This is the day of the world’s beginning; now we recall creation’s first day. On this day the fate of nations is in the balance — for war or peace, for famine or plenty … life and death are in the balance. Every mortal’s record is set before You. — Prayer book for the Days of Awe
The New Year 5779 has arrived, and Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, will be observed next week. The High Holidays are rightly called the Days of Awe — when we gather in synagogues and temples the world over to reflect on the year that just ended, to ponder coming challenges and to atone for sins we have committed during the past year.
On reflection, one could quote Charles Dickens and describe the current situation for Jews as the best of times and the worst of times.
We celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the modern State of Israel, which then and now is a miracle. When Israel was founded, there were only 625,000 Jews in the first independent Jewish State in 2,000 years. The day after Israel proclaimed its independence and extended its hand in friendship to its Arab population, it was invaded by five Arab armies from nations with a combined population of over 100 million. Though Israel lost 6,000 people in its War of Independence, it not only survived the attack but secured its ability to stand alone.
Today, after five more wars, Israel is home to nearly 7 million Jews from over 100 countries — including 800,000 from Arab and Muslim nations, 120,000 from Ethiopia and 1 million from the former Soviet Union. We mention these facts because they sometimes get lost in the increasingly divisive rhetoric about Israel. Yes, Israel has its faults like any other nation and is fair game for criticism. But let’s not switch from saying Israel can do no wrong to asserting that Israel can do no right.
In addition to concerns about Israel, society has seen a truly alarming increase in anti-Semitism on a worldwide basis. Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Great Britain’s Labour Party, has been branded an outright anti-Semite by all three Jewish newspapers in the United Kingdom and by Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of Great Britain and Ireland. Increasingly, Jews who no longer feel safe in places like Britain and France are emigrating to Israel in large numbers.
In Israel and the United States, the economy is booming, and both nations are protected by strong defense forces. Israel continues to be threatened by Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, and the lack of effective leadership among the Palestinians. We pray that the coming months will bring a renewed effort to revive the moribund peace process towards the long-sought two-state solution.
In a Rosh Hashanah message to the Jewish people, President Donald Trump noted his commendable recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. He also praised the strength and endurance of Jews throughout the centuries. We hope that the president’s long- awaited plan for the Middle East will lead to a lasting era of prosperity and peace, but success will take skilled diplomacy and not simply a series of tweets.
We are reminded at this time of year that only God knows who will live and who will die in the months ahead. The recent deaths of notables such as Philip Roth, Neil Simon, John McCain and Aretha Franklin — not to mention lower-profile people who were dear to us and our families — remind everyone that none of us is immortal. We all have limited lives and need to live honorably with each other, accountable for our actions.
The Jewish Light wishes our readers a happy, healthy and meaningful 5779. May we all take to heart the eternal lessons of the Days of Awe.