Today marks the second day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Rosh Hashanah is a time of celebration for my people; we eat sweet foods, drink sweet wine and try with all our might to get some sort of sound out of the shofar but never manage to do so (okay, maybe the last one is just me). Rosh Hashanah is a joyous holiday, a time for us to enjoy family, friends and life.
Seven days from now, however, there will be no celebration. In seven days, there is Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. On Yom Kippur there is no eating or drinking of anything, sweet or otherwise. Yom Kippur is a time for reflection and repentance, a day where we abstain from earthly pleasures in order to remind ourselves of the more important things in life, the value of virtue and of sin. On Yom Kippur, God cashes all of the checks we’ve written against our souls throughout the previous year. We can only hope that we don’t end the day with a negative balance.
The adjacency of the two holidays is not coincidental. Celebration and reflection should always go hand in hand. If we spend too much time celebrating, and not enough time reflecting, we can lose valuable perspective about who we are, regarding both our strengths and our faults. This applies to a lot more than just Judaism and individual introspection. There is a lot out there for which we as a country could use a little perspective.
Consider San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the football player who, according to Google, makes up three quarters of all NFL-player related searches. Kaepernick isn’t garnering headlines for his playing — in fact, he hasn’t played all season. Instead, he has attracted nationwide attention because of his refusal to stand during the playing of the national anthem in protest of the treatment of African Americans by police officers.
The backlash from Kaepernick’s actions has been swift, intense and in some cases frightening. Kaepernick says he has received death threats. The right wing media machine has mobilized in full force against him. The Santa Clara police officers’ union even threatened to stop protecting football games at Levi’s Stadium until Kaepernick’s protest ended, though they quickly backed down under intense pressure from the public.
We do have a problem with our criminal justice system, and anyone who denies that is deluding themselves. On a macroscopic level, there is America’s incredible level of incarceration, particularly among black and Hispanic men. There is the massive sentencing disparity between whites and minorities for similar crimes, including the egregious 18:1 sentencing ratio between crack and powder cocaine (which was 100:1 only six years ago) and the disproportionate number of black men sent to death row. There is also the war on marijuana that is prejudicially waged on young black men.
And then there are the stories that seem to emerge on a weekly basis. They follow the same pattern: an initial interaction, a sudden escalation, and then the pop of a firearm, usually all within a few minutes or in some cases, seconds. Terrence Crutcher was shot and killed after his car broke down on the highway. Philando Castile was shot and killed while in his car with his girlfriend and her four-year-old daughter. Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old, was shot while on a neighborhood playground. Trayvon Martin died with a bag of Skittles and iced tea in his hands. Until every American is truly equal in the eyes of the law and law enforcement, we most definitely have a problem. This is an issue that should be uniting us, not dividing us.
But wait! There is no problem, exclaims Tomi Lahren, of TheBlaze and Facebook fame. And if you disagree with that, as Mr. Kaepernick does, then Tomi Lahren would be more than happy to show you the door. To America. Because she wants you to leave. This “news anchor,” who made her name calling Beyonce’s Super Bowl 50 halftime show racist and likening the Black Lives Matter movement to the Ku Klux Klan, would like very much for Kaepernick to just scoot on out if he’s too upset with the way they do things in “her” country.
As if Colin Kaepernick is not just as much an American as Tomi Lahren is. No, he might not be blond haired and blue eyed like she is, or from the wide, flat plains of so-called “real America” like she is, but what gives her the right to decide who gets to stay and who gets to go? Moreover, why is it Kaepernick who has to leave, and not Tomi Lahren? The right wing is acting as if living here is some sort of gift they’ve bestowed upon Kaepernick and others, a gift that they can revoke if things get too uncomfortable. That’s not the version of America I know. My great-grandparents left their home countries because they did not accept or respect Jews; they came here because America, unlike so many other nations, offered a safe space for being and thinking different. The American ideal I know respects and encourages differences of opinion and uncomfortable conversations. The American ideal I know assures each and every citizen the same rights and opportunities, regardless of who they are or what their background is.
Colin Kaepernick has found himself at the forefront of an incredibly important movement in American history, a movement which will inevitably lead to a day of reckoning for America — America’s next Yom Kippur. We’ve been enjoying Rosh Hashanah for too long. We’ve gotten too high off an ultra-nationalistic, jingoistic, racially tinged version of America and now it’s time to sober up. Just like you can’t have Rosh Hashanah without Yom Kippur, you can’t live like we do in today’s America without also taking the time to address our faults like Kaepernick is doing. We’ve been writing checks against our Americanness for a long time, and now Kaepernick is here letting us know that those checks are about to be cashed. In seven days I will face a day of introspection, repentance, and renewal — it’s time for America to do the same.
Jacob Rubashkin is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Jacobin appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.