On T’shuvah: Acknowledging Harm, Atoning, Working Towards Repair

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During the month of Elul & through Yom Kippur-our Jewish day of Atonement-Jewish people engage in t’shuvah. T’shuvah literally means turning. It is a turning away from our misdeeds and towards our highest, holiest self, and towards God. It is a process of atonement and repair. 2/
Rambam (also known as Maimonides), a 12th century rabbi, taught that authentic t’shuvah has four steps:

1.Acknowledge wrong doing/harm caused
2.Apologize for the harm
3.Offer appropriate restitution
4.Commit to not doing the offending behavior again.
As we head towards Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, I want to engage in t’shuvah of my own. At the end of April, I got into a Twitter debate. Someone I know—Abby Stein—had posted about Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, and the presidential election. 4/
It was only a few days after the primary had concluded and
Sanders had just announced the suspension of his campaign. Her post stated, “If Me Too means anything, it cannot be applied on a partisan basis.”
I responded to the Tweet, “Y'all keep doing this and we end up with four more years of Trump. It's that simple. We take a flawed leader over Trump.”

My response was dismissive, disrespectful and callous. For that I am truly sorry. 6/
I do not wish to silence survivors of sexual assault and I do not place any blame on the people raising the concerns. I was (and remain) terrified that Trump will win a second term. And I allowed my fear to overtake my good judgment. 7/
What I wish I had Tweeted was, “We should take this allegation seriously and I’m totally freaked out that Trump could be re-elected.” 8/
As a rabbi, a man who knows the pain of sexual assault survivors, I have devoted my adult life and my rabbinate to co-creating structures and communities where marginalized and wounded people are seen and heard. And, in April, I wrote a tweet that pushed these voices aside. 9/
It wasn't my intent, but it was the impact. So, I deleted the Tweet. I apologized to Abby. I’d like to apologize to you. I’m sorry that I was careless in how I expressed myself and the forum and timing of it. 10/
Context matters. And while I know what I meant, I sure did a lousy job of communicating it. The last thing I would ever want to do is to wound anybody, least of all people who are already hurting. I am sorry. 11/
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Twitter and how to engage—and how, far too often—it taps into our worst impulses instead of our best. One of the steps of t’shuvah is to commit to not doing the offending behavior again. 12/
I’ve thought about leaving Twitter. It may be the right option; I haven’t decided yet. As I reflect, however, I am striving to be far more sensitive and judicious when I do engage in dialogue on here, especially about such sensitive issues. 13/
I’m following survivors on Twitter and have listened to many more stories. I’m learning more about the various strategies and practices for atonement, justice, restorative justice, and how to build a world free from violence. 14/
It’s important not just to apologize, but to make a commitment and build the skills not to engage in the offending behavior again. 15/
Judaism is a religious tradition that calls us into relationship with accountability and humility, where repairing harm we cause is a religious practice, and everyone, we pray, can work towards redemption. 16/
If you were one of the people hurt by this conversation last spring—if my words caused you harm—I invite you to reach out so I may apologize to you personally. I’d like to try to make this right as we head into the new year.

Shanah Tovah.

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