Ta’anit Teshuvah: A High Holiday Fast for Palestinian Human Rights

by Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb

It is a tradition for the pious to fast from dawn to dusk during the Ten Days of Teshuvah, as it is written, “I am with them in distress.” (Psalm 91:15) Suffering is ever before us. We mourn the unnecessary loss of life that stems from preventable harm: racial, gender and economic oppression, police violence, military occupation, forced dispossession and deadly conflict. These harmful conditions deny millions of people the opportunity to fulfill their dreams. During the holy days, we take time to heal our broken hearts, nurture our capacity for reconciliation, and breathe new life into our shared struggle for a just and compassionate world. We do this so we can lovingly and fiercely pursue justice and peace over the long haul.

In 2011 Shomer Shalom Network for Jewish Nonviolence initiated a Ta’anit Teshuvah during the seven intermediate days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Ta’anit Teshuvah culminates in renewing a shomer shalom vow of nonviolence during Kol Nidre.

Why fast? Public fasting gives witness to calamities. Public fasting is an act of remorse and reconciliation. Public fasting is also a call to action!

On the third of Tishri, a person who wants to undertake the fast proclaims the following before two witnesses:

I, ______________, take upon myself a Ta’anit Teshuvah from the third of Tishri through Yom Hakippurim. May this fast purify my heart so I can become a steward of nonviolence and reparative justice, compassion and peace throughout the year. I undertake this fast to (insert your intention). When this period of fasting is over, may I (as a shomeret shalom) continue to fulfill my obligation to engage in acts of nonviolence, reparative justice and reconciliation. Amen.

This year, JVP is focused on stopping the Prawer Plan, which is one more link in the long, unbearable chain of persecution that has bound Palestinians to continuous oppression for the past sixty years. You can dedicate your fasting to stopping the Prawer Plan by wearing white, and pinning a mourning ribbon on your clothes that says, “Stop Prawer.” (Click here to see what other actions you can take during the High Holy Day season to stop the Prawer Plan.)

I am also fasting to give public witness to the persecution of Native Americans, African Americans and Latinos by the United States in the form of police brutality, the war on drugs and gangs, closing of schools, mass incarceration, the militarization of the border, deportation and economic exploitation. One Oakland pastor who oversees the prophetic ministry program of his church lamented that it feels like a holocaust. “We are literally being locked up or killed in the streets while white America goes about its business as if nothing is happening.”

Recently, Noura Khouri and I initiated the Facing Urban Shield Action Network in the Bay Area which is composed of over 20 organizations that address different aspects of the militarization of police. Urban Shield is the weapons trade show and training ground for police agencies from the US and around the world. The IDF is connected to Urban Shield. Protesting Urban Shield is an opportunity to link domestic and international struggles against occupation, incarceration and war and build the global movement for justice and peace.

JVP is a place for alternative community building, a place where we commit to honoring the dignity of every human being, a place where we experiment with the methodology of nonviolence, a place where we live into a world rooted in creativity, resiliency, reconciliation and love. We are not afraid to struggle, to stand up for our rights and the rights of others. During this season of fasting, let us go into the streets and proclaim publicly:

This is the fast we have chosen:
Shatter the chains of oppression.
Unbind the yoke of unethical action from around our necks.
Dismantle prisons and end administrative detention.
Stop policies of dispossession
and let the oppressed move freely throughout the land.
Break the hold of corporate greed
Redistribute bread and resources to hungry
Build affordable housing
and establish a living wage.
Do not withhold a helping hand.
See every person as sister/brother
And banish violence from the land.
Then shall our inner light break forth
as the light of dawn.

(A riff on Isaiah 58)