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I forgive you. Especially you.

Why I am a Jew. It is about forgiveness. My Yom Kippur sermon.

To my Facebook friends from high school: I forgive you.

I forgive you, especially if you fall into any of the following categories.

  • Category One: those of you who ignored me. You were athletes or cheerleaders or tough guys. I was an actor and editor of the school newspaper. You were cool; I was a geek or a dweeb, or perhaps both. We lived in different tribes.
  • Category Two: those of you who bullied me – precisely because we were in different high school tribes. You ganged up on me in the locker room during gym class (yes, even the guys).
  • Category Three: those of you who bullied me — not only because we were of different social tribes, but because we were of different religious tribes. I am referring to those who called me antisemitic nicknames; who made fun of the Holocaust; who accused me of personally having been involved in the crucifixion of Jesus, and who said that I was going to hell (where, at the very least, I would have known a lot of people).

Fifty years later, I have forgiven you all.

  • I have forgiven the prom queens who thought that I was a dork – perhaps because you were right.
  • I have forgiven the jocks who laughed at my physical clumsiness – perhaps because you were right,
  • I have even and especially forgiven those of you who dabbled in junior Jew hate. The truth is: It wasn’t your fault. You were captives of an old Christian antisemitism. The reforms of Vatican Two regarding the Jews happened in 1965. That was when Pope John the 23rd had absolved the Jews of guilt for the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth.

Hey, news traveled slowly back then. It took a while for some of you to get the memo.

Why have I forgiven you all, even and especially when you have not asked my forgiveness?

Because we are now friends on Facebook. Over the past half century, we have all learned and grown. The old cliques do not matter anymore. The more we encounter each other as adults, the more we realize that we come from a common place, and that we are all on our own journeys.

Oh, and one other thing.

This is the season of forgiveness.

Why? Because I am a Jew. My ancient, remote tribal father was Judah, the son of Jacob. He was the ancestor of the tribe of Judah. He was the ancestor of King David, who ruled first, the tribal area of Judah, and then the entire kingdom of Israel.

In the story of Joseph, his brothers, sick and tired of his bragging, decide to get rid of him.

Except, Judah prevails upon them. What does he say? Come, let us sell him as a slave. After all, he’s our brother, our own flesh and blood.

When the brothers went down to Egypt to purchase grain; when they encountered the powerful stranger who was really their brother Joseph; when Joseph, second only to Pharaoh, tested them – telling them that they would have to bring their younger brother Benjamin to him; forcing them to leave Simeon bound before their eyes as a hostage until they consented to bring Benjamin –  this series of torments to see whether they had really change: what did Judah say?

Judah said: This is happening to us because of what I did. Do you know why this powerful wants to hold us all as slaves? Because years ago, I arranged for us to sell Joseph into slavery. Me. I did it. My bad. This is pay back.

What did Judah say to his brothers?  “But, we are guilty.”

We. All of us. My bad has morphed into our bad.

My religion is Judah-ism.

The real founder of the Jewish faith was Judah – because it was the actions of Judah – his ability to reflect, repent, and re-create himself – that is the very essence of – here goes – Judah-ism itself.

There is a second Jewish religion.

If Judah-ism is the religion of repentance, then Joseph-ism is the religion of forgiveness.

At the very end of the book of Genesis, Joseph’s brothers say to him: We are prepared to be your slaves [just as, years ago, we sold you into slavery].

Joseph says: “Although you intended me harm, God intended it for good, so as to bring about the present result—the survival of many people.”

If Judah-ism is the religion of repentance – then Joseph-ism is the religion of forgiveness.

Let me offer two stories.

The first story is about Judah-ism – the religion of repentance.

It takes place in Charleston, South Carolina.

The Reform congregation in that city, KK Beth Elohim, is one of the oldest synagogues in America. Its sanctuary is the oldest synagogue sanctuary in continuous use in America.

They recently put up a plaque.

“This sanctuary, dedicated in 1841, replaced an earlier sanctuary that burned in 1838. It was constructed by a Jewish builder, whose skilled workers included enslaved African Americans. Upon the renovation and the re-dedication of the building in 2020, Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim re-dedicates itself to recognizing the errors  of the past and reconciling the beliefs of our faith with our actions as we commit to spiritual growth and social justice for all.”

This is the sobering acknowledgement of a historical, social sin. It is the admission, and the admirable determination to go forward and to build a new societal sanctuary of equality.

The second story is about Joseph-ism – the religion of forgiveness.

Several years ago, Dan Crenshaw was running for congress as a Republican in Texas. He wears an eye path. On Saturday Night Live, Pete Davidson mocked him for his eye patch. He said that he looked like a hit man in a porno movie.

But, there is a reason why Crenshaw sported an eye patch. He was a former Navy SEAL who had been terribly wounded in Afghanistan.

When Pete Davidson learned about his faux pas, what did he do?

He invited Dan Crenshaw to join him on SNL.

He apologized.

Dan Crenshaw accepted Pete’s apology. He paid his respects to Pete’s father, who was a firefighter who died on 9/11 – which was the whole reason why Dan Crenshaw was in Afghanistan in the first place.

Pete Davidson is a progressive. Dan Crenshaw is a conservative. They have nothing in common with each other – at least, politically.

But, there was a moment of grace that flowed between them – and it cut across their political and sociological tribes.

Within two days, the YouTube clip of that SNL moment had accumulated more than 5 million views.

Of all the things that we Jews invented – monotheism; a God-centered ethical system; our great works of sacred literature; psychotherapy, the garment business and the motion picture industry – of all the things that we Jews invented – the best of our inventions:

Judah-ism. Repentance. I blew it.

And forgiveness. Joseph-ism. Yes, you blew it.

And, we are good.

To all my high school friends, it is an honor to be in your life.