September 26th to October 5th, 2022 are the Days of Awe in the Jewish calendar, the time between Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Repentance).
As happens most years, I’ve found myself scrambling a bit to remember when these holidays fall, putting them on my calendar and canceling meetings a bit too late, adjusting my schedule so I leave work early enough today so I can get home for a meal before evening services and a day of fasting.
This is all a manifestation of what it feels like, to me, to be a Jew: while I live in community with one of the highest concentration of Jews in the U.S., being Jewish is still something that I have to actively claim, something that is out of kilter with the mainstream.
I talked about this a little while ago with a longtime peer in the impact investing space. In our conversation, one of us said something that made the other realize that we both were Jewish, with similar post-Holocaust histories. From there we shared our stories.
This is a not-infrequent occurrence, because it’s not obvious who is and isn’t Jewish, and, somehow, it doesn’t come up as often or as easily as you might expect.
Indeed, while I’m not proud of it, I’ve made the conscious choice not to talk much about my Judaism on this blog. I take it as a given that the world, and the Internet in particular, is full of lots of crazy, hateful people; and I’ve assumed that anti-Semitism is lurking, just in the shadows, but not far out of sight: 2021 saw the highest level of anti-Semitism on record, a 167 percent increase in violent attacks. So, I apparently concluded, why invite that kind of attention?
I similarly haven’t worked out exactly when, or if, to bring up the fact that I’m Jewish in a professional context. In practice, that means that mostly I don’t do it, which seems normal until it doesn’t—a holiday that I take off; a family story that I share; explaining why I have a Russian first name and a German last name when neither I nor my parents / grandparents are Russian or German. These moments end up feeling like I’m revealing something a little too late, but I’ve yet to figure out a better way to navigate this.
I share all this mostly as a point of reflection: my cultural and religious identities are important to me, and they make me proud. But somehow, I don’t behave as if this is the case, and I’m not sure why.
It could be because there remains, for many Jews, the lurking fear that history could repeat itself, that any society we are part of might turn against us. So, why not take the path of least resistance and lay a little bit low?
And while that thought sounds crazy when I say it out loud, I can think of no better explanation for my paradoxical behavior.
At a minimum, this is food for thought for me tomorrow, as I reflect on the last year and think about the next one.
And, to end on a more positive note, I thought I’d share my favorite part of the Yom Kippur tradition. In our tradition, we believe that while G-d can forgive us for our sins against G-d, only people can forgive each other for sins against people.
And so, we ask for forgiveness from our friends, families, colleagues and loved ones in the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
So, at the very least, for my sin of omission, I ask for your forgiveness. And, l’Shanah Tova: may you be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life for a sweet new year.