26 Elul 5773
1 September 2013
I tried, but I couldn't write just one Rosh Hashanah message this year. So this comes to you in two parts: Part I and Part II.
"Peace, peace, ... but there is no peace!" (Jeremiah 6:14)
As I write these words, our nation's leaders are contemplating whether, and if so how, to respond to the Syrian government's alleged use of poison gas against its own citizens.
There appears to be a profound lack of unanimity within our nation concerning whether and how to respond -- and what the impact of our intervention might be.
Peter Beinart of the Daily Beast raised the question: Why now? Why is poison gas the trigger? After all, 100,000 civilians had already been killed prior to this most recent attack. Already, 1.6 million Syrian refugees are registered with the United Nations. (See here.) It is estimated -- I'm still in shock thinking about this -- that there will be as many as 3.5 million refugees by the end of 2013. Why, if the United States has not responded earlier, Beinart asks, is it responding now?
I think I know the answer to that. I know that for me, as a Jew, poison gas has a particularly despicable and horrifying resonance. (Coincidentally, today is the anniversary of the outbreak of World War II.) I am sure that for many others as well, the sight of the innocent victims of the Syrian attack (including many children) was sickening and heartbreaking.
Whatever our leaders decide to do, I hope that they will energetically continue to elicit international support to condemn this attack and to try to prevent future ones. I hope that they will use wisdom and care in determining how to respond. Finally, I pray that their actions will not inadvertently lead to a dangerous escalation of the conflict, but will instead lead to a speedier resolution.
May peace come soon to this very troubled country in this very troubled region. May 5774 be more peaceful than 5773.
While our thoughts, prayers and concerns are focussed on the international crisis, it is nonetheless true that Rosh Hashanah is only a few days away. Although the season is a time for self-reflection, it is not solemn. It is a time to celebrate the coming of the new year which we hope will be a sweet one.
One way we express this hope is by eating foods like apples and honey and desserts like honey cake. Additionally, our Yom Tov meals on Rosh Hashanah begin with two challah loaves, which we also dip in honey, and it is customary for these to be special round loaves in honor of the holiday.
Recently, I saw a short and sweet Youtube video featured in a Tablet magazine article that I couldn't resist sending on to you. It features the well-known Jewish cook, Joan Nathan, demonstrating how to make and braid round challot for Rosh Hashanah. Even if you won't be baking your own this year, this video is worth watching. (Click here to read the article and watch the video.)
I hope that your Yom Tov (holiday) tables will feature sweet round challot--even if they are not as tasty as Joan Nathan's seem to be--and that they will usher in for you and your family a good and a sweet year.
Shanah Tovah u'mtukah!
Rabbi Carl M. Perkins