Rosh Hashanah's Global Message: Embrace Your Common Humanity or Perish

Rabbi Abraham Cooper
Rabbi Abraham Cooper
Associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance
Posted: September 3, 2010

Rosh Hashanah's Global Message: Embrace Your Common Humanity or Perish

There is nothing essentially Jewish about Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year which begins Wednesday evening, the 8th of September. Its theme is not even Jewish. Traditionally, it marks the day on which Adam (who was not a member of the Tribe) was created, became conscious of G-d's existence, disobeyed Him, and then repented and was forgiven. Marking that day each year, G-d judges all people and all things, assessing how good a job they have done in the tasks that He has allocated to each of them.

The goal is to be inscribed for another year in the Book of Life. But recent events in the Holy Land and the reaction to them must make the Almighty Himself wonder if His children will ever understand the powerful message of the Creation story: that it is fine for people to retain some of their differences, if they can keep focused on their essential commonality.

Just days before new peace talks resumed in Washington between Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu and PA President Abbas, Hamas terrorists took advantage of the removal of roadblocks that subjected Arabs to security checks near Jewish communities on the West Bank. They waited in ambush near Hebron, and sprayed a car with bullets, killing four civilians, two men and two women, one of them in her ninth month of pregnancy. To be certain they had done their job well, they then approached the car and fired round after round into the bodies of their enemies before driving off.

Horrible as it is, this episode is a detail of a widespread, macabre mosaic that the world refuses to acknowledge. In Gaza, Hamas distributed candy, and a crowd of thousands cheered at the success of the mission. Ali Abunimah, a frequently-quoted "moderate," who writes for The Guardian, Huffington Post, and The New York Times, rejects Israel's right to exist, and had this to say about the massacre: "Civilian deaths are always tragic. Israel must stop using civilian settlers as human shields for the land it is stealing." Perverting the term "human shield" in ways not even fathomed by the infamous UN Goldstone Report, Abunimah in one fell swoop unleashes the moorings of basic morality and international law, by erasing all distinction between combatants and civilians. Just where exactly do the Israeli 'settlers' who have forfeited their rights to exist, reside? Archbishop Theodosios Atallah Hanna explains: "From the river to the sea, that is Palestine." It is not only Hamas that pursues a Middle East free of a Jewish State; Omar Barghouti, the founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, and voice of the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement embraced by various academics, trade unions and churches, says this. "I am completely and categorically against binationalism because it assumes that there are two nations with equal moral claims to the land."

In brief, Israelis/Jews are not quite human, there is no distinction between combatants and non-combatants, six million plus Israeli citizens of a democracy are not even stakeholders in the region, except by usurpation, and all of Israel -- every last inch -- is illegally occupied. These are not details, but an overarching ethos, writ large. Can there be peace with people who think this way? Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu made reference after reference to the need for two peoples, each with a stake and claim in the region, to live side by side. Can there be peace with those who simply do not believe this, and see the blood of their enemy as entirely worthless?

This week as we celebrate, Rosh Hashanah, we will dip our apples in the honey, mixed with the words of a grieving woman in Efrat. Her six year-old son is mentally disabled and was very attached to his teacher, one of the women executed on a road not far where the Patriarch of Abrahamic faiths is buried. Speaking to the Palestinians, she said, "When you can look at this act with same gut wrenching horror as a six year- old who just lost his teacher, you will be ready to make a real peace."

Memo to peacemakers in Washington, Jerusalem and Ramallah: Embrace those who link to a common humanity. Among them, you may be able to hammer out a negotiated agreement. All others will reap the whirlwind.

*This essay was co-authored by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, Director of Interfaith Affairs at the Simon Wiesenthal Center