Candidly Speaking: Facing a challenging new year

This coming year, we should be joyful, give thanks to the Almighty and pray that He continues watching over His people during these turbulent times.

Man prayers while another cleans out notes from the Western Wall ahead of Rosh Hashana (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Man prayers while another cleans out notes from the Western Wall ahead of Rosh Hashana
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
We enter Rosh Hashana 5778 with conflicting emotions.
Israel has never been in a stronger position, globally and domestically, thriving in every respect – economically, politically and militarily.
But we live in a world of chaos. North Korea threatens to unleash a global nuclear Armageddon and Europe, under siege from Islamic terrorists, many fresh from the killing fields of Syria, is now suffering terrorist attacks – the likes of which Israel has endured since its inception.
The Iranians and their surrogate, Hezbollah, have been emboldened and seek to move in on Israel’s northern frontiers, repeatedly proclaiming an imminent war that will destroy Israel. Prospects are nonexistent for achieving a genuine peace settlement with the Palestinians and Hamas has announced a renewal of its relationship with Iran, which is supplying it with lethal weapons.
We now realize that the apparent decline of the world’s most ancient hatred in the wake of the Shoah was illusionary. Globally, antisemitism – frequently expressed as extreme anti-Israelism in which Jewish behavior is obscenely bracketed with that of the Nazis – has escalated once again.
Domestically, Israel has been inundated with a stream of accusations of corruption implicating the highest personages of the land, ranging from the prime minister and leading government officials, prominent businessmen and extending to senior bureaucrats and even the IDF. Although these charges have yet to be substantiated in the courts, irresponsible leaks from lawyers and undisciplined police authorities and especially the sensationalist coverage by much of the media have caused the presumption of guilt of those accused, even before they were indicted.
Yet despite these challenges, we must give thanks to the Almighty because today the Jewish People is undoubtedly in the strongest position since the destruction of the Second Temple and banishment into exile. Israel has emerged as a regional superpower capable of deterring or defending itself against the combined forces of the barbarians dominating much of the surrounding region.
US president Barack Obama, who treated Israel politically as a rogue state and embraced the Iranian terrorist state, is no longer in office. Whatever one’s views about his successor and despite some unfulfilled campaign promises, President Donald Trump does support Israel. In addition, despite the growing anti-Israel trends in the left wing of the Democratic Party and abandonment by many liberals, support for Israel in both houses of Congress and the overall American public stands at an all-time high.
While a genuine peace with the Palestinians is not even on the horizon, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas no longer has the support of the US and is becoming increasingly isolated. And although it does not provide us with comfort, no city in the world is immune from Islamic terrorist attacks.
Our relations with Egypt have improved enormously and there is close military cooperation against terrorists operating in the Sinai.
The most dramatic change is the new covert relationship with the moderate Sunni states, headed by Saudi Arabia, which now regard the Jewish state as an ally against Iran’s growing regional hegemony. They may still oppose Israel at the United Nations but in practice a strategic relationship has emerged that includes sharing of intelligence information and soft-pedaling the Palestinian issue.
Despite efforts to become a nuclear power, Iran is aware that the distance between Tel Aviv and Tehran is the same in both directions. Notwithstanding its leaders’ repeated threats to annihilate us, they are cautious and do not seek an early paradise, realizing that were they to attack us, they would be pulverized. Lebanon has also been served notice of what to expect if Hezbollah initiates hostilities.
Our status internationally has never been so good. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has succeeded in deepening our ties with a wide assortment of nations.
He developed a rapport with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the former KGB officer, who displays philosemitic attitudes domestically and retains a good working relationship with us. We must tread delicately because of Soviet-US tensions and Russia’s quasi-alliance with the Iranians to retain control of Syria. But despite the frequent bombing forays against Iranian and Hezbollah weapons and bases, until now Israel has managed to retain a cordial relationship with Russia.
In addition, the bonds between Israel and the developing superpower India have never been so close, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi visiting Israel and reaffirming friendship between our countries.
China, which politically supports the Palestinians, has nevertheless invested huge sums in Israeli high-tech and has extensive and varied business interests. Likewise, relations have strengthened with Japan and Asian Muslim states Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. The ties with Australia have never been better.
Whereas the European Union remains hostile and applies double standards to Israel, many of its component countries, such as the UK, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and the Baltic states, now either support or have strengthened relations with Israel.
The same applies to Africa and Latin America, which Netanyahu was the first Israeli prime minister to visit, paving the way for new alliances.
There has also been dramatic progress within Israel, whose population is today over 8.7 million, of which Jews make up almost 75%. This surely represents one of the greatest success stories of all time. After being in exile for 2,000 years, a nation initially comprised primarily of Jews fleeing pogroms, Shoah survivors, refugees from Arab countries and Jews seeking haven from persecution from all corners of the world ranging from Ethiopia to the Soviet Union has evolved into a thriving modern industrial state.
Our ancient sacred tongue has been transformed into a pulsating modern Hebrew which is the country’s lingua franca; Israel provides an atmosphere in which the culture and festivals create a unique lifestyle for nonobservant as well as religious Jews; and more Jews are familiar with the texts and teachings of Judaism than at any time in our history.
Despite a dysfunctional and bigoted rabbinical establishment and extortion by the ultra-Orthodox parties holding the balance of power, there has been a genuine spiritual revival with greater observance and respect for tradition than in the past.
There is already evidence that economic and social pressures are beginning to have a profound impact, obliging the ultra-Orthodox to earn livelihoods and become more integrated into the nation. Hopefully, this will also lead to the breakdown of haredi political extortion and the appointment of more enlightened rabbis to bring about urgently needed reforms in relation to conversion, marriage, education and national service.
Economically, Israel continues to be a global high-tech powerhouse, with more start-ups per capita than any other country.
Israel’s discovery of gas fields was an unexpected boon. The extraordinary success of its desalinization program which provides us with 80% of our water needs exceeds that of any country and is being replicated throughout the world.
There remains the problem of the radicalization among Israeli Arabs. They need to be dealt with firmly. However, the majority are law-abiding and appreciate that in Israel they enjoy freedom and a standard of living unmatched in any Arab country. They should be encouraged and nurtured to remain loyal Israeli citizens.
In assessing our situation, we must reject the prophets of doom and gloom. We should recognize that we are the blessed generation of Jews who are privileged to live in an age of miracles and who have never been as well off as we are today.
Despite our dysfunctional government, internal divisions and external challenges, decade after decade we have been blessed with prosperity and strength. Polls show Israelis as among the happiest people on earth.
This coming year, we should be joyful, give thanks to the Almighty and pray that He continues watching over His people during these turbulent times.
Those born after 1948 are the first generations of empowered Jews. It is important to convey to them, especially the younger generation, the blessings of statehood and what it means to be independent and able to determine their own future and not be reliant on the goodwill of others. They must not take what they have for granted. To ensure that, our educational system must imbue them with Jewish values and Zionism.
We also hope that in the coming years, more Diaspora Jews will join us, not merely to escape persecution and discrimination but out of a desire to ensure Jewish continuity and enable their children to grow up and enjoy a full Jewish life in their own homeland.
Shana Tova!
Isi Leibler’s website can be viewed at He may be contacted at [email protected]