British leaders extend their good wishes for a sweet Rosh Hashanah

Britain's Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and leader of Her Majesty's Opposition, Kier Starmer, have both released Rosh Hashana messages.

Jewish kids prepare for the Jewish New Year at their home in Moshav Yashresh, September 11, 2020. (photo credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)
Jewish kids prepare for the Jewish New Year at their home in Moshav Yashresh, September 11, 2020.
(photo credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)
COVID-19 has taken center-stage for this year's Rosh Hashanah messages by British leaders, as British Jews, like others in the Diaspora, face an unusual High Holy Day season thanks to restrictions put in place to curb the pandemic.
"As the Shofar sounds throughout the days ahead it will signal not just the arrival of a new year, but also the end of one that many would like to forget," wrote British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in his Rosh Hashanah address, published by The Jewish Weekly.

— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) September 12, 2020 "It’s been a year of cancelled and postponed bar and bat mitzvah celebrations. Of usually warm and welcoming Passover Seders being barred to outside guests. And I know that last week’s tightening up of restrictions on social gatherings has come as a real blow to those who hoped to mark the high holy days with some degree of normality."

The British government has recently instituted the 'Rule of Six,' restricting gatherings both indoors and outdoors to groups of just six people, making it difficult for families to gather as the holiday season sets in. But Johnson praised Jewish ingenuity and resilience in the face of adversity.
"Here in the UK and around the world, Jewish communities have never been ones to take adversity lying down," he wrote. "So I was not in the least surprised to see you responding to the challenges of Coronavirus with typical vim, vigour and ingenuity. Reaching out to support one another. Offering spiritual, practical and financial help to friends and neighbours of all faiths and none. And finding new ways to come together as a community for education, prayer and celebration. And that is why I believe we can look ahead to 5781 with great hope and with optimism."
Johnson's Communities Secretary, Robert Jenrick, also released a message, in which he made reference to his Passover message, which occurred within the lockdown in March. “We hoped we wouldn’t need to repeat that for the High Holy Days, but the virus is still with us, and we must protect our loved one's once again - this time by respecting the rule of six and dipping our apples in honey remotely," he said, according to The Jewish Chronicle.
“Whilst a limited number will be able to go to synagogue, thanks to the enormous efforts of the community to reopen them safely, many others will be listening to the call of the Shofar through the wonders of technology,” he added.
Jenrick also made reference to the peace deal struck between Israel, and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain this week, saying: “We think of our friends and family in Israel, themselves in another lockdown, but we also see in the accords signed in Washington this week, a fitting sign of peace and reconciliation to give us hope for the future.”

Meanwhile, Johnson's counterpart Keir Starmer, leader of Britain's Labour Party, has released a High Holy Days message on Facebook, telling the Jewish Community in Britain:
"Let me send heartfelt good wishes to Jewish communities throughout the UK, as we usher in Rosh Hashanah, and make preparations for Yom Kippur ten days later."
Starmer acknowledged that over the last six months, "the Jewish community has experienced pain, isolation, and the hardship brought about by COVID-19," adding that his thoughts "are particularly with those who are alone, those who are vulnerable, and most tragically, those in the community who have been bereaved. As always, the Jewish community has risen to the occasion, your volunteering and acts of compassion have brought light where there has been darkness."
Since taking on the leadership of his party, Starmer has been working to distance himself from the accusations of endemic antisemitism leveled at Labour under his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn. Starmer took the opportunity to press this message home in his address, saying:
"This year, Sukkot marks exactly six months since I became Leader of the Labour Party. In that time I have been proud to strengthen existing friendships whilst also establishing new ties right across the Jewish community and its organisations." As the Jewish calendar moves into the new year, Starmer pledged to do everything he could to rid the party of the scourge of antisemitism over the coming year.

Politicians weren't the only British leaders marking the Jewish New Year.

In his Dvar Torah for Rosh Hashanah, Britain's Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, also focused his message on the COVID-19 pandemic, reminding the Jewish community that tackling the virus is their responsibility. He notes that the first two questions asked by God in Genesis were: "Where are you?" addressed to Adam, and "Where is your brother?" addressed to Cain.
The first question, Mirvis suggested, was meant to suggest: “Where are you standing? What is your מדריגה, your spiritual level? How responsible are you being to yourself and to your future?” while the second asked a similar question: "How responsible have you been towards another?”
"I believe that these questions are as pertinent and relevant to us today as they were to those original dwellers on earth – particularly during Covid-19 times," Mirvis wrote. "Hashem is saying to each and every one of us “אַיֶּֽכָּה” – “Where are you?” Literally, physically, are you too close to other people at a time when you should be socially distancing? Are you standing at events and in places where the law is being flouted? How responsible are you being to yourself?
"In addition Hashem is saying to us “אֵ֖י הֶ֣בֶל אָחִ֑יךָ” – How responsible are we being towards others? Because if we’re neglecting our health we could be posing a danger to the lives of others."
Mirvis concludes: "We pray that Hashem will bless us all with a שנה טובה – a good, happy, peaceful, fulfilling and most of all a healthy new year. But this can only happen if none of us ever again gives the shameful reply of Cain: “Are we our fellows’ keepers?”"