By Rabbi Alvin M. Sugarman, Rabbinic Cabinet

Brit Tzedek’s “Rabbinic Letter to Senators Obama and McCain” continues to generate broad-based support.  Close to 700 clergy have signed on to date, including Rabbis Peter Knobel, Ismar Schorsch, and Toba Spitzer. Our full-page ad featuring the letter and signers will appear on the back cover of the 10/3/08 issue of the Forward, with much more to come.  Please donate to support our rabbinic outreach efforts to the next president.

Rosh Hashana is always a time of reflection and renewal, a time when old patterns are abandoned, and new ideas considered. In Ezekiel, we are called on to "get  [ourselves] a new heart and a new spirit" -- ideally, we bring a measure of healing to our world, and evolve, as individuals and communities.

Such change can only happen, however, if we are open to the possibility -- if we can look past the failures of the past and envision a different future. Alexander Graham Bell once said that when one door closes, another opens -- but we are often so busy looking with regret upon the closed door, that we do not see those which have opened before us.

It can seem that the search for peace between Israel and her neighbors has been little more than a series of closed doors. How many times have we felt that we were surely on the road to a peaceful solution -- and how many times has the door to peace been slammed shut?

But we are Jews -- we must not dwell on the closed door; rather we should search for an opportunity to open a new one. As Maimonides said centuries ago, we are not required to complete the task of tikkun olam, repairing the world -- but neither are we free to retire from the task.

We are alive today to begin another New Year because we have always refused to give up. Though history would have written us off many times, here we are preparing once again to hear the stirring sound of the shofar. This year, as always, the almost mystical power of the shofar speaks to the deepest part of our souls, awakening us to the best that lies within us, and to the possibility of what could yet be: "He has told you what is good and what the Lord requires," as Micah says. "Only to do justice and to love goodness."

This year, we must allow the shofar to recall to us not only the new possibilities within ourselves, but in the Middle East, that land of closed doors.

January will see a new administration in Washington: a new beginning, a new president, a new possibility for peace. Whoever is elected, it's up to us, as American citizens who love both this country and Israel deeply, to do everything in our power to encourage him to make peace efforts a true diplomatic priority.

We must urge a rejection of the old policies of quiet acquiescence to the status quo, and call for an embrace of a vigorous pursuit of reconciliation -- a new heart, and a new spirit. We must remind our new President that true change only comes when it is pursued sincerely, and tell him that we will stand with him if he turns his back on the disappointments of the past and creates new opportunities for peace and security between Israel and the Palestinians.

We do not yet know who will be standing behind the open door of the Oval Office, nor do we yet know what Mid-East policies will come from behind that door. But we do know that as individuals and as members of the American Jewish community, we must do everything we can to influence the new Administration to advance a two-state solution that honors the common humanity and yearnings for peace of Israelis and Palestinians alike.

As our year turns, let us also dedicate ourselves to achieving a turn in the fortunes of the land we hold so close to our hearts, and this Rosh Hashanah, may we indeed "be remembered in the book of life, blessing, and peace."

Suggestions for Rosh Hashanah:

  • Discuss Brit Tzedek's Rabbinic Letter to Senators Obama and McCain at gatherings, in the context of the  holiday's spirit of renewal. What needs to change, in order to bring peace and security to Israel? How can we as a community encourage the necessary changes in the next Administration? Read the letter FAQs to aid you in your discussions.  

  • Contribute generously in support of Brit Tzedek's important rabbinic letter campaign. Our full-page ad will appear on the October 3 back cover of the Forward.  Several op-eds by signers will be published over the holidays. We will be pitching a news story about the letter to over 100 news radio stations across the country next week concentrating on areas where we have many signers.  We're recruiting additional signers over the next month and plan to hand-deliver the letter to the president-elect.

  • Resolve to increase your activism in the coming year. If you regularly respond to Brit Tzedek Action Alerts, resolve also to forward them to five friends; if you have written a letter to the editor in the past, resolve to do so again, and urge friends to do likewise; if you have attended Brit Tzedek activities, resolve to become an active member of your chapter and join a Brit Tzedek home district meeting with Senators and Congressional Representatives.  For more information, contact

  • Reflect on the significance the Jewish tradition of admitting and actively righting our wrongs before God, each other, and ourselves; what responsibility do we bear to right the wrongs of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? What can individual Jews do in the process of righting these wrongs?

Rabbi Alvin M. Sugarman is Rabbi Emeritus of The Temple in Atlanta and a member of Brit Tzedek's Rabbinic Cabinet.  He has served as president of the Atlanta Rabbinical Association  and the Southeast Association of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, as well as Treasurer of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Rabbi Sugarman has served as a chaplain to Jewish inmates at the U.S. Penitentiary and participated in numerous civic and religious organizations, and advisory councils since the early 1970's.


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