By: Marvin D. Nathan, National Chair
Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO & National Director
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is both a celebratory holiday and a time for serious introspection.
It is a celebration of the creation of the Universe and of G-d's sovereignty over that Universe. And, it is a time to look into oneself to examine where one has been and where one is going.
In this spirit, we offer on behalf of ADL, the organization we represent, some words of celebration and introspection as Americans, as Jews and as human beings.
This has been a year of great turmoil, here and abroad, so it is easy to forget that there is much to celebrate.
In the past years, we have witnessed a number of institutions in our democratic society rise to the occasion of pushing back against illiberalism and overreach. We have seen the courts, reflecting our constitutional separation of powers, putting a hold on the discriminatory travel ban against Muslims. We have seen the members of the press doing their job, raising serious questions and conducting in-depth investigations on how we are being governed, even as they are attacked by some as “enemies of the nation.” And we see non-governmental organizations engaged and active, living up to Alexis de Tocqueville’s description of America’s great strength – our civil society.
This courage has been important. We are blessed to live in perhaps the most tolerant country in human history. This was on display in the past year when, as anti-Semitic incidents and expressions rose significantly, Americans both on the right and the left stood up in support of our community. And hundreds of mayors around the country rose to the occasion to join hands with ADL and overcome the politics of the day to fight the scourge of prejudice.
Rosh Hashanah, also gives us a chance to reflect on those elements of our lives that are challenging and may need repair.
The actions that have undermined democratic values and institutions – the attacks on the press, the Muslim travel ban, the loss of protections for immigrants and refugees, the assault on voting rights, the encroachment on LGBTQ rights, the questioning of science – all put stresses on our system. Protecting democratic values and institutions is not a partisan issue. These are the things that truly make America great. We must all rally round to ensure their protection.
We are deeply troubled by the surge in anti-Semitic incidents over the last year and the emboldening of Jew haters to come out of the shadows and proudly proclaim their vile beliefs as witnessed in Charlottesville or even on some college campuses. And we saw hate crimes rise against people of many different backgrounds in many different communities. And yet we are proud that our Jewish values give us the strength to forge new partnerships to fight hate and intolerance here at home directed at any people.
Finally, as Americans and as Jews, we deeply worry about the question of American leadership in the world. The history of the 20th century is one where when America is in retreat from the world, as we were between the two World Wars, it was bad for the world and bad for the Jewish people. And, when America was engaged and leading in the world, as we have been since the end of World War II, it was good for the world and good for the Jewish people.
New questions have arisen as to whether America will continue its historic leading role. Allies and adversaries are both asking such questions. Hostile nations such as Iran have tried to sow turmoil and exploit uncertainty to promote their own malicious agenda. For the sake of the world, because in the absence of the U.S. there is no reliable leadership, and for the sake of the Jewish people, because there is no substitute for the kind of support we have seen from the U.S. for Israel, Soviet Jews, and the fight against anti-Semitism, let us hope that the year ahead will witness a renewal of American leadership and respect for this great country.
When we look abroad, our eyes naturally turn to the state of vulnerable Jewish minorities around the world. With anti-Semitism rising in parts of the world and questions and a shrinking State Department here at home, we are thankful that the critical position of Special Envoy on anti-Semitism, created by the George W. Bush Administration, remains intact.
Many still long for Zion and wonder about the fate of Israel. As we prepare for celebrations of the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding next year, we can take pride in its success and yet recognize that there is still much work to be done to address its imperfections and to create peace with its neighbors And yet, despite its challenges on our campuses and in the court of public opinion, we should never take for granted the remarkable reality of a strong and vibrant Jewish state, one that in its robust democracy, every day remains distinctive in a region characterized by anti-democratic forces on both the religious and secular sides.
And for those who worry about Israel’s soul, it is worth reading recent stories in both The New York Times and The Washington Post, as to the humanitarian assistance Israel is delivering to thousands of Syrian refugees and injured as a result of the ongoing Syrian conflict. Remembering that Syria has been one of Israel’s leading foes since Israel’s founding makes these facts even more inspiring.
In closing, the challenges remain great. Around the world and here at home, there are winds blowing that give us pause. There are threats to the Jewish people and to all marginalized people. And yet the sound of the shofar is distinct, and its blast calls to us during the High Holidays. It is a reminder that as Jews and as human beings we are obligated to stand up for others as devotedly as we stand up for ourselves.
L’Shana Tovah Metukah.