Opinion

Take the Knee as an Act of Yom Kippur

We take the knee for all the times this frightening past year when we, as a society and as individuals, needed to take a stand and failed to act

The Dallas Cowboys, led by owner Jerry Jones, center, take a knee prior to the national anthem prior to an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Monday, Sept. 25, 2017, in Glendale, Arizona.
Matt York/AP

Like Yom Kippur, taking the knee is a scream disguised as silence. 

Like taking the knee, Yom Kippur is an act of saying the game stops here, the rules we know in our bones stop here, at least for one painful, oddly frightening, vaguely threatening moment.

Taking the knee means stop everything, no business as usual. No more bread, no more circus. No more entertainment meant to literally divert us from horrific things we know deep down that the society to which we belong, has carried out. Is carrying out. Cannot seem to stop.

For Jews on Yom Kippur, the six million in Israel and the six million in North America both, this a year when taking the knee gives a new meaning to the prayer, Al Chet – in which we literally beat our breasts, list scores of sins we have committed right in front of God, and ask the Almighty to forgive us, pardon us, and atone for us.

This is where we should all take a knee. Because the act says that in the past we as a society have felt forgiven and pardoned, and that no further atonement was necessary.

By tradition, Jews must ask for the forgiveness of those we have done wrong, before asking for a pardon from God.

This is where we need to take the knee. Right in front. This is where we need to confess what we know in our hearts to be true:

We take the knee because there is no fully equal place for people of color in Donald Trump's America.

We take the knee because there is no fully equal place for non-Jews in Benjamin Netanyahu's Israel.

We take the knee for Americans and for Israelis both. We take the knee for their sacrifices and their grief and their good intentions, and for the sacrifices and the grief which their intentions have caused - and continue to cause – others.

We take the knee to honor those who risk their bodies and their lives to shield the innocent.

We take the knee to cast a light of justice and condemnation on those who betray their uniform and our trust, by exerting lethal force without just cause, by carrying out cruel and unusual punishments against innocent individuals, by believing that innocent people will be deterred from wrongdoing by wrongdoing in the name of the law.

We take the knee to honor all victims of terrorism, whatever the religion of the terrorist and of the victim, the politics of the terrorist and of the victim, the citizenship of the terrorist and of the victim.

We take the knee to affirm, as Jews, that both Israelis and Palestinians are fully human beings, deserving of every right to self-determination, personal security, dignity, and freedoms of speech, worship, movement, education, employment, and due process.

We take the knee to call out leaders for trading in bigotry against Muslims. We take the knee to call out leaders who dog-whistle supremacism, whether white in America, or Jewish in Israel.

We take the knee to call out rulers who are silent in the face of anti-Semitism, provided it comes from the right direction.

We take the knee to honor and acknowledge the victims of genocide in Syria, or atrocities and ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. We take the knee to pledge to search for ways in which we can actively help, and not be complicit.

We take the knee to search our souls for our own hardness of heart. We take the knee for all the times this past year when we, as a society and as individuals, Ein Banu Ma'asim – needed to take a stand, and failed to act.

The rights of women are in danger of eroding. The health and well-being of the poor and the disabled are being buried under the needs of the wealthiest few for more and better-sheltered income growth.

As the introduction to the Al Chet prayer suggests, while God may know the hiddenmost mysteries of all who live, the rest of us, to truly know ourselves, may just need to find a way to see ourselves from a different angle.

The kind of thing which might happen if we took a knee.