Every Jewish New Year presents a unique opportunity to reflect on both the personal and the communal. While Jewish Holidays’ public relations are focused on an individual’s redemption, sins and renewal – it is the collective experience, at the synagogue and elsewhere, that makes this season so memorable. Jewish communities around the world have the opportunity to reflect on moments of strength and vulnerabilities in the past year, aiming for renewal and exciting beginnings, while connecting to their core.
The world of diplomacy and its inner dynamics could be uniquely viewed in the context of renewal. The Jewish annual ‘restart’ allows Jewish leaders and community activists to reflect on the power of new human channels as part of their efforts to achieve diplomatic successes.
Specifically, this year brings us a once-a-generation opportunity as we approach the Jewish high holidays season. The recent announcements about the United Arab Emirates (or UAE) and Bahrain peace & normalization agreements with Israel have brought excitement and tears of joy to many of us. This diplomatic and economic accomplishment carries historical importance. It is the first normalization agreement with a Muslim state not neighboring with Israel. Israel has not signed a peace treaty since the agreement with Jordan in the 1990s. Some analysts argue that this process is revolutionary as it provides Israel with a peace agreement without giving land in return (or peace-for-peace agreement). UAE is willing to make a bold political and diplomatic move as both nations project military and economic strength.
This announcement, which externalizes and renews the already-existing Israeli connection to the Arab world, creates an unprecedented momentum in the region. The Jewish New Year will be followed by several other potential ‘deals’ with Gulf states and remote Muslim countries.
Nothing comes easy. Like the ongoing individual struggle for forgiveness, the diplomatic announcement has been preceded by countless years of ‘track 2 diplomacy’ and efforts, behind the scenes, to bring these two nations together through commerce, healthcare, cyber & defense, to name a few. Several key U.S. Jewish organizations have been influential in creating the much-needed trust, personal connections, and joint-agenda. Myself and leading national and international Jewish organizations have been active in finding the common ground.
In times of public health and economic crises, our people are craving new and exciting beginnings more than ever. The already-announced UAE & Bahrain-Israel agreements emanate hope, thus propelling a public discourse about the continuous informal discussions with Arab countries in the region, such as Oman and others. Mutual respect and shared values and interests in the region and the world bring neighbors together. All sides could use some feel-good stories right now.
These strong internal voices calling for inspiration and peace are not new to the Jewish heritage. Services in the Jewish tradition, including the High Holidays services, include the important theme of peace and renewal. Peace is not an abstract concept, an unfulfilled desire. Peace has a daily role in our lives, working towards it with values. “May the Lord bless you and guard you; May the Lord cause his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; May the Lord lift up his face to you and place upon you peace”. These powerful words from the Book of Numbers reflect the external forces that eventually drive an internal change.
Growing up in the Jewish homeland, the word “peace” contained built-in notions of division and disagreements. A beautiful concept of peace has turned to an ongoing struggle between “Peace Now” voices and “Never Again” groups. The unprecedented assassination of Prime Minister Rabin in the 1990s in the context of the negotiations with the Palestinians on permanent peace agreements was a horrific milestone of that tension.
The last couple of weeks showed us that a peace agreement can bring people together despite personal and political disagreements. Sometimes, peace is just peace. The news was received with support across the board. While this past year brought some of the most challenging times to our societies and Jewish communities, recent diplomatic events present new winds of renewal and accomplishments. The High Holiday is a once-a-year opportunity to make an internal peace with ourselves and our creator. Our geographical neighbors are no different.
Dr. Efraim Chalamish is a member of the WJC Jewish Diplomatic Corps and a Prof. of law and business, an international advisor, and a leading media commentator.