When You Don’t Want To Say You’re Sorry

The State of Atonement

Eli Valley

By Rachel Shukert

Published September 19, 2012, issue of September 21, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share

A series of writers answer the question: Do we still know how to atone?

My mother said it every year to my sister and me when she was getting us dressed to go to High Holy Day services: “Apologize. Say you’re sorry for all the things you did wrong to each other this year.”

Ever the devil’s advocate, I would always say the same thing: “And if I don’t forgive her?”

“Then the sin is on your head. Remember, God’s watching.”

To me, a naturally vengeful person with a stubborn sense of right or wrong, this seemed patently unfair, even in the hypothetical. Nor was I sure which seemed more disingenuous — the mandatory apology or the coerced absolution. If I wasn’t sorry, why should I have to say that I was? And if I was mad, why couldn’t I just stay mad?

We’re currently living in a Golden Age of False Atonement. The progression has become nearly as familiar as the old schoolyard rhyme about love and marriage and the baby carriage: first comes the comment/Tweet/Instagram photo that vaguely or pointedly or advertently or inadvertently causes offense to Jews/Christians/Muslims/gay men and lesbians/straight people/Democrats/Republicans/men/women of any and all races or creeds. The resulting outcry. The digital mob demands a sacrifice by means of ritual bloodletting, or, failing that, a public apology.

Sometimes this garners a statement of genuine soul-searching, à la Jay-Z vowing after the birth of his daughter never again to use the word “bitch” to refer to women in a song, or Jason Alexander’s essay about his horror on discovering that the joke he made about cricket on “The Late Late Show” could be seen by some as the kind of anti-gay bullying he has always abhorred, an act of contrition so touching that it’s given him (and his fabulous new hair) a second act as a political pundit. Sometimes you get something so clearly anguished and intimate that it actually makes you uncomfortable, like Kristen Stewart’s “I love him, I love him, I’m so sorry” admission that reminds us uncomfortably what unformed lumps of hellacious narcissism we were at 22, when we were lucky enough not to be famous.

But then there’s the response most depressingly common and beloved by America’s favorite sociopaths from Rush Limbaugh to the Real Housewives of Everywhere: the non-apology apology. “I’m sorry you took it badly” and the subsequent “What’s your problem? I apologized!” kind of statement that somehow manages to illuminate the speaker’s utter disdain and lack of remorse, while robbing the wronged of the gift of their pure, unimpeachable anger, amounting to a second insult that is somehow worse than the first.

So this High Holy Day season, I say let’s lose the insincere apologies and just own up to being not very nice people who say hateful things sometimes. Every once in a while, there’s no better way to say you’re sorry than to let someone else be mad.

Rachel Shukert is a contributing editor and pop culture columnist at Tablet Magazine. She is the author, most recently, of “Everything Is Going To Be Great” (Harper Perennial, 2010).


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.