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Mankind is “like a broken shard, withering grass, a fading flower, a passing shadow, a dissipating cloud, a blowing wind, scattering dust, a fleeting dream.” — from the High Holiday “Unetaneh Tokef” prayer.
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are upon us again — the time of repentance and renewal, of judgment and of starting over.
For our people, our nation, and indeed for all of us on this planet — so divinely balanced, but now overheating in more ways than one — taking stock this year seems particularly vital.
In Israel, relentlessly threatened by increasingly bold and capable enemies, it is nonetheless our internal divide, strikingly, that most worries the head of the Shin Bet, the agency charged with our protection. The “deep rift that is developing within Israeli society” is the “most complex” challenge to Israel’s security, said Ronen Bar two weeks ago.
He didn’t specify, but may have been thinking about the fact that the fastest-rising political force ahead of November 1’s elections is led by a charismatic extremist who boasted about being able to “get to” Yitzhak Rabin amid the fevered internal climate shortly before the prime minister’s 1995 assassination, and who intends to expel “disloyal” citizens if, as is more than possible, he attains ministerial office a few weeks from now.
Or of the routine viciousness with which some of our leaders disparage and delegitimize their rivals, as in the case of Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, who, on the very day Bar was speaking, felt the necessity to invoke the Nazis when claiming opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu was behind a smear campaign against him. “These are Netanyahu’s methods,” Liberman declared, “exactly like those of [Hitler’s propaganda chief] Goebbels and Stalin, to make the most severe, absurd accusation and repeat it a million times until people get used to the absurdity.”
Or of a political climate so hate-filled that Likud MK Shlomo Karhi, gently encouraged at the end of a television interview a few days ago to give the watching nation a blessing for the New Year, said he hoped it would bring the demise of the current “iniquitous” government.
The Shin Bet chief’s focus on our internal divides as the biggest threat to the nation is all the more unnerving given the rising tide of external dangers.
Iran directly threatens Israel with ever-less restraint, announcing this month that its latest drones were developed specifically to attack Haifa and Tel Aviv, even as it advances its nuclear program “way beyond any plausible civilian justification,” as the E3 nations recently put it. Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah charmingly cautioned us from his Beirut bunker that his terror group’s missiles are “locked on” Israel’s Karish offshore gas field.
Israeli military officials are warning that anti-Israel incitement, energetically fueled by Hamas, is again as high as it was before the spring’s stream of deadly terror attacks and that Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority has largely lost control of the northern areas of the West Bank. The same Abbas, from the UN General Assembly podium on Friday, reconfirmed his inability to accept Israel’s legitimacy, calling it a colonizing power “for 75 years” and hailing the “heroic” martyrs who murder Israeli citizens while simultaneously, preposterously, asserting that the Palestinians “will not resort to terrorism.”
Antisemitism, and violence born of antisemitism, is spreading worldwide — from Berlin to New York. Being identifiably Jewish — never mind openly Zionist — is an act of courage on more and more university campuses, most emphatically including in the US.
A party of neo-fascist origin is about to take power in Italy. On Tuesday, Giorgia Meloni, the leader of Brothers of Italy who is set to become her country’s new prime minister, booted a party candidate who years ago posted a photo of her with the slogan “Italy Above All,” writing: “This reminds me of a great statesman from 70 years ago,” and elaborating that he was referring not to Mussolini but to a “German.”
Meantime, the Polish government, having criminalized a fully accurate narrative of Poles’ role in the Holocaust, is now seeking reparations from Germany for Jews killed by Poles — revisionism as dark farce. If those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, what of those who rewrite the past?
Russia is already seeking to justify its invasion of Ukraine with the false claim that it is reviving its World War II Nazi-battling heroics; at the same time, irked by Israel’s disinclination to back his aggression, President Vladimir Putin has been threatening to shut down the Jewish Agency, the organization that oversees Jewish emigration to Israel.
I’ve just turned 60 and, it seems to me, I was privileged to grow up during decades, relatively soon after World War II, when much of humanity, horrified by the genocidal evidence of where its ugly nature could lead it, sought to strive for its better instincts and qualities. The concern, now — as the historical evidence of how low we can fall is being blurred, queried and misrepresented — is that the lessons are being forgotten, that the cruel and the base, the violent and the aggrieved are ascending.
Our Jewish obligation, at this time of year, is to look back at what we have lately wrought, internalize our misdeeds, and at least try to do better — in order to, as the High Holiday liturgy cited above puts it, “overturn the evil decree.” Our moral requirement, at this and all times, is to live by and disseminate the core imperative to treat others as we would wish to be treated. At Rosh Hashanah 5783, that imperative seems unusually urgent.
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