Memory of Hanukkah’s Past: “Get Israel Whatever It Needs. Now!”

— by Jason Attermann

During the White House Hanukkah celebration last week, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren recalled last year’s reception in which President Obama came to Israel’s aid “without hesitation” and sent an American fire-fighting team to help put out the Carmel Forest fires.

Adam Kredo of the Washington Jewish Week reported:

“On route to the President’s Hanukkah reception, right outside of the White House, my cell phone started ringing,” Oren recalled, according to a transcript of his speech. “It was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Carmel Forest in North Israel was ablaze … and the fire was descending on Haifa. Israel needed fire-fighting planes, at once, but it had none.”

Netanyahu directed his ambassador to, “Quick, go ask President Obama for help.”

That’s when Oren entered the White House and asked to see the president.

“I told him the situation and without hesitation, President Obama turned to one of his aides and said, ‘get Israel whatever it needs. Now,'” Oren recalled.

He explained to those in attendance at Wasserman-Shultz‘s Hanukkah party that “America has 11 fire-fighting planes; the next morning, 8 of them took off for Israel, along with a team of fire-fighting commandos.”

“Later that night,” Oren continued, “I learned, that the President left the Hanukkah reception and flew secretly to Afghanistan. Upon arriving, he called Washington and the first question he asked, ‘Has Israel gotten its planes?’ He also called Prime Minister Netanyahu and expressed his condolences for Israel’s losses and America’s commitment to Israel’s well-being.”

Hanukkah Comes Early to the Obama White House

— by David Streeter

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama hosted the White House’s annual Chanukah party last night that was attended by many prominent Jewish leaders and activists. Vice President Joe Biden, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, several Jewish members of Congress, NJDC Chair Marc R. Stanley, NJDC President and CEO David A. Harris, and a number of other NJDC leaders were all among the event’s attendees. Before the party started, Obama remarked to the guests:

Welcome to the White House.  Thank you all for joining us tonight to celebrate Hanukkah-even if we’re doing it a little bit early.

I want to start by recognizing a few folks who are here. The ambassador to the United States from Israel, Michael Oren, is in the house.

We are honored to be joined by one of the justices of the Supreme Court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is here. We are thrilled to see her. She’s one of my favorites … I’ve got a soft spot for Justice Ginsburg.

And we’ve got more than a few members of Congress here and members of my administration in the house, including our new Director of Jewish Outreach, Jarrod Bernstein is here….

I also want to thank the West Point Jewish Chapel Cadet Choir-the Voice of Tradition-for their wonderful performance, but more importantly, for their extraordinary service to our country.

And I want to thank all the rabbis and lay leaders who have come far and wide to be here with us today.

Now, as I said, we’re jumping the gun just a little bit. The way I see it, we’re just extending the holiday spirit. We’re stretching it out. But we do have to be careful that your kids don’t start thinking Hanukkah lasts 20 nights instead of eight. That will cause some problems.

This Hanukkah season we remember a story so powerful that we all know it by heart-even us Gentiles. It’s a story of right over might, of faith over doubt. Of a band of believers who rose up and freed their people and discovered that the oil left in their desecrated temple-which should have lasted only one night-ended up lasting eight.

More after the jump.

It’s a timeless story. And for 2,000 years, it has given hope to Jews everywhere who are struggling. And today, it reminds us that miracles come in all shapes and sizes. Because to most people, the miracle of Hanukkah would have looked like nothing more than a simple flame, but the believers in the temple knew it was something else. They knew it was something special.

This year, we have to recognize the miracles in our own lives. Let’s honor the sacrifices our ancestors made so that we might be here today. Let’s think about those who are spending this holiday far away from home-including members of our military who guard our freedom around the world. Let’s extend a hand to those who are in need, and allow the value of tikkun olam to guide our work this holiday season.

This is also a time to be grateful for our friendships, both with each other and between our nations. And that includes, of course, our unshakeable support and commitment to the security of the nation of Israel.

So while it is not yet Hanukkah, let’s give thanks for our blessings, for being together to celebrate this wonderful holiday season. And we never need an excuse for a good party….

So as I look around, I see a whole bunch of good friends. We can’t wait to give you a hug and a kiss and wish you a happy holiday. The guys with whiskers, I won’t give you a kiss.

