From Rabbi Moshe Levin

YK WalkOut/TimeOut Project
“18 Minutes to ‘Bring Back America’s Conscience’”

We can revitalize the force for kindness, compassion, justice, truth, and integrity.
10 Tishrei 5778 – Wednesday, September 19, 2018 12


Dear Colleagues & Friends,

What would Heschel, Buber, Yeshayahu Leibovitch, Amos, and Isaiah do this Yom Kippur? What shul would they go to? What would they pray for?  And to whom?

Many of us are troubled today because a plethora of issues our country faces now conflict with what we define as essential and authentic Jewish values.  Those issues have been growing for decades but have now polarized our country, bringing us and our legislators to a stalemate, unable to solve even the most pressing issues of our age.  They include concerns about the environment, the growing gap between rich and poor, the status of immigrants, racism, sexism, xenophobia, challenges to democracy, the integrity of people in high positions, the impact of lobbies in the legislative process, a threat to the checks & balances in governance, our economic and political relationship with allies, and our responsibilities as a Super Power. The list seems nearly endless.

Perhaps our greatest frustration is that because our numbers are small, our Jewish voice, though important, is barely audible, and sometimes even mute, in a nation whose fundamental principles are derived from our sacred tradition. Therefore, this project is being launched to give voice to our concerns as Jews, and to power our cause as Americans, in a responsible and non-political manner. Initiated in one of our country’s “start-up cities,” San Francisco, a call is being spread to congregations and communities across the country to stage an 18 minute Walk-Out on this Yom Kippur to sound an alarm insisting that we “Restore America’s Conscience!” It is a call for justice and righteousness, a shofar blast for Hesed v’Emet, for Truth & Compassion – the themes of our holiest day, at a time when we pray to be sealed in a book of life – so crucial to the very character and ideals of these great United States of America.

Therefore, we proposed that this Yom Kippur, if possible at or near noon, wherever we are at that local time, we rabbis lead our congregants out of our Sanctuaries and into the streets for 18 minutes, so that our Jewish values will be heard all across America. For those whose departure from the sanctuary is not feasible, it can be a “TimeOut” instead of a “WalkOut,” or a “StandOut,” to focus on the sacred task of Teshuva,to Return, Renew, and Restore the values we hold dear.  Each congregation, each community, can decide their own course, to focus on specific issues or the collective conscience, as well as the nature of that action. We can sing, preach, share sources, prayers, or readings – whatever seems most meaningful.  We who began this project see ourselves as enablers not controllers,inviting congregations across the country to set aside a mere 18 minutes of the Fast Day, to reaffirm the Jewish Moral Imperative,as you and your leadership see fit.

This project was inspired by the speeches of our great Prophets such as Isaiah whose powerful and immortal words in the Yom Kippur Minha Haftarah resonate with us. But it was also taught to us by the teenagers of our country who walked out of their classrooms in March, to demand that their lives be protected and not sold to the highest bidder. The entire nation saw the power of peaceful but articulate protest to protect the lives of all young people. We can do the same. We must, because so much is now truly at stake, for our country, for our children, and for the world.

This WalkOut, or TimeOut must not be a political action favoring any one political party over another – we want all in the national spectrum to focus on the issues they regard as being neglected, mismanaged, or endangered. And we do not imagine a focus at this time of issues outside the borders of this country.  As the most powerful and wealthiest nation in the world we believe that the U.S. has both the responsibility and the ability to repair the broken elements in our own society that beg for attention.

We believe that all socially minded citizens in our nation will respond positively to a loud and demanding call for Justice and Compassion, for the need to reverse the current trends that flirt with irreversible damage. We believe that American Jews can stand up and say that Tikun Olam, especially on Yom Kippur, is not a mere bumper-sticker phrase but a demand to change course, and fix the broken elements in our nation.  An effort by the American Jewish community is our responsibility, and hopefully, will be well-received and respected by all. Paraphrasing Mordecai, “Perhaps this is the reason we here now in this blessed country – to rise up and speak out when few know what else to do.”

Jewish history and wisdom are our People’s mentors. And perhaps members of other religious communities, and those with noreligious affiliation, will consider joining the effort and stand with us for that brief period. Even Jews who would otherwise might be absent from our synagogues on this sacred day may join us this year in an effort that reflects what they too are proud of, namely, a Jewish voice of conscience.

Ketivah v’Hatimah Tova!May we and our country be sealed in a Book of Life.

Rabbi Moshe Levin, Yom Kippur Walk-Out Task Force Chair
San Francisco, California