Traveling With Jonah: Pre-Yom Kippur Thoughts

By the time we approach minchah on Yom Kippur afternoon, we have been through the month of Elul, Selichot prayers, Rosh Hashanah, and a substantial portion of the Day of Atonement. The role that the Book of Jonah plays at that point is one thing. But I’ve been wondering if it might not be of some use to reflect on Jonah’s travels earlier in the season as well.

Having recently read Yehuda Amichai’s brilliant and funny “Conferences, Conferences: Malignant Words, Benign Speech”* – in which one conference session explores, e.g., “ceramacists on the type of potsherd Job used to scratch himself” – I found myself imagining a similar conference on Jonah.

What began as silly free-association turned to slightly more serious exploration of some themes raised by the Book of Jonah. I thought sharing this BEFORE Yom Kippur afternoon, might be of some help.

Here, in the form of a “Conference Program” PDF, is the result of my musings. (Please note: the Creative Common license for this work has been updated.)

Offered with wishes for a good and sweet year!
Traveling_with_Jonah
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And He Called: Stop Street Harrassment

(And) he called [va-yikira]… (Lev. 1:1)

“I don’t care how she’s dressed, it’s not OK!”
“I don’t care how she’s walking, it’s not OK!”
“It’s not a compliment…It’s street harassment”

Vayikra” is a singular masculine verb (all action in Hebrew is gendered). These are the first words, and the Hebrew name, of the Bible book known in English as Leviticus. We know from context that the implicit “he” is God and that God is calling, from within the newly constructed Tabernacle, to Moses. But this year [2012], our reading of Vayikra — (Lev. 1:1-5:26) in the annual Torah cycle — coincides with “Stop Street Harassment Week,” and I’m hearing those words a little differently.

Vayikra is the first portion in a long series of instructions for the sacrificial system, designed to restore balance in the universe when a wrong has been committed, intentionally, unintentionally or even unknowingly. YouTube is not exactly the Tabernacle, and videos are not sacrifices, but I do believe that StopStreetHarrassment.org has managed to make powerful use of tools at hand.

As I watched “Shit Men Say to Men Who Say Shit to Women” (below) I realized I was crying. Gradually, I came to understand that I heard these guys speaking across the decades and the miles to all the men who yelled shit at me in my youth, to all the men who intruded on me, who made the streets feel less safe for me, for other women and for gay and transgendered folk. (for more resources, please visit Stop Street Harassment)

And as I heard these young guys tell others — including those men, now gray as I am or gone, who once hassled me — “it’s not OK,” I felt a balance restored to the universe. These guys cannot atone for mistakes of others. But they did, powerfully, repair something for me.

And he called….

“Are you serious?”
“You’re embarrassing me, man.”
“Stop it.”
“It’s street harrassment.”

Amen. And thank you!