By Leah Garber
אבינו מלכינו, שמע קולנו, חדש עלינו שנה טובה
Lord our God, Hear our voice, bless this year.
Autumn is in the air, and the days are getting shorter. Just as the season strips the trees of their leaves, exposing their vulnerability, so, too, are we encouraged to shed our coverings, search our hearts, and reveal our souls, without hiding behind pretense or forgery.
With fall comes a longing for serenity, especially in the face of the eventful summer that, now departing, makes room for better days to come, for promises to be fulfilled.
Indeed, this past summer was busy and full: A scolding government that has not fulfilled its days; impossible politics that are sending us back to the polls for the fifth time in three-and-a-half years; a sharp—and thankfully short—round of fighting in Gaza, a painful reminder that the conflict is always with us, like an evil monster that lifts its head from time to time.
The summer was also wonderful and exciting. With the pandemic waning, record numbers of tourists returned to travel in Israel, enjoying the beauty and wealth of experiences in their homeland that is for others the holy land.
Last week 10 million residents of Israel, a record number of the country’s citizens, welcomed the new year of 5783.
Despite the challenges of life; the harsh and ongoing conflict; constant tensions and terrorism; the cost of living, among the highest in the world; and the long, hot summers, these 10 million Israelis define themselves as “happy,” making Israel one of the happiest countries in the world, far ahead of more peaceful and calmer Western nations.
Local politics has failed to erode the commitment of 10 million Israelis to the country’s democratic system, and they eagerly await their right to vote—to realize their worldview for the well-being of Israel, each according to his own opinions and values.
Ten million Israelis, including eight million Jews, are free to celebrate Judaism in different ways, demonstrating more pluralism and diversity than ever before.
This country, on the brink of its 75th year, holds its head high and looks with pride and satisfaction at the impressive achievements it has made in every field. It revels in leading the world in technology, science, medicine, agriculture, and the arts, as well as, most importantly, cross-border and continental tikkun olam, repairing the world.
Just before Rosh Hashana, Israel’s Prime Minister Yair Lapid said this in a speech before the United Nation’s General Assembly:
Israel is a strong liberal democracy. Proud and prosperous. The start-up nation that invented Waze and Iron Dome, medicines for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and a robot that can perform spinal surgery. A world leader in water and food-tech, cyber defense, and renewable energy. With 13 Nobel prize winners in literature and chemistry, economics, and peace.
How did this happen? It happened because we decided not to be a victim. We chose not to dwell on the pain of the past, but rather to focus on the hope of the future. We chose to invest our energies into building a nation—into building a happy society, optimistic and creative…
The people of the Middle East, the people of the entire world, should look around and ask themselves: Who is doing better? Those who chose the path of peace or those who chose the way of war? Those who chose to invest in their people and country or those who chose to invest in the destruction of others? Those who believe in education, tolerance, and technology, or those who believe in bigotry and violence?”
I was inspired by the prime minister’s speech, which I urge you to read in its entirety. When necessary, rely on his words; quote him when you encounter criticism of Israel’s actions. Remind those who are critical that Israel has striven for peace from the day it was founded, and although for the last 75 years it has faced convictions and lies that challenge its existence, the determination of its citizens has remained resolute.
This country is my home. It is the place in which I was born, where I grew up, the place that shaped my values and who I am. I am grateful to the State of Israel for its beauty, wealth of expertise, breadth and depth, and for its righteous struggles that shaped the enduring character of the Israeli people.
I look into the face of the challenges and difficulties with understanding, acceptance, appreciation, and, above all, with humility and hope that the Zionist mission is not yet complete. My children and I and all of us—Israelis and Jews across the world—have an important role to play as part of this miraculous endeavor.
Tomorrow night the Jewish world will stand facing Jerusalem to recite Kol Nidre, Yom Kippur’s opening prayer. When we do, I will be imagining how millions of Jews from all backgrounds and affiliations will be reciting the same exact words simultaneously. Although the recitations will embody different accents and melodies, a shared desire for purity lies at the heart of the text as we enter this holiest of days.
As clergy across the Jewish world wrap themselves in kittels, (a white garment symbolizing purity), a spiritual white tablecloth enwraps our whole country as the Jewish land bends its head to fit under the white dressed table. Traffic ceases and highways turn to playgrounds. Our busy airport is closed. Television and radio broadcasts cease, and the entire country is on hold for 25 hours. Serenity takes over and the power of the day invites all Jews to unite as one people with a shared history, a common destiny, and a future that all of us will design—together. What a feeling!
Inspired by migrating birds on the wings of the autumn winds, I believe the winds of reconciliation will carry our prayers for unity, peace, and our continued pride in the State of Israel, our Jewish homeland, high into the heavens.
G’mar chatima tova. | May you be sealed in the Book of Life.
Leah Garber is a vice president of JCC Association of North America and director of its Center or Israel Engagement in Jerusalem.