To committed Jews, our High Holiday Season is no more about honey cake than Christmas is about eggnog. The run-up to Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year (which began Sept. 24), is about taking G-d’s Kingship of the world more seriously, and our stewardship of it more responsibly.
We spend weeks before in self-appraisal and repentance, in reviewing the year that past, and in scrutinizing our relationship with our Creator and with all people within our orbit. In that spirit, we are privileged to have the opportunity to address our Catholic friends and neighbors.
Events of the year that has gone leave us with greater appreciation of Catholics than ever before. For Jews in many places in the world — most places other than the U.S. and Canada — Jewish year 5744 was the year in which anti-Semitism exploded in degree and severity, unparalleled since the 1930s.
—An Islamist terrorist, born in France, trained by ISIS in Syria, returned to Europe to murder four innocents at the Jewish museum in Brussels.
—For days protesters raged in Paris, looting Jewish shops and threatening synagogues while Jews prayed inside for peace.
—Shouts of “death to the Jews" and "Jews to the ovens” were heard for the first time on the streets of Germany since Hitler ruled the land.
—And across Europe, even in the shadow of Anne Frank’s secret attic, intimidated Jews feared to go about their daily business wearing the Star of David or kippah.
It was a year that thousands of Jews felt more safe relocating to an Israel besieged by Hamas rockets than remaining in France where they faced a deadly combination of intimidation, terrorist threat and apathy.
All of this stands in sharp contrast to a Catholic world in which the teachings of Nostra Aetate and Vatican II have been firmly implanted and reinforced by Pope Francis. This means that, while too many children around the world are taught to hate Jews for religious or other reasons, Catholic schoolchildren are taught that anti-Semitism is a sin and are able to study the Holocaust. They learn about the Jewish roots of Christianity and the common values we share. During the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s audience with His Holiness, we thanked him for his solidarity and friendship.
It is also the year that we have been reminded that Catholics and Jews have common, deadly enemies. Terrorists, invoking G-d’s name, unleashed medieval barbarism, ethnically cleansing religious minorities — especially Christians in historic homelands in Iraq. They destroy houses of worship, and behead religious leaders. Too many relativists will contemplate these horrors, but only speak of “cultural differences.” But the faithful of the Church have not been afraid to recognize unvarnished evil for what it is and to urge the world to stand against it.
While the Church, along with good people everywhere, abhors violence and war, it has long recognized both the requirement to fight pure evil and, even at times, to go to war to do so. It was St. Augustine who coined the term “just war.” Thomas Aquinas and other Catholics offered the backbone of modern Just War theory. Today, many good people are simply at a loss to evaluate changes in the rules of war, including asymmetrical warfare, terrorism and urban combat.
Here, too, the Church has been a leader. While some mocked the philosophical methods of the medieval Schoolmen as casuistry, it was arguably the Church that systematically analyzed complex moral questions and found distinctions that often helped separate right from wrong. (Jews had been doing the same in the Talmud and related literature, but no one paid any attention to them!)
For this as well, we are grateful to our Catholic friends.
This past summer, many, many Jewish Angelinos (the authors of this piece included) watched helplessly as their children and grandchildren huddled in bunkers as thousands of rockets were hurled at civilian populations throughout Israel. The Hamas terrorists who launched them sat in the concrete tunnels they had prepared for themselves while urging the civilians of Gaza to act as human shields.
After weeks of these attacks, Israel finally did what any civilized nation would do. She did her best to target and take out genocidal Hamas fighters and minimize civilian casualties (while Hamas sought to maximize them, hoping — correctly — for a backlash against the Jewish state), a task made nearly impossible when mosques, schools and homes were used to store and launch thousands of missiles.
Tragically, but predictably, the UN Human Rights Council and important NGOs rushed to judgment, already condemning Israel as the guilty party. We trust that our Catholic friends recognize that it is not Israel that disregards basic human values, but rather the terrorists of Hamas and ISIS.
We watched this past year as the oldest Christian communities were mercilessly extinguished, as Iran continued to persecute believers, and as Boko Haram executed hundreds of Christians and carried off their girls into slavery. We at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, as well as other Jewish groups, have not forgotten the lessons of the Holocaust, and we refused to be silent.
We tried to energize Christians to work on behalf of their embattled brothers and sisters, and pleaded for assistance at the White House and with foreign leaders. We have done this for years, understanding that tens of millions of persecuted Christians are even more endangered physically than Jews, even in this time of resurgent anti-Semitism. In this New Year, we will strive to live up to the promise we made Pope Francis to redouble our efforts to speak out for endangered Christians.
Finally, the Rosh Hashanah liturgy emphasizes G-d’s dominion over the entire world and all of its inhabitants, including those faithful to the Creator and those who have not yet found their way to belief. We live in a world where G-d’s name is invoked to justify barbarity and where atheism is in vogue. We who believe that no solution to humanity’s problems can occur without G-d’s presence in our hearts and in society must partner in fighting this battle, accentuating the vast moral landscape that we hold in common.
There can be no better wish to all of you that we should all merit to have a share in building a better world for the glory of G-d. May it be a year of health, happiness and spiritual growth for all.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is the center's director for interfaith affairs.
Editor’s Note: Many Orthodox Jews follow the practice of substituting “G-d” for the fuller spelling of the word as a sign of reverence and respect.
BY RABBI ABRAHAM COOPER AND RABBI YITZCHOK ADLERSTEIN