Rosh Hashana introspection

This Rosh Hashana there are also quite a few reasons to be optimistic as we prepare for the beginning of the Jewish year.

Honey (photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
(photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
As we prepare for Rosh Hashana and look ahead to the upcoming year, pessimists have a good case to make.
Inevitably, they will point to the Iran deal, which is almost certain to be finalized in coming months. US President Barack Obama’s victory in Congress coincided with an anti-Israel, anti-US Twitter rant by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in which he declared, “God willing, there will be nothing of the Zionist regime by the next 25 years.”
Khamenei went on to state that, until the time of Israel’s disappearance, there will be “no moment of serenity for Zionists.”
The deal, which effectively transforms the Islamic Republic into an internationally recognized threshold nuclear state, will augment Iran’s nefarious influence in the region. Which brings us to another reason for pessimism – instability in the Middle East.
You may or may not believe that God sits in judgment on Rosh Hashana – the Jewish New Year. If you do, you might see the oppressive dust blown in from Syria and Iraq that has cloaked the nation in a yellow haze as an ominous sign.
But there is another ominous sign emanating from the region: The migrant crisis overwhelming the European continent. The refugees fleeing places like Syria, Iraq, and Libya is the result of a number of developments. It is a testament to the utter failure of Arab nationalist movements to create stable, viable nation-states.
And the meltdown in the Middle East was precipitated by years of waning US influence. The regional order that was policed to a large extent by the US has deteriorated dangerously on Obama’s watch. There is no reason to expect this process of deterioration to stop anytime soon.
But this Rosh Hashana there are also quite a few reasons to be optimistic as we prepare for the beginning of the Jewish year. Anarchy and civil war rage in large swathes of the Middle East. Yet the Jewish state remains an oasis – not just of political stability and sanity – but even of flourishing innovation.
The year 5775 was a record year for aliya not seen in a decade. Nearly 30,000 new immigrants opted to leave their host countries, fleeing civil war, economic crisis, and anti-Semitism in Ukraine and anti-Semitism and economic stagnation in France. And the pace of aliya is not expected to slow in the coming year.
Israel is not just a haven for Jewish refugees. It has become an attractive destination for the most talented to realize their potential. As The Wall Street Journal reported last week in a front-page story on French expats in the Jewish state, “Israel has become the nesting ground of precisely the kind of talent the eurozone’s second-largest economy needs: budding tech entrepreneurs.”
The story told how the Israeli business culture and environment encourage creativity, while France’s economy is stifled by opaque bureaucracy; how it prevents trial and error by punishing entrepreneurs who go bankrupt and how France’s best and brightest are encouraged to enter the civil service instead of channeling their talents into the business sector. When French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron visited the Technion, the Israel Institute for Technology, last week, few of the many French students he talked to were contemplating returning to their place of birth.
And ties with America, Israel’s most important ally, remain strong. As noted by Abraham Foxman, former national director of the Anti-Defamation League, in a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post, talk about a rift between Israel and the US is greatly exaggerated. Despite disagreement surround the Iran deal, the two countries will continue to cooperate. And the Obama administration has already promised augmented military aid to Israel as part of its efforts to assure the Jewish state of its commitment to its continued security.
According to Jewish tradition, on Rosh Hashana God sits in judgment, not just of the Jewish people, but of humanity in its entirety. Pondering this theological concept engenders introspection, whether or not one is a believer.
The year 5776, like previous years, will present many challenges to Jews and non-Jews alike and there are many reasons to be pessimistic. But we must also be cognizant of the many positive developments that provide reason for hope.