Yesterday was the Jewish Holy Day of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, a day of remembrance, repentance, confession and fasting. It is unique in that it is almost universally observed, even by the most secular of Jews for whom it might be the only day of the year that they attend a service.
Central to Yom Kippur is the Al Chet prayer where we are asked to consider the sins we have committed intentionally or unintentionally, what are our sins of commission and our sins of omission and what have we done inadvertently by doing nothing at all.
The most important thing is that I am asked to think not about the sins that I have personally committed but for the sins that We have committed. This is an acceptance that each individual is responsible not only for their own actions but of the actions of others.
All my life I have tried to be egalitarian believing that everyone is equal and therefore deserves equal rights and opportunities. The Al Chet prayer on Yom Kippur is a time for me to consider if I have lived true to that. Have I ensured that my activities have not discriminated against someone based on their gender, income, race, religion, physical attribute or sexual orientation? Have I stood up and made my views known when I have seen such discrimination? Have I tried to educate others that we are all equal? Is there more that I can do in the future?
It is not enough for me to treat everyone as equals, it is my responsibility to ensure that others do so as well.
Discrimination is an ugly word that enters our lives every day and sometimes in some very unexpected ways. It is not always obvious, it can be subtle and unintentional but the effect is the same - someone will feel that they are not being treated as an equal.
If I see someone being treated differently to me or disadvantaged because in some way they are different to me is it ok if I look away and do nothing because it does not effect me? Of course it isn't. Yet how few people actually do something?
When a speaker at the Joomla World Conference compared their artistic skills to someone with autism how many people objected?
When the "benevolent dictator" of an open source community tweeted that their dancing skills were comparable to those of someone who suffers from epilepsy how many people objected?
When an event organiser refuses to change the date of an event that prevents people of certain faiths from attending who did anything?
As a person with a voice that is heard by many I must speak out on this. It is my duty. Not just for me but for those without a voice. For the person that would love to attend an event but is afraid that they will not be welcome. For the person who feels uncomfortable when "jokes" are made about their gender, race or religion. For the person who is different and yet yearns to be an equal.
It is not just their feelings or happiness that we harm but their actual health, safety and lives. Who am I to decide that someone is not equal to me or that it doesn't really matter because they are a minority. As the Al Chet prayer reminds me it is not just acts committed intentionally but those unintentional acts or those committed without understanding that lead to people suffering from bigotry and discrimination.
As a Jew, as an individual and as a member of humanity I cannot sit back, be silent and stand idly by as people suffer from bigotry and discrimination.