Thank you very much, everybody.

Haaretz’s Natasha Mozgovaya noted that the party’s traditional kosher Chanukah foods were accompanied by “sushi rolls, caramelized pearl onions, shitake mushrooms, [and] pine nut herb crusted lamb chops.”

White House Pool Report by C. J. Ciaramella

The foyer was adorned in festive winter decorations. President Obama gave his remarks at a podium, next to a menorah with all eight candles lit.

Obama spoke for about four minutes to the group of approximately 550 guests, including many American Jewish community leaders, about the meaning of the Hannukah story.

“This Hannukah season, we remember a story so powerful that we know it by heart … even us gentiles,” Obama said. “A story of right over might, faith over doubt, a story about a band of believers who rose up and freed their people.”

President Obama said the Hannukah story is a reminder that “miracles come in all sizes,” and the holiday season is a time to “recognize the miracles in our own lives.”

“This is also time to be grateful for our friendships, both with each other and between our nations, and that of course includes our unshakable support and commitment to the security of the nation of Israel,” Obama said to applause.

After speaking, Obama left to meet with guests in the Map Room of the White House.

Notable guests included Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, White House Director of Jewish Outreach Jarrod Bernstein and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, for whom President Obama said he had a “soft spot.”

Many members of Congress were also present, as was the West Point Jewish Chapel Cadet Choir.

Guests were treated to an all-kosher menu including dill and vodka Scottish smoked salmon and roulade of chicken breast. All food was prepared under the strict rabbinical supervision of Rabbi Levi Shemtov, Lubavitch Center of Washington (Chabad), in cooperation with the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington.

The menorah for this year’s ceremony was lent by The Jewish Museum, New York and is dedicated to General Joseph T. McNarney, who served as the Commander in Chief of United States Forces in the European Theatre from November 1945 to March 1947.

White House Statement on Gilad Shalit


— White Press Secretary Jay Carney

Nearly five years have now passed since Hamas terrorists crossed into Israel and abducted Gilad Shalit.  During this time, Hamas has held him hostage without access by the International Committee of the Red Cross, in violation of the standards of basic decency and international humanitarian demands.  As the anniversary of his capture approaches, the United States condemns in the strongest possible terms his continued detention, and joins other governments and international organizations around the world in calling on Hamas to release him immediately.  

Remarks by Obama and Netanyahu of Israel After Bilateral Meeting

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, let me, first of all, welcome again Prime Minister Netanyahu, who I think has now been here seven times during the course of my presidency.  And I want to indicate that the frequency of these meetings is an indication of the extraordinary bonds between our two countries, as is the opportunity for the Prime Minister to address Congress during his visit here.  I know that’s an honor that’s reserved for those who have always shown themselves to be a great friend of the United States and is indicative of the friendship between our countries.

Transcript continues after the jump.
We just completed a prolonged and extremely useful conversation touching on a wide range of issues.  We discussed, first of all, the changes that are sweeping the region and what has been happening in places like Egypt and Syria and how they affect the interests and security of the United States and Israel, as well as the opportunity for prosperity, growth and development in the Arab world.

    We agreed that there is a moment of opportunity that can be seized as a consequence of the Arab Spring, but also acknowledge that there’s significant perils as well, and that it’s going to be important for the United States and Israel to consult closely as we see developments unfold.

I outlined for the Prime Minister some of the issues that I discussed in my speech yesterday — how important it was going to be for the United States to support political reform, support human rights, support freedom of speech, religious tolerance and economic development, particularly in Egypt, as the largest Arab country, as well as Tunisia, the country that first started this revolutionary movement that’s taking place throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

    We also discussed the situation in Syria, which is obviously of acute concern to Israel, given its shared border.  And I gave more details to the Prime Minister about the significant steps that we are taking to try to pressure Syria and the Assad regime to reform, including the sanctions that we placed directly on President Assad.

    We continue to share our deep concerns about Iran, not only the threat that it poses to Israel but also the threat that it poses to the region and the world if it were to develop a nuclear weapon.  We updated our strategy to continue to apply pressure, both through sanctions and our other diplomatic work.  And I reiterated my belief that it is unacceptable for Iran to possess a nuclear weapon.

