For many who attend synagogue on the High Holy Days, it is an opportunity not just to encounter God and connect with tradition but to bond with their fellow Jews. Among many other things, Rosh Hashana is a celebration of community, a pilgrimage holiday in which all can declare, “Hineh mah tov u’mah nayim, shevet ahim gam yahad” — How good and pleasant it is to sit together as family!
But this experience of unity is threatened by disagreements deeper than we have seen in many years. The debate over the Iran nuclear deal has not just been heated, but bitter. Touching on Israel’s security, the Holocaust, partisan politics, Jewish values, and tangled loyalties, it is a debate tailor-made to widen fissures among Jews. The challenge for synagogues will be to contain these debates; the challenge for individuals is to find ways to discuss these issues without driving wedges between friends and family.
In the Torah portion Nitzavim, read on the Shabbat preceding Rosh Hashana, there is a reminder of the power of Jewish unity over the things that divide the people: “You are all standing this day before the Lord, your God, the leaders of your tribes, your elders and your officers, every man of Israel, your young children, your women, and your convert who is within your camp, both your woodcutters and your water drawers, that you may enter the covenant of the Lord, your God, and His oath, which the Lord, your God, is making with you this day.” (Deuteronomy 29:9-11)
Leaders and “regular” folk, men and women, the young and the old. The Torah does not pretend there are no differences, but it suggests that these differences can be put aside in gathering as one to celebrate the Jewish people and its traditions.
We know there are deep divisions within the Jewish community. But we can remind ourselves about our higher purpose, and how, despite our differences of opinion and outlook, we still share a common covenant.
This Rosh Hashana, may you and yours gather together and experience the goodness and pleasantness of being with family — the Jewish family.