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Op-Ed: Shofar is wake-up call to honest assessment — for ourselves and for Mideast

NEW YORK (JTA) — With the advent of Rosh Hashanah, reflection and introspection dominate our thoughts as we are called upon to examine our lives and focus on improving ourselves both as human beings and as Jews.

One hallmark of the High Holidays season is the concept of teshuvah, or repentance: the act of acknowledging our flaws and transgressions, of owning up to our errors and dedicating ourselves to self-correction.

It is during this season of reflection and introspection that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu comes to Washington to engage in direct peace talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

In an ideal world, peace in the Middle East would soon be a reality. After more than six decades of war and terrorism, Israel longs for and deserves peace.

But we cannot allow our desire for peace, however great, to obscure the facts that lie before us. If we hope to achieve that elusive peace, we must acknowledge and confront several critical issues. As with the High Holidays, before we can move forward, logic compels us to review and evaluate the past and examine the need for change.

We cannot achieve true repentance without being honest, with ourselves and with God. Engaging in illusions will not work, either in achieving true teshuvah or in achieving true peace in the Middle East. To reach for peace, we must view the political situation through a clear, unobstructed lens and make an honest assessment.

We must review the wars, the terrorist acts and the many casualties Israel has endured since its inception. We must review the fact that Israel consistently has made offers to achieve peace only to be met in return with outrageous demands. We must review the concessions Israel has made in the name of peace and the overwhelmingly negative and painful results that ensued.

We must reflect on the fact that the Palestinians continue to teach and preach hatred of Israel in their schools and in their mosques, lauding “martyrs” who kill our children. We must reflect on the fact that the Palestinians continue to deny Israel’s fundamental right to exist and to inhabit its biblical and historical homeland.

As we welcome the new year, with all its hope and opportunity, we must demand change.

We must call upon Abbas and the Palestinian Authority to disavow the relentless violence that has claimed thousands of innocent Israeli lives. We must insist that the Palestinian leadership denounce calls for Israel’s destruction and recognize Israel’s fundamental right to exist as a sovereign Jewish nation.

Maimonides, the great Torah scholar, wrote the following in his compilation of laws relating to teshuvah: “Although the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah is a Divine decree, nevertheless we can discern a purpose in doing so. It is as if it tells us: ‘Sleepers! Arise from your slumber, and those who are dozing, awake from your lethargy. Review your actions, repent your sins and remember your Creator!’ ”

The blast of the shofar is a call to action intended to rouse our souls and inspire us to do what is right.

Now is the time for American Jewry to stand up and proudly proclaim that the land of Israel belongs to the Jewish nation. We must insist that Israel’s security is not negotiable. We must continue to demand the release of Gilad Shalit, the captive Israeli soldier who languishes in Gaza. We must demand the cessation of anti-Israel rhetoric and education in mosques and in schools.

American Jews must stand up and be heard on the issues that are vital to the security and survival of the Jewish people and the land of Israel.

It says in the book of Jeremiah, “Peace, peace! But there is no peace!” We may yearn for peace, but we cannot force peace. No true peace will come in the Middle East before the Palestinians have demonstrated their capacity to function as honest, reliable and long-lasting peace partners.

In this season of awe and self-reflection, may the clarion call of the shofar awaken us and inspire us to renew our commitment to the State of Israel and to the safety and well-being of our Jewish brethren, wherever they may be.

While the powerful call of the shofar will certainly reverberate in synagogues throughout the world, may its message echo in our hearts and minds as well. It is a wake-up call we cannot afford to ignore.

(Rabbi Pesach Lerner is the executive vice president of the National Council of Young Israel.)

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