to encouraging his congregants this year to ask others for forgiveness. He mailed note cards to his entire congregation before the start of Rosh Hashanah and asked his congregants to write a note of apology to someone they had wronged.  Rabbi Cosgrove asked that the note be sent so the person to whom they were apologizing  would receive it before Yom Kippur.

Can you imagine if we adopted this approach in our places of work, our schools and our community? Sadly, at this moment in time, empathy has become a dirty word to many. Simple acts of kindness are in short supply.

If we teach our students to lead by example, than we should do the same. Let’s start writing simple notes to those whom we have wronged.

Asking for forgiveness is not an easy thing. I’ll start off by doing it here, in a very public way. To all those whom I’ve hurt or offended in some way during this past year, I humbly ask for your forgiveness. My intention was never to hurt or upset you, and I’m sorry if I did. I do hope that you will forgive me.

Now it’s your turn. Go ahead and summon up the courage to place your humanity in front of your vanity. Make it a sincere gesture by going beyond the simple text message, email or social media post. Pick up pen and paper and make your apology in writing. Buy a stamp and mail it to your friends, relatives, colleagues and associates.

Don’t put it off. It’s perhaps the most important thing you will do today.


President’s Notes
Jonathan Oleisky

Jonathan Oleisky

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