Rosh haShana 5774

Dear Friends: I hope that all of you in the Northern Hemisphere have had a pleasant summer, and in the Southern Hemisphere, a pleasant winter. In 2014, with our annual international conference planned for Buenos Aires, we will all experience winter in August. But I have been to Argentina in August before, and it’s really quite mild.

This year, of course, we were in lovely Aix-en-Provence. It was one of the largest conferences we’ve had in many years and one of the most controversial. The topic of laicite stirred up quite a debate. After the conference, I stayed for a few days with a friend in Marseille. I was lucky in that an exciting and beautiful new museum had just opened there. The museum is called the MUCEM and is devoted to Mediterranean civilizations.

As we all know, the Eastern Mediterranean region is experiencing a time of horrific violence. Although the ICCJ doesn’t necessarily comment on every incident, I hope it is obvious that we condemn violence in general and inter-religious violence in particular. I would like to cite part of a recent statement put out by the Elijah Interfaith Institute, based in Jerusalem:

“Attacks on houses of worship of another religion are only a step away from attacks on the lives of members of that religion… Houses of worship of all religions should be places of sanctity and refuge, places that are beyond societal struggles and manifestations of hatred”.

It has come to my attention that some—even within the ICCJ family—haven’t heard of our own statement on the current situation in Israel/Palestine, issued in mid-May, called, “As long as you believe in a living God, you must have hope.” If you haven’t seen it on our Web site, I recommend reading it, through this link:

Going back to the MUCEM in Marseille, there is a lot of material there about the three Abrahamic traditions. The exhibition indicates that the region was central in the early development of agriculture and religious faith. One of the exhibits shows that the three main crops of the region are wheat, grapes, and olives. What they didn’t show is the deep connection between that fact and the development of two of our traditions, Judaism and Christianity. In the Bible, it goes back to Deuteronomy 11:14, “then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and oil.” In ancient times, people used to light oil lamps—we have gone over to candles.

The three major symbols of the Shabbat, and, by analogy, of Jewish festivals, are challot, wine and candles. On Pesach, we substitute for the challot Matzot, unleavened bread—still a form of wheat. In their rites, as well, many Christians use these, substituting wafers, but also using candles and wine.

I like the idea that when we are at our most particular, we are also “universal.” Celebrating a Mass or keeping the Shabbat may be particular to our own traditions, but they can also be occasions for realizing certain commonalities and seeing ourselves in a broader context.

On the eve of 5774, I want to wish our Jewish members and friends Shana Tova, but I want to wish all a year of health, happiness, fruitful dialogue and peace.