Catherine Durkin Robinson: Yom Kippur — the day to forgive each other

I converted to Judaism over 20 years ago. It had nothing to do with the fact that I was dating, and later married, a Jewish guy. Poor thing thought he was getting an Irish shiksa and instead wound up with his mother.

No, my best girlfriend Julie took me to her synagogue so I could meet her new, “hot” rabbi. I was supposed to look him over, and give a thumbs up or down. In this case, my approval meant little in the grand scheme of things. That rabbi was happily married and uninterested in mouthy women with big hair.

We got that a lot.

Julie wanted to leave, but I was hooked. I felt comfortable right away. I think it had something to do with all the arguing. I studied for two years, took off all my clothes, jumped in a mikvah, and voila — I was the adopted daughter of Abraham and Sarah.

That was late 1994, so my brother is joking when he continues to get the holidays confused. Every Passover he calls and says something like, “This is my favorite time of year! Let’s hear all the mistakes you’ve made, in alphabetical order, and then I’ll decide if I forgive you or not.”

“No,” I say, “that’s Yom Kippur.”

“Talk to you in six months.”

Then he hangs up.

So here we finally are, when those closest to me get all giddy, because I sincerely apologize for all my mistakes. Now, don’t get excited. I don’t apologize to everyone. I have to actually care that you may have been hurt or offended. (Too bad, Charlie Crist.)

And I don’t wait a year to say I’m sorry specifically. How awful would that be? And time-consuming. Once I realize I hurt someone I care about, which happens from time to time, I say I’m sorry right away.

The apology before Yom Kippur, which starts Friday, is different.

During 10 days of contemplation, Jews, and those who want to be like Jews but can’t part with their foreskin or bacon, consider the past year and all the ways we can make the next one better. On Yom Kippur, we traditionally pray and ask God to forgive us.

I’m still up in the air about God, so I throw out a general “I didn’t mean it, I was kidding” to the universe.

But before we ask a higher power to forgive us, we forgive each other. That’s what this Sorry Speech is all about. The people I apologize to, I also forgive. It’s kind of beautiful and why hasn’t Barbra Streisand written a song about it?

Here’s how you can participate and rock your own Sorry Speech.

— Don’t mention that you forgive them, too, unless they ask. Haughty isn’t hot.

— Make eye contact.

— Speak in general but meaningful terms; don’t mention that awful thing you said that one time back in August. That apology should have happened then, when you originally messed up. Nobody likes reliving past mistakes except my Irish cousins. And they can wait until St. Patrick’s Day for their time in the sun. Before Yom Kippur, you cover the stuff that no one mentions.

That’s right. We don’t always know each and every time we make a mistake. That’s why a Sorry Speech is necessary.

— Don’t apologize to the planet. Make it special. Make it count. Pick people who matter… people for whom you’d put away your phone for at least a half-hour.

— This is for things you said, or didn’t say — deeds you did, or didn’t do. So say that.

Say it. Don’t text or email. Neither comes with a tone of voice and tone is important. Call or, if you’re lucky, look across the dinner table and speak from the heart.

— If hurting someone you love doesn’t conjure up a tear or two, I suppose it’s OK to fake it.

Seriously, what’s wrong with you?

— Don’t say “I apologize” — you’re not some Wal-Mart clerk dealing with a customer who’s angry the 79-cent French fries are really 99 cents and made mostly of flour and something called dextrin. You’re talking to someone you LOVE. Say “I’m sorry.” Pretend you’re human.

— Give a kiss at the end, preferably with tongue, or a hug. If you’re me, pretend you didn’t hear your brother respond with “Ditto” because then you’ll just say something YOU are convinced is funny and BAM, already you have something to apologize for next year. Pace yourself, there are 12 months to go.

Now you’re ready to starve on the big day, pray or meditate a little, and ask the universe or God to pardon you.

I’m sorry if any of this was offensive.

See what I did there?

Have an easy fast.

Catherine Durkin Robinson is a political advocate and organizer, living in Tampa. Column courtesy of Context Florida.


Guest Author


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704