Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013 | 2:04 a.m.
Happy New Year.
This weekend, Jews around the world observed the Yom Kippur holiday. It was a holiday — from eating, playing and doing anything else pleasurable — during which we focused on our lives during the past year, our shortcomings and our commitment to be better human beings during the next year.
With the Hebrew calendar noting the beginning of year 5774, it is a reasonable time to suggest that those of the Jewish religion have a bit of experience in matters of faith and living life well and purposefully. We also have experience in the downside of life — man’s inhumanity toward man.
Yom Kippur follows Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. The Ten Days of Awe in between is the time we reflect as we prepare to atone for our sins during the 24-hour Yom Kippur observance and commit to do better. It all leads to what we hope is our names being inscribed in the Book of Life for another year.
Today is the day after Yom Kippur so, on a personal level, there is hope.
Almost without exception, each Yom Kippur column I write — and certainly many of the columns my father wrote in this space before me — seems to focus on crisis. Hardly a year’s gone by, looking back over the decades, where nothing bad or challenging was happening.
This year is no different. It could even be worse.
This year, not unlike other years, I reflected on events in the Middle East and the sin we all commit when we fail to recognize the evil that men do or, once we recognize it, the evil we do by failing to act appropriately.
The history of the Jewish people is replete with stories of persecution: thrown from their burning homes, chased from their villages, separated from their loved ones and cast out from their countries just because they were Jews. And in the most brutal and murderous insult to humanity, burned in the ovens of Nazi Germany. Six million of them.
The result of the Holocaust has been the creation of the state of Israel and with it the two words emblazoned on the souls of every Jewish person on the planet: never again.
Never again will Jews stand by and do nothing when they are being led, shoved, cajoled or sweet-talked to the slaughter. Broadening the message a bit, never again should we stand by when anyone is being sent to the tyrants’ ovens, for if it can happen to someone else as it happened to us, it can happen to us again.
Praying to be inscribed in the Book of Life without admitting guilt for failing to act when others are slaughtered mercilessly is the kind of sin for which atonement should not come easily. This is true for those of the Jewish faith who have survived the Holocaust, but it is also true of others, who but for the grace of God ...
So it should not be easy to see the horrific images of the killings of men, women and more than 400 children in Syria at the hands of a brutal dictator and then fail to act.
We have seen this picture before. To the United States’ everlasting shame, our leaders knew of the Holocaust in the making and made excuses, turned a blind eye and even pretended it wasn’t happening until our soldiers entered the death camps and saw it for themselves. Those members of the Greatest Generation, those GIs who were sickened at the gates of hell on Earth, knew what was right and swore to themselves to never let that happen again. And yet, if the polls are right, a majority of Americans are willing to turn away from the evidence, ignore the immorality of Syrian President Bashar Assad, find excuses where none exist and refuse to act — just like our leaders did 70 years ago.
Millions of Jews and other human beings who didn’t fit Adolph Hitler’s view of the world were put to death while others watched. Today, everyone can see the results of long-outlawed poison gas attacks Assad has inflicted on his people.
Yes, there is a huge difference between the 6 million murdered by Hitler and the greatly fewer Syrians who have perished. But does it really matter which gas was used and how many are killed when the real question is: What are good and decent people going to do about it?
Yes, Yom Kippur is over and we have atoned for our sins, as has the rest of the world in its own way. But is that really possible given the immediacy of the challenge in Syria?
Is there really atonement when we see the murders, know who the murderer is and choose — for whatever reasons we conjure up — to do nothing?
For Jews, we say never again. The entire world said the same thing when it came to using poison gas almost 100 years ago. Soon we will be called on to stand up against the potential of nuclear weapons in the hands of maniacs.
I have great confidence that Israel will keep its promise to its people. From what I have seen lately, I have less confidence that the American people, despite the efforts of their leader, will be willing to back his play.
Atonement? That one could prove difficult this time next year.
Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.