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October 18, 2019

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Where I Stand:

Rosh Hashanah, can the U.S. learn from Israel?

Rosh Hashanah, 5780.

That is a lot of years for the Jewish people to be celebrating the coming of another new year. But, despite some long odds over the centuries, that is exactly what we are doing. Thankfully.

Tonight begins the Ten Days of Awe during which Jews around the world ask God for forgiveness and pray to be inscribed in the Book of Life.

I remember as a child looking around our synagogue trying to determine who should and shouldn’t be so inscribed. I learned later that the choice wasn’t mine and that my job was to be good, responsible, just and loving and, well, hope for the best. As I approach an age that tends toward the upper end of the actuarial scale, I hope more and judge less.

The ability to hope is what separates human beings from the rest of the animals on this planet. We are capable of thought, and in many cases it is those thoughts that cause us to rely on hope as our only means of long-term survival. My mother taught me not to rely on hope as a strategy. But I am stuck on the eve of Rosh Hashanah and I can’t think of any way out of the mess our world is in without hoping for something better.

In Israel, the Jewish homeland, the people have just finished an election for prime minister. Our elections in the United States are complicated enough without having to explain the nuances of the Israeli parliamentary system and the need to build coalitions in order to govern. Suffice it to say that the expected re-election of Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu did not go as planned. For a host of reasons the Israeli voters decided to complicate matters so much that it remains questionable at this point just who will lead the next government and when that might happen.

We all know that there are no slam dunks in politics. In most cases the voters make the best decision they can at the time and hope for the best. If I were a betting man I would wager that Bibi’s time is limited and that means that Israel may, for the first time in over a decade, be faced with a dramatic change in the way the country is governed — it should move from the far right of the spectrum to a more middlin’ ground. And, in my opinion, that bodes well for the majority of Israelis who yearn for a secure and lasting peace in a neighborhood that is reluctant to comply.

I have been thinking about Israel’s election and the uncertainty surrounding it and the significant political craziness that defines the Trump administration. With last week’s decision by the speaker of the House of Representatives to begin the grave and solemn process of an impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, the pressure on our democracy has increased significantly.

I watched the president at the United Nations last week as he spoke to the delegates about who knows what — I say that because I was distracted from his message because it was the worst I have heard him speak and look since his election —and I wondered how he will hold up and how our country will endure the next few months as the investigations are ratcheted up and the solemnity of this rare but required constitutional process moves forward.

Our country is already polarized, and I expect it will not get better for a while. And that is where I believe what is happening in Israel can not only be instructive but helpful to America.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has been by most accounts a stalwart and important leader of Israel for many years. Recently, though, the threat of criminal sanctions coupled with the political need to find allies in the far reaches of the religious right members of his country have forced Bibi into the role more of a politician than the statesman he once was. In an effort to placate the far right ideologues — yes they exist in Israel too — Bibi has lost touch with the mainstream of Israeli political thought.

The dilemma, of course, has been for citizens who appreciate his hardline and effective security measures, which have kept them relatively safe, to vote against the Bibi who represents a small group of Israelis who are not all that interested in peace with Israel’s Arab neighbors.

This last election, however, may be a sign that Israelis, concerned with the long-term prospects for peace and security, have stepped up in a way that starts to take back their precious democracy. It takes courage to fight for the democratic ideals on which Israel was founded in the face of constant threats of annihilation, but it appears that Israelis have started to do just that.

In biblical terms, Israel and the Jewish people are to be a “light unto the nations of the world.” That presents a solemn obligation and responsibility to teach by example how to act morally, judge fairly and provide justice in a way that serves the law and the lawgiver.

So, if what Israel has accomplished is a lighted sign “unto” America that it, too, can fight back to protect our own fragile democracy then I would say that this New Year, this Rosh Hashanah, will be a year worth celebrating.

To the Jewish people everywhere and to all people of goodwill, Happy New Year.

Brian Greenspun is editor, publisher and owner of the Sun