High Holy Days 5768: Days of Awe and Hope


As Jews around the world and nation and in our own Jewish community of St. Louis welcome Rosh Hashanah 5768, and the solemn Day of Atonement on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, once again we collectively and indivudially face these Days of Awe with both challenges and hope.

As Americans we are aware of the fact that this week’s start of the Jewish New Year coincides with the sixth anniversary of the horrific terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and over the State of Pennsylvania of Sept. 11, 2001. We are relieved and grateful that there have been no comparable attacks on American soil since that horrible day in which 3,000 Americans lost their lives in an unprecedented orgy of violence. At the same time, the arrests just last week in Germany of three indidivuals suspected of plotting a major terrorist attack against Americans and American facilities in that country, along with the previous attacks in Bali, Madrid, London and elsewhere reminds us that the threat of such extremist violence remains very real.

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In the year ahead, we hope and pray that the genocide in the Sudan region of Darfur will be stopped. In recent weeks, the United Nations Security Council finally adopted a resolution to replace the 7,000-member African Union peacekeeping force with a combined U.N.-African Union group of 26,000 which we hope can stop the violence. Here in St. Louis, the Jewish Community Relations Council was the principal organizing group of the St. Louis Save Darfur Coalition, chaired by community leader Lesley Levin. The Save Darfur Coaltion deserves the support of the entire Jewish community to demand immediate action to stop the massacre.

We also remain deeply concerned over the instability in the entire Middle East, including the war in Iraq, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the ongoing threats from the fanatic regime in Iran, whose president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly called for Israel to be “wiped off the map,” and who hosted a conference of Holocaust deniers. The war in Iraq has claimed the lives of 3,700 brave U.S. men and women in our Armed Forces and has left another 30,000 wounded, many of them seriously. It is to be hoped that the means can be found not only to stop the inter-ethnic violence in Iraq, but that a truly stable political solution can be forged in which the Shiite, Sunni, Kurdish and other groups in Iraq can live together in peace.

The weeks ahead are yet another crucial period in the efforts to re-start the stalled Middle East peace process. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair accepted the role of special Middle East peace envoy for the so-called Quartet seeking to revive the “Road Map to Peace.” Blair has already had preliminary talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and we hope that Blair’s considerable diplomatic skills can help break the logjam. For his part Olmert has been holding regular meetings with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. In addition, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be going to the region for talks with representatives of moderate Arab states, such as Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States, who seem prepared to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a counter-weight to the extremist regime in Iran.

This past year saw even more disturbing evidence of a growing anti-Israel and anti-Semitic movement across the entire globe. The shameful action by the British University and College Union to boycott Israeli universities was only one example. At the same time, the full-page advertisement signed by 300 presidents of American colleges and universities strongly denouncing the boycott is solid evidence that there is considerable opposition to the anti-Semitic trends and activities in the world. Here in St. Louis, our 60,000-member Jewish community is blessed with a strong Jewish Federation, which just installed community leader Sheila Greenbaum to succeed Dr. Heschel Raskas, and which has put into effect a major re-structuring and outreach effort to make the organization more inclusive and better able to fulfill its vital missions of raising funds to support local, national and Jewish needs and programs, and to bring together all segments of the community for the common good. In the year ahead, we know that the members of our Jewish community will once again generously support the Jewish Federation Campaign in addition to helping to sustain our other community treasures. And so, as we reflect on the events of the past year and look ahead to the challenges that face us in the New Year of 5768, let us not just express our gratitude for the many blessings we enjoy as members of the American Jewish community but also work as a community to share those blessings with others in our nation and around the world.