Now that our communities are assembling at synagogues and around dinner tables to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, we, too, as organizations are engaged in the process of reflection that such a milestone merits. We continue to live in eventful times, ones that upend the familiar and the well-tried. And such has been the case in Year 5781, as the world has continued to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic and attendant variants.
We hold in our memories the members of our communities and families – as well as the hundreds of thousands of Americans – who have lost their lives to this pandemic. Our heart aches for those whose tables will have empty chairs this year, after the passing of a loved one. It is our fervent hope that all those who grieve will be comforted among the mourners of Zion.
Even as we acknowledge these trials, we express gratitude for what has improved on the pandemic front since last September. We had to content ourselves last fall with High Holiday services often held on Zoom, in backyards, or not at all. The miracle of vaccination – three vaccines approved for use in the United States – has allowed more of us this time around to organize around in-person services, no matter that we will be wearing masks.
We continue to reiterate in our communities, which have by and large sought out the vaccine, that this is a life-saving medical treatment, both for oneself and for others. The Jewish tradition could not be clearer about our obligation to protect and honor life. We extend our sincerest thanks to all those who have helped us battle this pandemic, from our doctors and nurses to essential workers like grocery store clerks, as well as those who actually pioneered the miracle vaccines.
Yet amidst a global pandemic, and the fragile public health situation in which we now find ourselves, our community is once again confronted with another scourge, that of antisemitism. Indeed, just this week the FBI released statistics showing that in 2020 overall hate crimes increased, and Jews remained among the country’s most-targeted groups. We cannot and have not remained blind to this epidemic of hate, which proved mortal in such places as Pittsburgh, Jersey City, and Poway.
Fortunately, we have powerful allies in our campaign. We have engaged with all 53 of our member organizations, representing the core of the American Jewish community, to raise awareness of the groundbreaking International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which has been adopted by local and national governments around the world. Recent legislation has also beefed up funding to protect synagogues and other Jewish communal settings. And the president has appointed a respected scholar of the Holocaust, Deborah Lipstadt, as his ambassador in the global fight against antisemitism. Full steam ahead in 5782, when we will not let up in these efforts.
The international scene presents opportunities and challenges for the new administration and our new ambassador, to which we remain attuned. The breakthrough of the Abraham Accords and the normalization of ties between Israel and five Arab neighbors – the UAE, Morocco, Oman, Bahrain and Sudan – represent the greatest diplomatic victories for the Jewish state in our lifetime, and we hope these successes will be followed by more still. Israel is an integral part of the Middle East and seeks to live in peace and cooperation with its neighbors. Sadly, when it comes to Iran, the situation has only worsened, with the accession of another hardliner to the presidency and the country’s renewed determination to attain a nuclear capacity. We have strengthened our resolve to prevent such a malicious objective, and urge our leaders to join as a unified front, to prevent any future that would allow Iran to harm Israel or its people.
We are proud that the ties between the United States and Israel remain so robust, as seen in the recent White House meeting between new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and President Joe Biden. We will do our part to promote this essential alliance and friendship among peoples. As we heard from Prime Minister Bennett when he addressed the Presidents Conference on Friday, the relationship between the United States and Israel is strong, driven by shared interests and values, and is strengthened by the devotion of the people in both countries.
We send our warmest tidings to our entire Jewish community, in the United States and around the world, for this new year 5782. May it be one of health and success.
Shana Tova Umetuka.