Credit: Creative Commons/Nick Knupffer
The White House has released President Obama’s greeting to American Jews on the occasion of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year set to begin tonight at sundown. This greeting — extended to me, my family and the American Jewish community — comes at a time in which many Jews are collectively and individually reflecting upon those people we’ve wronged in the past year, and those apologies we need to extend.
This is one of the central tasks of Rosh Hashanah: to perform something called teshuvah (תשובה), which on an interpersonal level is the act of apologizing to those we have individually and communally wronged in the past year.
Obama’s greeting is appreciated as a nice gesture, as are his general wishes for reflection, which are wholly appropriate for the holiday. The problem is this: if there is one people President Obama, together with the larger American Jewish community, need to collectively extend an apology toward this holiday season, it is Palestinians. Unfortunately, Obama’s remarks, rather than offer such an expression, are actually an extension of our continued wronging of Palestinians, a wronging for which our government should apologize.
Allow me to explain. But first, Obama’s remarks:
Hello. As Jews across America, Israel, and the world gather together for the High Holidays, Michelle and I extend our warmest wishes to you and your families for a sweet and happy new year.
My good friend Elie Wiesel once said that God gave human beings a secret, and that secret was not how to begin but how to begin again. These days of awe are a chance to celebrate that gift, to give thanks for the secret, the miracle of renewal.
In synagogues and homes over the coming days, Jews will reflect on a year that carried its shares of challenges. We’ve been reminded many times that our world still needs repair. So here at home we continue the hard work of rebuilding our economy and restoring our American dream of opportunity for all. Around the world, we continue to stand for the dignity of every human being, and against the scourge of anti-Semitism, and we reaffirm the friendships and bonds that keep us strong, including our unshakeable alliance with the State of Israel.
So let’s approach this new year with new confidence and new hope. Let’s recommit ourselves to living out the values we share as individuals and as a country. Above all, let’s embrace this God-given miracle of renewal, this extraordinary opportunity to begin again in pursuit of justice, prosperity, and peace. From my family to yours, shanah tovah.