    We also discussed the hypocrisy of Iran suggesting that it somehow supports democratization in the Middle East when, in fact, they first showed the repressive nature of that regime when they responded to the own peaceful protests that took place inside Iran almost two years ago.

    Finally, we discussed the issue of a prospective peace between Israelis and Palestinians.  And I reiterated and we discussed in depth the principles that I laid out yesterday — the belief that our ultimate goal has to be a secure Israeli state, a Jewish state, living side by side in peace and security with a contiguous, functioning and effective Palestinian state.

    Obviously there are some differences between us in the precise formulations and language, and that’s going to happen between friends.  But what we are in complete accord about is that a true peace can only occur if the ultimate resolution allows Israel to defend itself against threats, and that Israel’s security will remain paramount in U.S. evaluations of any prospective peace deal.

    I said that yesterday in the speech, and I continue to believe it.  And I think that it is possible for us to shape a deal that allows Israel to secure itself, not to be vulnerable, but also allows it to resolve what has obviously been a wrenching issue for both peoples for decades now.

    I also pointed out, as I said in the speech yesterday, that it is very difficult for Israel to be expected to negotiate in a serious way with a party that refuses to acknowledge its right to exist.  And so for that reason I think the Palestinians are going to have to answer some very difficult questions about this agreement that’s been made between Fatah and Hamas.  Hamas has been and is an organization that has resorted to terror; that has refused to acknowledge Israel’s rights to exist.  It is not a partner for a significant, realistic peace process.  And so, as I said yesterday during the speech, the Palestinians are going to have to explain how they can credibly engage in serious peace negotiations in the absence of observing the Quartet principles that have been put forward previously.

    So, overall, I thought this was an extremely constructive discussion.  And coming out of this discussion, I once again can reaffirm that the extraordinarily close relationship between the United States and Israel is sound and will continue, and that together, hopefully we are going to be able to work to usher in a new period of peace and prosperity in a region that is going to be going through some very profound transformations in the coming weeks, months and years.

    So, Mr. Prime Minister.

    PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  Thank you, Mr. President.

    PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you very much.

    PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  Mr. President, first I want to thank you and the First Lady for the gracious hospitality that you’ve shown me, my wife, and our entire delegation.  We have an enduring bond of friendship between our two countries, and I appreciate the opportunity to have this meeting with you after your important speech yesterday.

    We share your hope and your vision for the spread of democracy in the Middle East.  I appreciate the fact that you reaffirmed once again now, and in our conversation, and in actual deed the commitment to Israel’s security.  We value your efforts to advance the peace process.

    This is something that we want to have accomplished.  Israel wants peace.  I want peace.  What we all want is a peace that will be genuine, that will hold, that will endure.  And I think that the — we both agree that a peace based on illusions will crash eventually on the rocks of Middle Eastern reality, and that the only peace that will endure is one that is based on reality, on unshakeable facts.

    I think for there to be peace, the Palestinians will have to accept some basic realities.  The first is that while Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace, it cannot go back to the 1967 lines — because these lines are indefensible; because they don’t take into account certain changes that have taken place on the ground, demographic changes that have taken place over the last 44 years.

    Remember that, before 1967, Israel was all of nine miles wide.  It was half the width of the Washington Beltway.  And these were not the boundaries of peace; they were the boundaries of repeated wars, because the attack on Israel was so attractive.

    So we can’t go back to those indefensible lines, and we’re going to have to have a long-term military presence along the Jordan.  I discussed this with the President and I think that we understand that Israel has certain security requirements that will have to come into place in any deal that we make.

    The second is — echoes something the President just said, and that is that Israel cannot negotiate with a Palestinian government that is backed by Hamas.  Hamas, as the President said, is a terrorist organization committed to Israel’s destruction.  It’s fired thousands of rockets on our cities, on our children.  It’s recently fired an anti-tank rocket at a yellow school bus, killing a 16-year-old boy.  And Hamas has just attacked you, Mr. President, and the United States for ridding the world of bin Laden.

So Israel obviously cannot be asked to negotiate with a government that is backed by the Palestinian version of al Qaeda.

