The Yom Kippur of Shell Shock

A failure, Bernard Shaw declared,
can be more interesting than a success.
A failure happens when you’ve dared
to act in ways that although they are less

successful than what you desired
are evidence that you have boldly dared
to be by others unadmired,
because by fear of failure you aren’t scared.

Can dreadful failures, you may ask,
have any good effects? There is no app
for them, but they fulfil a task,
reversing hubris’s great handicap,

correcting failure with regrets
for errors it has caused, a painful process
that’s called repentance, which resets
for any painless future the prognosis,

and is the reason Jews invented
the Yom Kippur “shell shocking” term, denoting
disasters that were not prevented,
but said to be corrected by scapegoating.

In an article in, 9/20/23, “This Is the Yom Kippur of,” Philologos (Hillel Halkin) points out that the modern Hebrew term alluding to the Yom Kippur war, “Yom Kippur shel,” meaning “a Yom Kippur of,” is used to describe “any debacle that might have been prevented by better judgment.” He explains:

This year’s 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, whose Gregorian calendar date is October 6, has led to a predictable spate of articles, lectures, TV documentaries, and even (assuming that the release of Golda was timed with it in mind) Hollywood films. And yet in Israel, if truth be told, every Yom Kippur in the last 50 years has taken place in the somber light of the 1973 war, the trauma of which has faded only partially with time. Although many who lost sons, husbands, fathers, and friends in the fighting are themselves no longer alive, the memory of it lives painfully on in Israeli society. The fact that it ended in a decisive miliary victory has never compensated in the nation’s consciousness for the price paid for the overconfidence and lack of caution that made possible the near-catastrophic surprise Egyptian-Syrian attack with which the war began.

One of the minor testimonies to the war’s impact is that for a long time now, the words yom kippur shel, “the Yom Kippur of,” have referred in Israeli speech to any debacle that might have been prevented by better judgment and a more modest sense of one’s capabilities. “This is the Yom Kippur of the Ministry of Finance,” a ministry official was quoted as saying in 2000 about a costly government surrender to striking port workers in what is the earliest documented use of the expression that I have been able to find, although it undoubtedly goes back much further. And December 10, 2013 is still known in Israel as “the Yom Kippur of the weathermen” because predictions of moderate rainfall on that day failed to foresee the unusually heavy snowstorm that hit the country, especially Jerusalem—which, caught unawares, was paralyzed for days.

Two years later, when Benjamin Netanyahu beat Isaac Herzog handily in the national elections of 2015 despite forecasts of a close race, a news service ran the headline, “The Yom Kippur of the Pollsters.” And “The Yom Kippur of the [Agricultural] Authorities” was a similar headline in 2022, when an estimated 100,000 chickens were killed by an outbreak of avian flu that no one had seen coming.

The “Yom Kippur of” usage has been applied to more trivial events, too. “The Yom Kippur of the Ramat Gan School Bus System” was how a transportation breakdown in a municipal suburb of Tel Aviv was referred to by a 2022 press report. And earlier this year a columnist poked fun at such hyperbolic abuses of the expression by saying of a televised Knesset debate in which the opposition parliamentarian Gideon Sa’ar, known for his poker face, was seen winking slyly at a colleague, “It was the Yom Kippur of the body-language specialists.”

About the Author
Gershon Hepner is a poet who has written over 25,000 poems on subjects ranging from music to literature, politics to Torah. He grew up in England and moved to Los Angeles in 1976. Using his varied interests and experiences, he has authored dozens of papers in medical and academic journals, and authored "Legal Friction: Law, Narrative, and Identity Politics in Biblical Israel." He can be reached at