Rosh Hashanah

Shanah Tovah!

The Jewish New Year – Rosh Hashanah – is traditionally the time when we take stock. Look back on the last year and ask “how did we do?”

Clearly some of the judging that God does during the holiday season is communal, not individual: the world gets judged for rain on Sukkot. It you’re a farmer and you’re a good person, it doesn’t necessarily help that much if everyone else is bad because you won’t get rain either.

How did we do as a community last year? By “we” I’m talking about Israel….those of you who live elsewhere may think of your own countries.

It’s hard to be objective…what we think gets so colored by the news, and of course good news is not news, so everything you read in the paper is mostly bad news. And there’s plenty of bad news.

  • Israeli society seems if anything more divided than ever. Not even just the secular-religious divide. Even among religious people, the national religious vs. the haredi. The horrible way some haredim acted regarding women who don’t dress modestly enough for their standards, or who refuse to sit in the back of the bus, for example.
  • We’ve had an outbreak of Jews attacking Arabs; in recent months there have been more reported acts of violence by Jews against Arabs than vice verse. Israeli politicians, including to their credit right wing ones, do not hesitate to call the actions of these Jewish thugs “terrorism.”
  • The social safety net is under attack from budget pressures
  • Financial and sexual scandals are rampant amongst senior military and government officials
  • Iran is getting closer to a bomb and the rhetoric in Israel is almost as scary as the idea of those nut cases having a bomb.
  • For me the worst thing is that peace with the Palestinians seems further away than ever. I fear that the government’s obsession with building settlements and catering to the settler community will mean the death of the “two-state solution,” and with it the death of the Zionist dream. The Occupation is the worst thing to ever happen to Zionism: way too many young patriotic Israelis do not want to serve in the IDF anymore. Why not? They don’t want to be part of the infrastructure oppressing Palestinians. Otherwise they would gladly serve. As my kids approach draft age this becomes not just a theoretical discussion, but a real discussion at home.

There are a few bright spots; the Israeli economy is doing reasonably with unemployment lower than in many other countries. It’s still amazing that there’s a Jewish county at all after 2,000 years of exile, a place where this time of year the buses flash New Year’s greetings in Hebrew.

All of the bad news should not be a cause to get depressed and give up. As the Talmud teaches, “even if a sword is resting on a man’s neck he should not desist from prayer.”

But we need to do more than pray. The “spiritual accounting” process is supposed to spur us to action. Help us turn to God, not only in our hearts, but also in our deeds – by inspiring us to live better lives, to work harder to create a world of peace and harmony.

May you personally be judged for a good year – a year of personal growth, spiritual growth, health, a good living, and much joy from your friends and family. And may we together do true teshuvah as a community, and resolve to fix the wrongs around us and to help create a country that God would be proud of…

Shanah tovah u’metukah, a good and sweet New Year

Reb Barry




Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

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