When we go astray, we lead others astray.

 We are guilty.

We abuse. We betray. We rob. We scorn. We spurn. We destroy. We falsify. We gossip.  We hate.  We neglect. We pervert…

We go astray. We lead others astray.

Ashamnu (We are guilty), the center of the confessional section of our High Holiday liturgy, is an opportunity to beat our chests to acknowledge our imperfections. We acknowledge that we strive to do better. We beat our chests for not living up to what we know to be right.

Roughly one in three American Jews will recite these words this Yom Kippur.

One in three…

One in three women in America have experienced partner violence.

One in three Jews beat their chest voluntarily and publicly just as one in three experiences horrific beatings in the shadows of self doubt.

We beat our own chests. We do not raise our hands against another. This is a collective mandate. As we strive to be better human beings, we say, AshamNU, “WE are guilty.” No one is exonerated from the crimes we commit collectively.

WE ABUSE the woman whom we unabashedly characterize as an Agunah (bound woman), for not allowing her to receive a Get and move on with her life.

WE BETRAY those who need community most by not offering the proper support and resources.

WE ROB victims of a voice when we empower abusers to share their twisted two cents (this must’ve been his motivation).


WE SCORN a victim with a fleeting thought of “she had it coming” or “it couldn’t be that bad.”

WE SPURN a victim when we treat their attacker as an otherwise upstanding member of the community, a “first time offender.”

WE DESTROY the notion of Shalom Bayit (peace in the home) when we forget that we are part of that communal obligation.

WE FALSIFY our sense of self-approval when we openly blast Ray Rice, but we are silent when it comes to Greg Hardy, Ben Roethlisberger, & Jameis Winston; we are silent when we hear or read about other abusers because they can’t get us fantasy points.

WE GOSSIP rather than open our arms and hearts to those who bear the weight of abuse.

WE HATE the reality that in a two weeks from now, we’ll be more focused on Break the Fast than on breaking the silence when it comes to domestic violence.

WE NEGLECT the silent pain of others until a shocking image grabs our attention for a few moments of fear-driven clarity.

WE PERVERT rather than condemn a rabbinic history that justified and sanctioned spousal abuse for the sake of “education or chastisement.”

WE GO ASTRAY by blaming the victim. WE LEAD OTHERS ASTRAY by justifying the unjustifiable.

So too, then, do we have the chance to lead others in the right and just direction.

About the Author
Hazzan Jesse Holzer currently serves as the Cantor of the Jacksonville Jewish Center. Hazzan Holzer received his BA from New York University and completed a Masters Degree in Sacred Music and investment as a Hazzan from the H.L. Miller Cantorial Institute of the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2008 . He is an avid sports enthusiast, enjoys travel and playing piano, and is a devoted collector of Jewish music and rare prayer books.
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