Gary Nachman

Does G-d Forgive Amalek On Yom Kippur?


Fifty years ago this month, I had just celebrated my 18th (lucky me!) birthday.  I was full of life and excitement as I was about to begin my first year of college at Hebrew University of Jerusalem!  I was enrolled in ulpan, having very little command of Hebrew.  It was a very exciting time living far away from the suburbs of Minneapolis. Newly made friends and I would walk from Mt Scopus through an Arab village and East Jerusalem to the Old City without care or concern. We would often stop for some of the best humus pita sandwiches in the city as we passed through the village. Was our lack of concern because of naivety, true harmony, or the misguided idea that everyone knew their place?

Like nearly everyone in Israel, we were attentive to the news.  Being drafted in the US was a concern so news of Vietnam was important.  Watergate was in full bloom with revelations about who knew what and when, confounding politicians of all types.   The English news came from either Israeli censored broadcasts, the BBC, or the renegade broadcasts of the Voice of America.

We were hearing more and more from Syrian and Egyptian leaders how Israel should not exist. That it was only a matter of time before the “righteous will push the Jews into the sea”.
I realized then that I was one of the Jews who would be made fodder if given the opportunity by these leaders. Were they the descendants of Amalek?  Always determined to destroy the Jews?  Israel for its part, was stating confidently how prepared they were for any eventuality.  Their superiority was thought overwhelming.

Yom Kippur in Jerusalem is magical.  The sense of history is in the air one breaths there.  Sam Kean wrote much later in Caesar’s Last Breath, about how the air molecules that went through the lungs of our predecessors, including our biblical ancestors are still circulating through our bodies today!  On Yom Kippur, under the darkened desert skies of Jerusalem, I could taste the same air of our forefathers and mothers.

There was an eeriness and my first real sense of awe.  With no vehicles on the streets, only quiet pedestrians on their reverent journeys, I felt a peacefulness that I had never known before.  Going to the Kotel (the Western Wall), amidst the sea of genuflecting and bobbing bodies, dressed mostly in their finest garbs, hearing recognized Hebrew prayers wafting over this sea by the masses, filled a thirst  in my body that I hadn’t known was parched or that I possessed.  Adding to witnessing this passion of so many people who share a common ancestry with me, I had chills down my spine when the sounds of the shofars were heard.  I knew that Azazel was just on the other side of the eastern hills of Jerusalem.  I had visions of the priests taking one of two goats, from the Temple area and letting it go just outside the walls in front of me.

While absorbed in all the mystique of this experience, I neglected to recognize military activity going on that I assumed was just normal security.  The next day, Israel was attacked.  How obvious the relevance of being attacked on this day was, and perhaps equally predictable.  Arrogance and overconfidence are dangerous qualities without self-recognition.  Has this also been part of our heritage?

I’m not going into my experience during the war.  Suffice to say, my volunteering was nothing compared to the fear and sacrifice of the many Israelis who fought bravely with their backs literally to the sea wall.  The first week of the war we were on pins and needles waiting for any news.  Things felt grim at first, but Israelis knew what defending their own and fighting for their lives really meant.   It felt as though once politicians and the military stopped blaming each other, that they recognized there was no time to waste.  The tide turned in Israel’s favor, but with much sacrifice and soul searching.


Reflecting on my own fears of being part of the Jewish fodder available for destruction, I couldn’t help but feel the spiritual connection to my ancestors.  Why did these people hate Jews, and by association, me?  There are so many discussions that arise from this question.  However, for nearly all of these 50 years, on Yom Kippur, I ask if G-d forgives those who hate, who seek to destroy?  Am I supposed to forgive those same people who seek my destruction as the day is meant for forgiving others as well as asking for forgiveness?

Does G-d forgive Amalek?  Even though there is a promise to wipe out his memory from earth yet wage an eternal war against him in each generation, am I supposed to forgive those who seek my destruction?  I have the feeling that the answer is supposed to be yes.  However, shouldn’t we take our cues from G-d’s vows and promises?  I am hoping this is the Yom Kippur that while I ask forgiveness of those I have transgressed, I find the strength and wisdom to understand forgiving those who seek my destruction…

G’mar chatima tovah

G Nachman

About the Author
Retired from 40 years in the banking and financial management industry as well as a regional director for the the Anti-Defamation League. Active in Israel and Jewish causes.
Related Topics
Related Posts