Friday, September 21, 2007

You Jews Sure Take Care of the Help

Leave it to Jews to make the most important day of the year about guilt. The biggest holiday of the year is Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. They call it a high holiday, but the point of it is to feel low. With the Jewish year just starting, it is a time to take stock of all the things you didn't quite do in the way you should and focus on doing better next year. If you feel guilty enough, maybe you won't screw up quite so much next time with all the things you were supposed to do.

It is a little known fact that blowing the shofar was the pre-biblical way of calling your mother. Today, they are mere rituals left over from olden days, but back then the sounds of the shofar were quite meaningful. The three short blasts meant, "Yes, I will get married someday, ma, you will have grandchildren before you die." The one long blast signified, "No, ma, it's called acid reflux, you are not having a heart attack. Go see the doctor, then. Yes, I know that if I had studied medicine I'd be a doctor right now like my cousin Morty."

One of the reasons I'm an atheist is that rituals never seemed terribly meaningful to me as a whole, they turn into rote sorts of activities which require nothing but going through the motions. At the same time, some can retain their significance. In this light, it is probably a good thing to take stock of failures in order to try to do better.

So, we can appeal to the hive mind to consider questions of collective responsibility. What is it that we really screwed up on this last year as a planet, a society, an academic community? I'm not looking for individual confessions, but rather things that have a larger scope. What do we need to put before us to do better in the coming year?