The High Holy Days bring with them a creative tension: respect for tradition alongside a call for change, a time when we are aware of both our blessings and our responsibilities. We hear this piercing call at the center of our High Holy Day liturgy: “Let us proclaim the sacred power of this day,” we pray during U’n’taneh Tokef. “It is awesome and full of dread.”
It’s not enough simply to enjoy our blessings; we must recognize the responsibilities they bring. It’s not enough to simply hope for the best; we must connect with that sacred power. We must work to achieve what we pray for — for our communities, our country, our Jewish homeland, and ourselves.
In these holy days, the Jewish state stands at a turning point, as Israelis and Palestinians stand poised to engage in direct negotiations. Their aim is to achieve the one solution upon which all sides have long agreed: two states, living in peace and security.
Notably, fully three-quarters of American Jews back a two-state solution. Today, as we open our prayer books and gather as family at our holiday meals, the time has come for that majority to move beyond hoping for the best. The time has come to work for a real constituency for peace.
Our role is unique. American commitment is crucial to the success of the talks. Israelis and Palestinians will be asked to make painful compromises and to deal with the results of decades of hostilities. The Obama administration has acknowledged that its peace initiative won’t advance if there’s no momentum in support from American citizens.
It’s time to make our voices heard. It’s time to tell the Obama administration and Congress that we know a two-state agreement is in the best interests of Israel, the Palestinians, and American security needs. We must assure our elected officials that they’ll have a reliable base of support when they take bold steps to further negotiations — that, in fact, there is no more pro-Israel position than working to achieve a two-state peace settlement.
It’s time, in no small part, because time is not on Israel’s side.
At some point, circumstances may turn against Israel so negatively that we may look back on this moment as a tragically missed opportunity. Demographic trends and increasing extremism on both sides pose a real threat to the Jewish democracy. The sheer relentlessness of loss and fear lead many to abandon hope. Ultimately, those who lose hope will also lose their willingness to compromise.
We have a narrow window of opportunity. If we’re still talking about the first phase of direct negotiations next Rosh Hashana, it will mean we’ve failed to grapple with the single most pressing issue on the Jewish people’s agenda.
My commitment to Israel’s security and prosperity is unswerving. My admiration for the country’s achievements is unbounded. At the same time, I owe it to Israel to express myself as honestly as possible. Torah teaches us that real friends — or, in fact, loving family — offer the truth, with the caution, care, and respect that family deserves.
Rather than retreat from discussing the difficult issues of peace, we must call upon our best traditions as a people always ready to debate. We are, at our core, God-wrestlers, who seek truth together even when we don’t agree. Any final agreements will, of course, be in the hands of Israelis and Palestinians, but we American Jews must also bring our best minds to this conflict, engaging with Israelis and Palestinians as they find their way to a settlement — one that will bring security to Israel, hope for a better future to Palestinians, and peace to the region.
It’s not enough merely to seek atonement. We’re expected to do the difficult work of examining our behavior and effecting real change. This will require tough choices and the full engagement of Israel’s supporters, but surely a resolution of this horrendous conflict is worth that effort. Israel’s agreements with Egypt and Jordan stand as proof that after difficult negotiations, peace can withstand the tests of time and circumstance.
In the years to come, let it not be said that we stood on the sidelines in the face of great opportunity. Instead, let it be said that we recognized the “sacred power of this time” and seized this moment to support those who aggressively pursue the cause of peace.