Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth
#PrayersForParis #PrayersForMunich #PrayersForBrussels. If these popular sentiments from social media are anything to go by, it seems that the world is rarely more united in prayer than after devastating terrorist attacks. In July, after the particularly brutal murder of a beloved Catholic Priest in Normandy, one Twitter user responded to my own message in despair: “The time for prayer is long gone,” he said. I couldn’t disagree more.
The Hebrew word that we use for the act of prayer – ‘Lehitpalell’ – actually means to sit in judgement of oneself. You see, prayer is not something that God needs from us, but it is certainly something that we need for ourselves.
At this time of year, through focusing on prayer, we acknowledge that we are all imperfect, that we can improve our ways and that we must do better with the life that we have been blessed with.
Last Rosh Hashanah we could barely have imagined the international political and social upheaval that we would see in the coming year. All around us, the world seems in turmoil. Unspeakable terrorist atrocities in Israel, Europe and beyond seem ever more frequent. We are challenged by economic uncertainty and the values of tolerance and peace seem to be giving way to polarisation and sectarianism.
These are not problems that any one of us can solve alone but, I sincerely believe that if we can all find the courage to stop trying to change others and focus instead on changing ourselves, we will eventually change the world.
May this coming year be one filled with only peace and reconciliation among the peoples of the world.
Valerie and I extend to you all our very best wishes for a happy and fulfilling new year.
Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi, Movement for Reform Judaism
It has been a turbulent year. Close to home, concerns of anti-semitism have increased in our political system and we have experienced the division in society and subsequent violence caused by the EU referendum. In our spiritual home of Israel, the knife intifada brought tragedy to the streets again. Across the world, there have been countless people seeking refuge from violence and war.
Many are yet to find it.
However, as we anticipate the new year, we draw strength from our collective history and tradition, knowing that it has always been the Jewish way to face adversity and to persevere through it in the best way we can. Halacha, the Hebrew word for the Jewish law which inspires how we live, more accurately translates as “the way to go”. Living as a Jew has always been about coming together to find the best “way to go” through times of concern; to face the world and keep moving forwards.
In the year ahead, may we continue to be strong and strengthen one another – chazak, chazak v’nitchazek. Let’s work together to make “a sweet new year” not only a greeting, but a reality for ourselves and the world we share.
Rabbi Danny Rich, Chief Executive, Liberal Judaism
On behalf of the Board of National Officers, the Rabbinic Conference and the 40 constituent communities of Liberal Judaism I send a hope for a sweet Rosh Hashanah to the staff and readers of Jewish News.
The past year has been one of great potential change for the citizens of Britain and a number of Jews have expressed anxieties about the future.
The genius of the Yamin Nora’im is that the season permits us to acknowledge our failings and our fears but, at the same time, offers each one of us the possibility of renewal.
In his Judaism as Creed and Life (Macmillian: London (1903), page 255) Morris Joseph (1848-1930) observed: “Life is so frail and fleeting, we must begin this serious use of it at once, and begin by entering upon the task of self-examination and self-enoblement which is its essential preliminary. “ A new year, say the rabbis, should inaugurate a new life. May 5777 be a year of renewal for us all.
Rabbi Joseph Dweck, Senior Rabbi, S&P Sephardi Community
If we were asked to predict the outcome of a year at its beginning, we would likely fall short of approximating any of it accurately. This year, no different from those before it, had its predictable elements that were anticipated when the year began last Rosh Hashanah: The American presidential election, the Olympics and of course Adele’s world tour. But the actual unfolding of events were hardly foreseen. Brexit, for example, wasn’t quite on our radar last Rosh Hashanah.
So it is with each year. None of us can truly calculate what will come to pass. We speak of God in this mysterious and surprising capacity, as Rav haAliliya — the Great Mover. It is this aspect of God and His world that keeps the unknown coming and challenges us to be aware at all times. The best way to engage with an unforeseen reality is to build a rapport with its Divine source.
There is value to life’s unpredictability — even the elements that are not pleasant or welcome. They require us to acknowledge that there is a limit to our ability to control the outcome. The unexpected prompts us to surrender our tendency to manipulate and instead practise responding faithfully and responsively.
As Viktor Frankl famously wrote: ‘The last of human freedoms [is] to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way’.
The surprises that come to us in our lives charge us to maintain integrity, for consistency of character is the best source of stability against any turbulence that comes our way.
The High Holy Days are the times set aside for us all to carefully examine our virtues and inner worlds. It is in this commitment to building strong, faithful identities, that we ask God to record us for Life.
