Rosh Hashana: Reflections on past and future awakenings

When Rosh Hashana arrives, as we crown our king and recount our history, perhaps it is time to insist that the third purpose which the shofar serves be fulfilled and our future reedeemed.

This year in Israel we endured challenges and encountered certain dynamics which will no doubt leave an indelible impression on the Israeli society and the Jewish world at large. Being that Rosh Hashana is a time to reflect upon the previous year in preparation for the coming year, here are three ideas to contemplate which are important because they correspond directly to the three sections of the Rosh Hashana service and speak to the three functions of the shofar.
The first segment of the Rosh Hashana service is called “Malchuyot,” from the Hebrew word malchut (kingdom). It confirms that God is the master of a people and protector of a nation, a concept that secular Israelis are becoming more comfortable with in theory even if they do not translate the concept into ritual. Over the past year(s) we have seen an increase in Israelis' interest in connecting with their traditions and their history, sometimes through particular practices which they consider Jewish cultural experiences.
Today statistics show that over 56 percent of Israelis light Shabbat candles, over 78% participate in a Passover Seder, 69% maintain kosher homes, 80% say that they believe in God, 65% confirm that the Torah is the Divine book of the Jewish people, 98% of Israelis have mezuzot on their door posts and 92% circumcise their male children. Many Israeli Jews have an interest in the role of religion in the State of Israel and in the meaning of a “Jewish state.” The vast majority consider it important to live in Israel for the purpose of identifying with the Jewish people.
The second section of the Rosh Hashana service, called “Zichronot,” emphasizes zachor – to remember.
We are encouraged to reflect upon the historical events that influenced our loyalty to God and to one another and inspired our development as a nation. In recent months we witnessed the abduction and cold-blooded murder of three innocent young men by Hamas terrorists.
We experienced high anxiety and concerned for our safety and the safety of our communities under an incessant barrage of rockets and missiles across the entire land, fled to bomb shelters. Those attacks led to the beginning of Operation Protective Edge, the objective of which was to find and destroy a vast networks of tunnels created by Hamas terrorists to carry out heinous acts of terrorism against innocent civilians in Israel.
Unfortunately Israel was continuously portrayed as the aggressor, and we were chastised for innocent civilians who were unfortunately harmed or killed during the operation. The world’s media called Israel inhumane, despite extraordinary efforts by the IDF to warn civilians of planned attacks to protect their safety, and despite video footage that showed Hamas terrorists hiding in schools and hospitals and using innocent children as human shields. In comparison, a mass murderer such as Syrian President Bashar Assad was hardly noticed while killing thousands of people using chemical weapons and torturing and killing anyone who opposed his dictatorship.
Vladimir Putin’s aggression against Ukraine led to over 3,000 deaths as innocent civilians were abducted by both Russian and Ukrainian forces, but he was hardly blamed. Islamic State seized territories in Syria and Iraq as part of an aggressive jihadist assault to “conquer the Middle East.” They butchered and beheaded thousands of civilians, and US President Barack Obama remained frighteningly unresponsive. Yet Obama did not hesitate to join UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in criticizing Israel for failing to prevent civilian casualties in Gaza. The castigation of Israel from around the world was loud and clear, and our supposed ally’s silence was just as hurtful. Their stance opened a pandora’s box of ensuing anti-Semitic acts.
Jews were attacked in France, Australia, England (where statistics show that anti-Semitism has risen an astonishing 400 percent and even in places that we would normally consider secure havens for Jews, such as New York and Miami. This year the section of zichronot on Rosh Hashana begs us to verify, as we have done in the past, that the world does not see or interpret the events unfolding around our nation the same way that we do and that history has a nasty habit of repeating itself. Jewish communities throughout the Diaspora, regardless of how comfortable they feel and at home they believe themselves to be, must take heed of events unfolding in front of their eyes. They have to recognize that they are "strangers in a strange land," guests whose temporary stay will eventually wear thin as it has consistently in the past.The only land where they can truly feel curiously but comfortably secure is Israel.
"Shofarot,” the third and final unit of the prayer service, refers to the shofar, the ram’s horn, the blowing of which will mark the day of redemption. It is at this stage that we are expected to think about how we can actively speed the redemption we eagerly anticipate, something that became easier to envision this past year as we were privy to a legal process calling for all citizens in Israel to bear the burdens and responsibilities of the country and our nation. Consequently issues were raised that had not been addressed in the past. Very slowly the haredim (ultra-Orthodox) began not only to entertain the idea but actually to enlist in the IDF or national service. Almost 2,000 haredim enlisted in the IDF last year, mostly in combat units; that represents an increase of 39% from past years. In addition, the percentage of haredim joining the workforce continues to rise, which may explain why with each succeeding year the friction between the secular and the religious in Israel seems to decrease.
The first function of the shofar was to gather people and unify the nation. It first happened at the foot of Mount Sinai, when the Jewish nation united for the purpose of accepting the Torah. This year we have also witnessed a nation unite. The change could be manifest as taking on the mitzvah of praying for three innocent young souls or for consoling their families after the horrible denoument was revealed weeks after their abduction. Israelis from all walks of life traveled en masse to the towns bordering Gaza to offer relief and supplies to the residents in the Negev and our soldiers who protected them, and 30,000 people converged for the purpose of comforting a lone soldier's parents by escorting him to his burial place, although most had never met the soldier or his family before.
The shofar is also sounded to marshal troops and prepare them for battle, as when Joshua led the Jewish people and, with the alarm of the shofar, commenced to conquer the land of Canaan. This year we have witnessed troops gather from all walks of Jewish life, secular and haredi, for the sake of protecting the same borders defended by King David before us.
With Rosh Hashana swiftly approaching, we can proudly declare that we have been privileged to witness and benefit from the first two modes of using the shofar.
When Rosh Hashana arrives, as we crown our king and recount our history, perhaps it is time to insist that the third purpose which the shofar serves be fulfilled and our future reedeemed.
The author is a lecturer for the IDF who helps motivate troops and strengthen their Jewish identities. In addition he is currently lecturing throughout Israel on the basics of Judaism for many secular kibbutzim and moshavim. He is a renowned guest lecturer for communities throughout the Diaspora.