The Times of Israel published my new article “What Has Changed This Jewish Year?”
An Introspection at Rosh Hashanah, 1st of Tishrei, 5779
What has changed this year compared to last year? As Jews, do we feel safer?
If we look at world events, unfortunately, the situation has changed for the worse. We are in the thick of a groundswell of hatred against Jews and Israel.
Anti-Semitic incidents are at an all-time high in Europe and North America. In Britain, the Labour Party is rocked by anti-Semitic scandals and its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is at the center of a crusade against Jews and Israel. The current climate is making British Jews consider leaving the country.
In Germany, 1,000s of neo-Nazis are taking to the streets more often and more openly, mobilizing to rekindle Hitler’s thoughts and ideals. Their rallies recently became the most violent protests in decades, placing even civil authorities in jeopardy.
France, Poland, Austria, Canada and the US also join the legion of countries where anti-Semitism is on the rise. In the US, anti-Semitic incidents are a widespread phenomena. Only last year, there was a 60% spike, the largest single-year increase on record, according to monitoring groups.
Israeli and American Jews’ Growing Rift
And what about Israel? If Israel has been considered a safety net for the Jewish people, it is currently the source of a growing rift between the world’s two largest Jewish communities: Israeli and American Jews. Those in the Diaspora expect more pluralism from the Jewish state and self-determination in the way they conceive and live their Jewishness. There is also a significant split on how President Trump’s handling of the US-Israel relationship is viewed: 77% approval from Israelis, while only 34% of American Jews express positive views.
As we approach the introspective period of Rosh Hashanah, there is growing urgency to understand where we are, how we’ve reached this place, and how we advance from here.
Rosh Hashanah: The Beginning of Change
The words, “Rosh Hashanah,” come from the Hebrew words, “Rosh Hashinui” — the beginning of change. Besides food and family gatherings, Jewish festivals have profound meanings. Rosh Hashanah is not just the beginning of the Hebrew calendar. It is a symbol of renewal, when we start examining ourselves and determining how we want to improve ourselves.
We taste from a fish’s head to state that we want to be the head and not the tail, meaning that we want to determine our path and not blindly follow the herd. We eat pomegranate seeds, where each seed represents a desire we discover within, and which we want to learn to use not selfishly, but in order to benefit others. Also, we eat an apple, the symbol of the sin (of self-centeredness), and sweeten it with honey, which symbolizes learning to use even that primordial temptation altruistically.
Jewish Holidays Symbolize Stages of Our Correction
The people of Israel coined the saying, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and to various degrees implemented it until the ruin of the second Temple. All of our festivals symbolize milestones along the path of transformation from the evil inclination — namely egoism — to altruism, where we love our neighbors as ourselves.
It is written in the Mishnah and the Gemarah (and countless other texts) that the only reason why the second Temple was ruined is unfounded hatred. That is, when egoism takes over, we fall. We have been established as a nation only when we vowed to be “as one man with one heart.” When we broke that vow we were dispersed and exiled.
No less important than our vow to be as one was the promise we received that we would be a light for the nations. But in the absence of the bond between us, what light do we emit? When we are united and project that unity, we become a light for the nations and cannot be referred to as “warmongers” because we spread unity.
Jews Must Fix Growing Alienation in the World
Today’s biggest problem is the global mistrust we see on all levels. One by one our illusions shatter. Who can we trust? I’ll spare you the dismal examples that answer this rhetoric question, but it is clear that we are growing increasingly alienated from each other — the opposite of the unity and brotherly love that are so vital for survival in a world where everyone depends on everyone else.
The more we pursue the current trend, the greater the pressure that will be applied on the Jews. Deep down, the world remembers that the Jews once knew the secret to proper human connection. When that memory surfaces, it is vented out as accusations that we are warmongers, manipulators, and other “compliments” that have become part of the anti-Jewish lingo.
Although we, too, are disconnected, but we are the ones who can and must rekindle our unity. We may still be very far from unity, but here at least is a recognition of the indispensability of this unjustly derogated value.
Finding The Key To Our Happiness
So this Rosh Hashanah is an amazing opportunity to really make it Rosh Hashinui, and begin to change how we relate to one another. As we gather with family and friends, we must make it a point to rise above our differences and find the common goal of unity. And when we do that, the previously mentioned woes will be no more, since if you look at them, you’ll see that all of them derive from one and only origin — our overblown egos.
This year, let’s spread some honey on our overblown egos, symbolized by the apple (Heb: tapuach, from the word, tafuach [bloated]), and sweeten them with unity. This is all we need; this is all the world needs; and it is the key to our lasting happiness.