On behalf of the Sephardi Community of the UK, I wish readers of Jewish News, Shana Tova.
Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, Senior Rabbi, Masorti Judaism
In the blessings before we blow the shofar, we acknowledge God who has commanded us ‘to listen’ to its sound.
There is always awed silence before that first cry of the shofar. But what exactly is it to which we are supposed to be attentive in its mysterious call?
I hope we hear in the broken shevarim note the anguish of those lives which are crushed in this often cruel world.
I hope we feel in the weeping teruah note the sorrow of those left frightened and lonely amidst their tears and that their cries awaken in us deeper understanding and compassion.
I hope we hear in the long tekiah the call of faith and hope itself and that it inspires us to work with greater courage for all that is right, beautiful and worthwhile.
I hope we hear in the bare shofar, fashioned from an animal’s horn, the raw, plaintive outcry of all animate existence, of nature itself, and that it moves us to act for the safe future of this wonderful planet we share with all life.
I hope, too, that we hear the silence between the shofar’s notes and that it opens our hearts.
Leshanah Tovah. May this be a good, peaceful and fulfilling year in which we, all Israel and all humankind are inspired to do what is compassionate, just and good.
Jonathan Arkush, President, Board of Deputies
In 5776 the Board of Deputies’ profile was raised to a new high. We are setting and leading the national agenda on the matters which count for Jews in this country.
When allegations of anti-Semitism emerged in Labour we confronted the problem head-on, raising concerns robustly in a face-to-face meeting with party leader Jeremy Corbyn. We made a detailed submission to the Chakrabarti Inquiry into anti-Semitism in the Labour Party and responded to what we saw as the shortcomings in her report.
This has been the most tumultuous year in British political life in living memory, with a decision by referendum to leave the European Union and a new government.
Throughout it all the Board of Deputies has been heard as the clear and calm voice of British Jews, addressing the issues with clarity and firmness of purpose.
We continue to be staunch defenders of Jewish schools. When the Hebrew GCSE and A-level came under threat again this year, we successfully campaigned to protect it.
We have continued to interact through all levels of government, from desk officer to secretaries of state. This year, we produced the first Jewish manifestos for the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish elections and are planning seminars for local councillors across the country.
In 5777, we will continue to represent your interests as only a democratically elected body can. May this new year bring you, your families and all of Am Yisrael health, strength and peace.
Theresa May, The Prime Minister
I want to wish the Jewish community in Britain and around the world a very happy and peaceful new year.
At this special time of celebration and prayer, we remember the tremendous contribution made by Britain’s Jewish community to this country over the years, and we also think about the opportunities ahead not only for ourselves, but for our country.
I want to ensure that Britain is a place where all our communities can flourish. So – as the Jewish new year begins – I want to renew my unshakeable vow to stand by our Jewish community now and for the years to come. We must redouble our efforts to stamp out shameful and sickening anti-Semitism, and as Prime Minister – and working in partnership with you – I will do everything in my power to protect your community, and indeed all our communities.
May the coming year bring you health and prosperity. I wish you all a Shana Tova.
Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition
Shana Tova. As Jewish communities here in Britain and around the world, gather to celebrate the High Holy Days, I want to extend my warmest greetings. This is a sacred and beautiful time for contemplation, celebration and new beginnings. This is my promise to you, Labour must and will be a party that represents all communities across Britain, to challenge inequality and injustice wherever we find it. But I can’t do this alone. I need your help to make the Labour Party a strong representative and vibrant community.
In 5777 I will continue to fight for a Britain where the young can afford homes, where communities are not pulled apart by house prices, where the old are not isolated, and on their own, to create a country that works for everyone and not just a privileged few. Let us usher in a happy and peaceful new year together, to campaign for our shared values of peace, justice and equality. Shana Tova u’Metukah.
Tim Farron, Leader, Liberal Democrats
At a time when the politics of division and hate are driving divisions in Britain, it is important that those of us who believe in openness and tolerance proudly celebrate the diverse cultures of communities throughout our country. Britain has been consistently enriched and strengthened by their contributions, not least that of the Jewish community.
Rosh Hashanah and the High Holy Days offer an opportunity to reflect on the year which has passed, to renew ourselves and to make a new beginning. In politics, this opportunity to reflect, take stock and begin afresh is all too rare, and I hope to join the spirit of this season and do some reflection of my own.
Meanwhile I wish you all a happy, and reflective, new year. L’Shana Tova.