As our communities gather in synagogues for this Rosh Hashanah, we are confronted with an enormous liturgy, replete with allusion and allegory, awesome in its exaltation and grandeur. But in the middle of it, among all the pomp, is a humble supplication from the Cantor, stating their unworthiness and asking that God accept their prayers on behalf of the community. This meditation begins with a simple Hebrew word: Hineni, Here I am.
Hineni is a declaration of presence and accountability. It is an affirmation that we are ready to do the hard work that is required for self-improvement, even in the face of difficulties and challenges.
As I think about that awesome prayer, I consider the many challenges that our community faces. First and foremost is the threat of antisemitism. While it provided comforting closure that the murderer who committed the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue attack was convicted and sentenced last month, we are reminded that our houses of worship are targets for violent extremists. As students return to schools and campuses, we are concerned that classrooms are a new space to promote hatred against Jews. We are also disturbed by the dramatic and continuing rise in hatred on social media, which too often is used to spread lies and incite violence. Holocaust distortion and denial remains a virulent strain of Jew hatred, disgustingly amplified this last week by none other than the Palestinian Authority’s Mahmoud Abbas.
Again, this past year the Jewish community came together to combat antisemitism and achieved a number of successes. Following up on President Biden’s whole-of-government US National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism, Jewish communal organizations are working together to implement its proposals. As we have long advocated, to combat antisemitism, it must first be defined. President Biden’s strategy embraces the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism – now adopted by over 30 states, 45 countries, and more than 1000 cities, organizations, universities, and teams. No country, state, or other political body has adopted any other definition of antisemitism, thus speaking to the IHRA definition’s status as the Gold Standard.
Further afield, but no less pressing, is the threat of an aggressive and nuclear Iran. From their sponsorship of Hezbollah’s terror activities to their reckless charge towards the nuclear threshold, to their material support for Russia’s continued war against Ukraine, Iran is at the forefront of spreading instability and fear around the globe. The Islamic Republic’s unrelenting quest for a nuclear weapon cannot be decoupled from their unrestrained antisemitism and consistent threats against Israel.
Palestinians deserve leadership that is serious about meaningful engagement with the international community and negotiating peace. President Mahmoud Abbas, who is in his 18th year of a 5-year term of office, should be roundly condemned for continuing to incite terrorism, underwriting the murder of Jews through the pay-to-slay system, his flagrant despotism, and his recent antisemitic remarks. The international community should question his fitness to rule and his commitment to a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Jewish community, whether in Israel or around the world, has already suffered far too many casualties because of Iranian terror. This year will mark the 30th anniversary of the AMIA bombing in Argentina that was carried out by Hezbollah operatives on Iranian orders and which claimed the lives of 85 Jewish civilians far from any battlefield or conflict zone. Iran continues to supply and finance Hamas and Hezbollah terror activity along Israel’s northern border and throughout Gaza and the West Bank, from which rockets and attacks consistently and indiscriminately target civilians.
As always, my thoughts turn to Israel, and the need for our community to support a secure and democratic Jewish state. Even as we wrestle with growing political, social, and religious divides, we recognize the overarching importance of a strong relationship between our community and the Jewish State. Our commitment to Israel is ironclad and unconditional, irrespective of the political climate in both Israel and the United States. Regardless of partisanship, politics, or parties, it is the moral obligation of American Jewry to stand with Israel, placing our common peoplehood at the forefront of our community’s agenda.
As we enter 5784 by accounting for our personal actions, praying for forgiveness, and planning for the future, we must consider our roles as members of the entire Jewish community. Just as our biblical leaders Abraham and Moses answered to God’s call to action, Hineni, Here I am, so too must our community join together and say “Here we are” to the challenges this new year brings. We must be present at our synagogues, schools, and community centers in defiance of threats and hatred. We must speak out against those who peddle and spread antisemitism on the internet and in classrooms. We must stand up for Israel, its values, and its security at the United Nations, in Washington, and around the world. All of these are manifestations of that single Hebrew word, Hineni.
William Daroff is the Chief Executive Officer of the Conference of Presidents.
This piece was published in the Times of Israel on September 13, 2023. To view the original, click here.