As Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur approach, I am in the midst of my annual process of asking forgiveness to everyone I have knowingly wronged in the last year. During this time, Jews atone for our wrong-doings. We are tasked with not only asking for forgiveness, but making things right with those we have wronged.
This year, I’m realizing that I have been missing out on so many aspects of forgiving. What about the forgiveness I am not aware I need? I need to learn to forgive us and to invite others to call me out on the ways I have inflicted harm on them.
This year has been particularly full of violence and hateful rhetoric in the U.S. Divides between people of differing political and ideological camps are growing. It feels difficult to engage in conversation with family members, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. How can we acknowledge or even forgive the ways in which we hurt each other?
I know I have hurt a number of people by standing up and speaking out against oppression. This year, I have tried to be simultaneously pointed and strong as well as humble and generous as I confront others. I surely have not succeeded as well as I could have. It is not enough to be righteous or to fight for a righteous cause. I want to create social justice, not cause harm. Calling someone out on their sexism, racism, ableism, etc. is always going to cause them pain.
My vantage point changed as I started reading The Book of Forgiving by Desmond and Mpho Tutu. They point out that everyone needs to forgive as well as to be forgiven. I wonder who I have unknowingly wronged. I realize that my job before Yom Kippur is not only to ask for forgiveness, but also to forgive. Forgiveness is not forgetting. I can still hold others accountable and forgive them.
Binge watching Transparent, I’ve been thinking about the overlap between Judaism, spiritual journeys, and feminism. As in the show, these ideas are immersed and interconnected. Season 2 was themed on the high holidays, and season 3 is themed on Passover. There was atonement and then liberation. A light went off for me while I marinated on the show. In order to achieve liberation, there must first be atonement.
As a feminist, I am increasingly aware of the ways in which other’s speech and actions hurt me and other women. I used to think that this awareness gave me righteousness and that through seeing other’s wrongs, I would become stronger. There is power in anger.
Now, I believe that as a feminist, my role is to see past my hurt and find the humanity even in those that belittle, harass, subjugate, and violate women. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting or excusing. I can still hold people accountable and demand change while forgiving.
In this new year, I want to be more open to the inevitable fact that I too need to ask for forgiveness. Ijeoma Oluo writes about acknowledging one’s wrongs. I want others to be able to call me out when I am wrong. I cannot expect others to accept their failings if I cannot do the same. I cannot expect myself to have overcome the numerous ways I have been socialized to reproduce inequality. I cannot expect others to if I do not. We must all atone for the ways in which we participate in injustice in order to create a more just world.
This high holiday season, I want not only to be forgiven: I want people to call me out when I need to ask for forgiveness. I want to forgive those who have hurt me and other women.
Debra Guckenheimer is a Research Associate at the Center for the Advancement of Women’s Leadership at Stanford University. Previously, she was a Research Associate at the Hadassah Brandeis Institute at Brandeis University, a Visiting Assistant Professor at Bowdoin College, and a Postdoctoral Research Associate with the NSF ADVANCE Institutional Transformation Program at Northeastern University. She is an expert on social change efforts to reduce inequalities based on race, class, gender, sexuality, and disability. She has appeared in USA Today and on public radio. Her work has appeared in the Women’s Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Embrace Race, The Feminist Wire, The Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship, and Doing Diversity in Higher Education. She has a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of California, Santa Barbara and a B.A. in Politics from Oberlin College.