By Rabbi Jonny Roodyn
The notion that there should be one day every year where countries across each continent, individual groups, even terrorist organisations put down their weapons, step back from their troubles and adopt a day of global ceasefire and non-violence sounds like a fantasy.
Yet the day exists and it is growing in reputation and popularity. Since 21 September 2001, the UN unanimously adopted the first ever international day of Peace.
Since its inception, millions of people have been active on Peace Day in every country of the world, and hundreds of organisations have carried out life-saving activities in areas of conflict.
In Afghanistan alone, Peace Day agreements have resulted in the immunisation against polio of 4.5 million children in areas hitherto unreachable or hard to reach owing to conflict since 2007.
On Peace Day 2010, more than 50,000 children and women of child-bearing age, across 23 high-risk locations of greater Kabul, were vaccinated against deadly diseases, including polio, meningitis, diphtheria and tetanus.
Throughout the world, Peace One Day instigated 88 life-saving and humanitarian activities by 28 organisations in 31 countries.
No one can argue that Peace One Day is anything but a fantastic idea, and peace as an idea is an age-old value and one which the Jews have long strived toward.
We conclude our prayers and our benching with oseh shalom bimromav – God should make peace speedily. The six orders of the Mishna conclude with the statement that God could find no greater vessel for blessing other than peace. We hope, dream and pray for peace for all of humanity.
However, as recent weekly Torah portions make clear, while ‘her ways are ways of pleasantness and all of her paths are peace’, Judaism is not a religion of pacifism.
The Torah understands that sometimes we have to fight for peace, but only as a last resort.
Time and time again, we are told that the hands of war are the legacy of Esau whereas the voice of prayer belongs to Jacob. As King David says in Psalms: ‘I am peace, but as I speak, they are for war.’
War is a necessary evil to be conducted only when all other options have failed.
World Peace Day is a wonderful initiative to convince warring parties to lay down their arms even if only for a short while, so that assistance can be given to those who need it most.
The visionaries behind this idea are true heroes. We hope and pray for the day when there will be no need for a Peace Day because, in the words of the prophet Isaiah: ‘They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift the sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore’.
May we merit this speedily in our days.
• Rabbi Roodyn is an educator with Aish UK