The Times of Israel published my new article “Rosh Hashanah: Looking for a Leader of the Jewish People”
Israel’s political mayhem after the elections comes as no surprise. The dead heat between the two main parties in Israel and the fierce deal-making to form a coalition capable of governing the country reveals the great divide within Israel’s society.
Why should a Jew in Manhattan, Paris or Buenos Aires care? Why should this situation be a matter of concern for the Jewish New Year?
As we celebrate Rosh Hashanah—the beginning or “head” of the year—it is time to reflect as Jews on our connection as a people, regardless of the place where we celebrate around the dinner table. We are in the thick of a groundswell of hatred against Jews and Israel that will leave no stone unturned and no time for second-guessing.
Now more than ever, Israel’s leadership must also lead all Jewish people, fostering unity both in the Land of Israel and toward the Diaspora in order to tackle the great divide between the two communities.
In recent years, young Jewish Americans have experienced an increasing loss of Jewish identity, and a growing indifference toward Israel as the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people.
The internal and external pressures we face as Jews every day, in every part of the world, enhance the sense of urgency of needing to come to terms with our divisions. What happens in Israel must be relevant to all Jews because even if it is not always evident to us, we share a common destiny, an invisible but indivisible link.
Realizing this indivisibility and working toward unity should be the Jewish people’s highest priority in order to have the strength to face today’s existential threats. Our enemies make no distinction between you and me, between leftist and rightist, between religious and secular, between an Israeli Jew and an American Jew.
Consequently, we need to stand side by side as one.
5,880 Years to Break the Siege
This year, Jews all over the world felt less safe. The deadly shootings at synagogues in Pittsburg and Poway were a major wake-up call to the anti-Semitic terrorism that can unfold at any given moment in the heart of American society.
Large cities in the US have also experienced a sharp spike in violent attacks against Jews. The New York Police Department registered 184 hate crimes by the end of June targeting 110 Jews. The number of incidents almost doubled compared to 2018. In contrast, overall crimes in the city decreased to a record low.
In Europe, 89% of Jews feel anti-Semitism has increased in their country over the past decade, and a similar percentage believe it to be a serious problem. Meanwhile, the economic, academic and cultural boycotts against Israel, known as the BDS, are expanding around the globe.
Therefore, whoever will govern the country must understand that a weaker Israel and a widening gap between Israel and the Diaspora will only increase threats against us and anti-Semitism throughout the world. As reality has proven to us time and again, and as history shows, when we are divided, our enemies rise against us. As we head into the new year, we must finally be ready to reverse that fate for good.
A Change for the Better
Rosh Hashanah, comes from the Hebrew words, “Rosh Hashinui” (“the beginning of change”). It symbolizes our aspiration to acquire higher values, benevolence, sharing, and caring for each other. All of our Jewish festivals symbolize milestones along the path of our transformation of the evil inclination—namely egoism—to altruism, to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
The Rosh Hashanah tradition to eat a fish’s head symbolizes our decision to be at the forefront, not the tail, leading ourselves and others toward unity.
The pomegranate we serve at this time of the year, with its numerous juicy seeds, reminds us that we, too, are like seeds, that it is time for us to ripen spiritually through unity. The seeds also represent our egoistic desires, which we want to learn how to use in a more balanced way—for the sake of others rather than selfishly—realizing our aspirations through our many contributions to society.
The meaning of the apple we eat at Rosh Hashanah is the primordial “transgression” of self-centeredness. We dip it in honey to symbolize its sweetening (correction) through our reestablished care for others. To achieve this state and rekindle our brotherly love, we have to rise above our egoism, balancing it with its opposite altruistic force by establishing positive connections between us.
The Head, Not the Tail
Let’s consider further the symbolism of the fish’s head in the Jewish New Year customs. Israel and the Diaspora need leadership that will also take care of our younger generation, which is losing grip on its traditions.
What kinds of actions should be taken toward this end? First and foremost, an educational framework needs to be established that explains the following essential questions:
- What does being a Jew mean? To be one who works to unite all separate parts of humanity into one whole.
- Who is Israel? It is those who embody the meaning of the word Yashar-Kel,e. those who go “straight to the Creator” as the unifying power in reality.
- What is the Land of Israel? It’s the path of common purpose between us.
- What is the role of the Jewish people? It is to be a “light unto the nations.” That is, to give an example of unity to the world.
We need to work in close cooperation with representatives of world Jewry, even if their views seem completely opposite, and to take into consideration their perspectives in Israel’s policymaking process. It is important for us to find a common language and to work in mutual guarantee (Arvut) with one another.
The leadership Israel requires is one that will show how crucial it is for all of us, without exception, to connect, to be “as one man with one heart,” and to give the world the key to attaining that unity. The Jewish people require leadership that will let every Jew live safely in the country of his birth and to open its doors to every Jew in times of trouble.
This demand for change must begin within ourselves. It is the choice of each of us to transform our state of separation to one of cohesion, for with that change of state also comes the transformation from insecurity to safety. And there is no more beautiful time to start realizing the power of our unity than now, around the Rosh Hashanah festive table.
We are of many different ages, tastes, backgrounds, ideas and points of view, but we should not try to change or erase any of that. On the contrary, our uniqueness is the treasure that each brings to the world. We should preserve our differences, rise above them, and cover them with mutual love and respect like the white cloth that covers the festive table. This is our special family recipe for a rounded and sweet life, and for a promising future as a nation.
Let’s raise our glasses of wine and make a toast to our unity.
Happy Rosh Hashanah!