On Rosh Hashanah this year, about thirty students, faculty, and other members of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign community gathered near a creek to “perform a special version of the ritual of tashlich.” I have not participated in this ritual since I was a child, but unless a great deal has changed in the past thirty years, I take it still to be about casting away one’s sins. What was special about this version of tashlich is that it was entirely about denouncing other people.
The Facebook page devoted to the holy episode says it all: “Rosh Hashanah Tashlich Service for Palestine and Professor Salaita.” For this group, purporting to represent progressive Judaism, one of the holiest days on the Jewish calendar was a convenient backdrop for a bit of political theater, to draw attention to the plight of Steven Salaita, whose job offer at the University of Illinois was rescinded, apparently on account, at least in part, of a series of virulently anti-Israeli statements he made on Twitter. “Most” of the students “wore stickers of the sideways letter ‘I’ over their mouths, as in previous protests of the Salaita firing, to symbolize censorship at the university. The stickers used at the tashlich service, however, contained an image of the Israeli flag inside the sideways ‘I’, symbolizing the particularly harsh censorship of dissenting views on Israel in particular.” In short, the high holidays are now about repenting for the sin of being oppressed by the Israel lobby.
To be fair, the group pretended to be repenting for other individual sins, as well as the collective sins of the Jewish community, including, “allowing violence against Palestinians to be committed in our name as Jews and as Americans and “not speaking out against anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia.” But since the protesters are already engaged in drawing attention to and condemning what they see as the sins of Israel and America against Arabs and Muslims, they are at most repenting for taking the occasional day off from their smug and self-righteous attacks on unenlightened Israeli and American Jews. Their decision to devote a day set aside for self-examination and repentance to yet another pompous display signals that there will be no more days off. To be sure, all this is now part of the playbook of Jewish Voice for Peace, a group for whom the sum and substance of Judaism is criticism of Israel and the United States insofar as it refuses to cast Israel off. But the loathsomeness of this particular activity, because it turns even the high holy days into an opportunity for activists to hit Israel with one hand and pat themselves on the back with the other, remains fresh.
Meanwhile “If Not Now When,” a group formed “by former J Street staffers and Occupy organizers” decided to make a whole week of it, holding protests “outside of prominent Jewish institutions in New York” that spread to Philadelphia and Washington D.C. Participants “wore black, instead of the ceremonial white, to symbolize the impurity of the Jewish soul.” Very nice, but I can find no reference to a protest on Yom Kippur itself. Perhaps this crew is not yet completely shameless. But there’s always next year.