Jewish World Review Sept. 6, 2002 / 29 Elul, 5762

Toward a year
of hope

By Gary Rosenblatt | Thousands of Americans were killed this past year by Islamic fundamentalists; perhaps the best known was Daniel Pearl. The Wall Street Journal reporter was not a victim of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, which claimed almost 3,000 lives. He was murdered overseas, in isolation, and largely, it seems, because he was not only an American journalist but a Jew, as he asserted in his chilling last words - by choice or coercion we will never know, and it matters not.

The notion that an American Jew would be kidnapped, tortured and executed because of his nationality and religion in the 21st century speaks volumes about the level of hatred and depths of depravity of our enemies and the dramatic downward spiral of world affairs in the Jewish calendar year just ending.

5762 was one of the worst years for the Jewish people since the Holocaust era. Anti-Semitism emerged from the shadows with a more frightening ferocity, particularly in Europe, than at any time in recent memory, and Israel not only suffered the deaths of hundreds of men, women and children as the war with the Palestinians escalated, but found itself fighting for its right to exist more than five decades after statehood. And in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, supporters of democracy, where Jews have thrived, faced an ongoing war of terrorism from Arab extremists committed to destroying Western culture and values.

As we approach the High Holy Days, a period set aside for intense reflection and spiritual striving - compounded by the first anniversary of the undeclared war on America and the continuing aggression against Israel, the Jewish people and Jewish history - how are we to shake ourselves from our depression? In what light do we now view the Jewish state, heralded in the official prayer for its welfare as the beginning of the messianic redemption, when its very survival is at stake? And how do we overcome the belief that while the world continues to progress technologically, it has failed to learn the tragic political, military and moral lessons of the Holocaust?

Almost six decades after the fall of Hitler and the Nazis, most nations refuse to recognize that evil must be defeated before it destroys you, whether it is represented by the suicide bomber seeking heavenly reward for murdering Jewish children, or Saddam Hussein openly advocating his intention to develop and use nuclear weapons of mass destruction.

How, then, are we to pray for peace on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur when our friends and brethren in Israel and here in New York are still grieving for murdered loved ones and Palestinian children are still being taught to hate and kill the Jews? Is peace nothing but a na´ve fantasy?

Yet we are instructed to consider the High Holy Days, for all their solemnity, a time of celebration as well as judgment. The Talmud instructs us to wear white clothing, to rejoice in the opportunity for our sins to be cleansed away, and to re-commit ourselves to performing acts of human kindness. Indeed, in the dramatic conclusion to the Unesaneh Tokef service, questioning who will live and who will die in the coming year, we proclaim: "Repentance, prayer and tzedakah will avert the severe decree."

That ancient advice remains forever relevant, urging us to respond on three levels - personal, spiritual and communal - in attending to our needs and responsibilities. Our job is not to question whether the prayers we recite are heard on high but to make certain they are uttered with a full and sincere heart. It is not for us to understand how families can go on believing in the wake of murderous attacks on young mothers and children, but to help the surviving members financially, emotionally and in any other way possible.

We memorialize those Americans killed Sept. 11 by doubling our efforts to defeat the terrorists, and we give meaning to the lives of those Israelis slaughtered at the hands of Palestinian militants by reconfirming our support for a secure Jewish state (as we did in great numbers in Washington in April and in countless ways, large and small, throughout the year).

Even as we mourn the tragic events of the past year, we must look to 5763 with renewed faith, as Jews have done for centuries.

We can take inspiration from the Holocaust survivors in our midst who suffered unspeakable pain and tragedy yet prayed for peace during the High Holy Days they spent in hell. Many of them asserted their belief in the future, not so much in words but by beginning new lives after the Holocaust, marrying and starting families, ensuring the continuation of the Jewish people, defeating Hitler's dream by affirming life. In that sense, we pay tribute to those who perished this year by celebrating their lives and what they stood for, pledged to freedom and committed to hatikvah, the hope, which never dies.

May the new year be a sweeter one for us all.

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JWR contributor Gary Rosenblatt is Editor and Publisher of the New York Jewish Week. Comment by clicking here.


© 2002 NY Jewish Week