“I want to ask you to forgive me for anything I may have done to you over the past year,” Rami Ungar, 26, who works for a utility company and writes horror in his spare time, posted on both Twitter and Facebook last week.
“Nonetheless, I might still include you in one of my stories if you’ve really crossed the line,” the 26-year-old Hungarian, who lives in Columbus, Ohio, jokingly added.
According to the Jewish calendar, the month of Elul (roughly September) is a time when Jews are to atone for their sins and seek forgiveness from anyone they have harmed in the past twelve months.
The idea is to start the new year marked by the holiday of Rosh Hashanah with a clean slate, but it can happen anytime before Yom Kippur. Historically, Jews who practice T’shuvah, as this tradition is called, apologize face-to-face or over the phone. They reach out to people they actually remember hurting.
But in these fast-paced modern times, some are turning to social media instead and making blanket appeals for forgiveness. Some Jews and Rabbis see this as a slip, a way to avoid the hard work, admit our mistakes, and look people in the eye and ask for another chance.
“It doesn’t seem very sophisticated to me, and I think it makes religious people look silly,” said Rabbi Asher Meza, 44, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Meza, himself no stranger to social media — he recently posted a video on TikTok decrying the practice of “mechila (forgiveness) cold calling” — equated these impersonal, virtual requests with asking someone how they were leaves without listening to the answer.
“These people don’t really want to make amends,” he said. “They only want to publish it because they are superstitious and believe it will protect them for the new year. It feels primitive and it doesn’t feel sincere.”
For Daniella Jacob, 35, a healthcare worker in Great Neck, LI, all she cares about is covering her base efficiently, which is why she asked forgiveness from everyone she’s friends with on Facebook this month.
“I just don’t want to miss anyone,” she said. “I’m not in the mood for a bad year so I want everyone to know that I forgive them and I hope they will forgive me too.”
She said she received dozens of comments from people: “People said of course they forgive me, even though there is nothing to forgive.”
Still others say their social media posts have led to deeper, more productive conversations.
Mike Finesilver, 65, who lives in Elizabeth, NJ and works as a technical paralegal for a large law firm, accepted a private message from a childhood friend after a general post.
“Someone wrote to me and told me about something that happened a long time ago,” he said. “We spoke on the phone and I saw where this person was from and I spoke to them about it.”
He said he didn’t even know that this person felt unfairly treated.
“Social media is just a tool to reach people that you might not otherwise be able to reach,” he said. “It’s not the be-all and end-all, but it’s a good start.”
Finesilver said he received mixed reactions from rabbis who saw messages he posted on Facebook ahead of the high holiday.
“A rabbi texted me and said, ‘Mike, Facebook, really?'” he recalls. “But I have another rabbi who sent an email to the whole community saying basically the same thing [as me].”
Ungar believes social media is the most economical and effective way to do penance.
“I just thought that using social media was a convenient way to reach as many people as possible,” he said. “There’s also one or two people who hold a grudge against me, but we’re not in contact, so I can only hope they see that.”
It’s also a way to avoid the slightest confrontation while performing his duties as a
“It prevents any kind of angry communication if they’re not in the mood to be forgiving,” he said. “Is it a cop? Maybe. Sometimes you want to forgive toxic people but still not associate with them.”