Galilee mosque arson - Kaminsky - October 3, 2011.
The mosque in the Galilee village of Tuba which was set alight October 2, 2011. Photo by Yaron Kaminsky
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Why should Yom Kippur come at the beginning of a year? The New Year should be a time of promise and fresh beginnings. Why mar the sweetness and the still-innocent hopes of Rosh Hashanah? Why not leave well enough alone?

This would seem a horrible way to kick things off. No eating, no drinking. No physical pleasures of any sort. Jab your fist square in your own chest, over and over and yet again. Then there are the words, miles and hours and mountains of words. The same words every year. Words of regret and self-rebuke and unworthiness.

Why, of all paths, take this one into a new year?

This week, we got an answer to that question.

The answer came from a direction no one was expecting. A Bedouin village in northern Israel. A village known for close and enduring relationships with its Jewish neighbors. Extended family. And on the week of Yom Kippur, a village which pogromchiks, apparently militant Jews, selected as a target for a hate crime.

For the sin which we have sinned against You, we say on Yom Kippur, for the sin of tzadi'at ra, of hostile intention, of wicked scheming, of taking advantage of a neighbor who has less power, or is more trusting, or has no defense.

The answer came on Monday morning. It came in the form of a terrible blow, one that brought shock and tears and anger to Arabs and Jews alike, even to police. The village mosque and the sacred texts and articles within, were put to the torch.

For the sin which we have sinned against You b'sin'at hinam, in hatred for nothing, hatred whose only outcome is more and more and still more hatred.

The desecration of the mosque in Tuba is at least the fifth such disgrace since last Yom Kippur. The other four took place in the West Bank. Far from our view. They were every bit as horrifying, every bit as obscene. But we were largely silent about the others. And that is where the answer begins.

For the sin which we have sinned against you, b'yod'in o'b'lo yod'in, knowingly or unknowingly.

Five Holy Land mosques desecrated since last Yom Kippur, almost certainly at the hands of a small number of militant settlers - militants whom even most settlers condemn. Yet with all of our might and our resources of intelligence, in a tiny place where no one can keep a secret, a year has come and gone, and we have brought not one person to justice.

For the sin which we have sinned against You b'i'mootz lev, in hard-heartedness, in refusal to acknowledge and address our wrongdoing, in lack of compassion for the victims of our wrongdoing.

This, it seems to me, is the answer: If we are truly to have a new year, it must begin with an act of healing. On Yom Kippur, we are compelled to see, sometimes for the first time, how and where and how badly we have been wounded, and especially, how and where and how badly we have wounded others.

We fast on Yom Kippur because that is what one does before surgery. On Yom Kippur we are meant to perform exploratory surgery on ourselves. With nothing but our bare fists, we are meant to crack the chest and open the heart and see what we have deposited there, hidden there, forgotten there.

And if there are too many wounds to heal, and there always are, we need to choose those that have particular urgency.

This Yom Kippur, the desecration of mosques is that wound.

There are those who are taking steps to heal this, and we can help them. Among the first is the Israel Religious Action Center, part of the Reform Movement in Israel. They have begun a campaign to help repair the Tuba mosque, to replace the Koran burned in the fire, to buy new carpets, and restore the structure.

The Ameinu movement will also be providing funds to purchase holy books.

For the sin which we have sinned against You b'hilul Hashem, in desecrating your Name, in performing wrongdoing in the name of God, in harming others in the belief that we are acting for Your name's sake. For the sin of believing that our neighbors are not Your children.

For all of these, O God of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, atone for us.