    I think President Abbas has a simple choice.  He has to decide if he negotiates or keeps his pact with Hamas, or makes peace with Israel.  And I can only express what I said to you just now, that I hope he makes the choice, the right choice, in choosing peace with Israel.

    The third reality is that the Palestinian refugee problem will have to be resolved in the context of a Palestinian state, but certainly not in the borders of Israel.

The Arab attack in 1948 on Israel resulted in two refugee problems — Palestinian refugee problem and Jewish refugees, roughly the same number, who were expelled from Arab lands.  Now, tiny Israel absorbed the Jewish refugees, but the vast Arab world refused to absorb the Palestinian refugees.  Now, 63 years later, the Palestinians come to us and they say to Israel, accept the grandchildren, really, and the great grandchildren of these refugees, thereby wiping out Israel’s future as a Jewish state.

So it’s not going to happen.  Everybody knows it’s not going to happen.  And I think it’s time to tell the Palestinians forthrightly it’s not going to happen.  The Palestinian refugee problem has to be resolved.  It can be resolved, and it will be resolved if the Palestinians choose to do so in a Palestinian state.  So that’s a real possibility.  But it’s not going to be resolved within the Jewish state.

The President and I discussed all these issues and I think we may have differences here and there, but I think there’s an overall direction that we wish to work together to pursue a real, genuine peace between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors; a peace that is defensible.

Mr. President, you’re the — you’re the leader of a great people, the American people.  And I’m the leader of a much smaller people, the —

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  A great people.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: It’s a great people, too.  It’s the ancient nation of Israel.  And, you know, we’ve been around for almost 4,000 years.  We’ve experienced struggle and suffering like no other people.  We’ve gone through expulsions and pogroms and massacres and the murder of millions.  But I can say that even at the dearth of — even at the nadir of the valley of death, we never lost hope and we never lost our dream of reestablishing a sovereign state in our ancient homeland, the land of Israel.

And now it falls on my shoulders as the Prime Minister of Israel, at a time of extraordinary instability and uncertainty in the Middle East, to work with you to fashion a peace that will ensure Israel’s security and will not jeopardize its survival.  I take this responsibility with pride but with great humility, because, as I told you in our conversation, we don’t have a lot of margin for error.  And because, Mr. President, history will not give the Jewish people another chance.  

So in the coming days and weeks and months, I intend to work with you to seek a peace that will address our security concerns, seek a genuine recognition that we wish from our Palestinian neighbors to give a better future for Israel and for the entire region.

And I thank you for the opportunity to exchange our views and to work together for this common end.  Thank you, Mr. President.


PRESIDENT OBAMA:
 Thank you.

Pres. Obama on Israeli Independence Day and Jewish History Month


— President Barack Obama

Yom Ha’atzmaut

Sixty-three years ago, when Israel declared its independence, the dream of a state for the Jewish people in their historic homeland was finally realized.  On that same day, the United States became the first country in the world to recognize the State of Israel.  As Israelis celebrate their hard-won independence, it gives me great pleasure to extend the best wishes of the American people to the people of Israel and to honor their remarkable achievements over the past six decades.  Our two nations share a unique and unbreakable bond of friendship that is anchored in common interests and shared values, and the United States’ unwavering commitment to Israel’s security.  I have every confidence that the strong relationship between our countries will grow deeper with each passing year.

This is a period of profound change in the Middle East and North Africa, as people across the region  courageously pursue the path of dignity and self-governance.  Just as I know that Israel will always be one of our closest allies, I believe that the region can be more peaceful and prosperous when its people are able to fulfill their legitimate aspirations.   We will continue our efforts with Israel and others in the region to achieve a comprehensive peace, including a two-state solution, and to working together toward a future of peace, security and dignity for the people of Israel and all the people of the region.  

I offer my best wishes to President Peres, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and the people of Israel as they celebrate their 63rd Independence Day.

Information about the Second Annual White House Jewish American Heritage Month Reception follows the jump.
Reception at the White House

On Tuesday, May 17, President Barack Obama will host a White House reception in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month.

The reception will highlight and celebrate the history and unique identity of Jewish Americans and their profound and ennobling contributions to the American story. Invitees include grassroots Jewish community leaders from across the country, rabbis, Members of Congress, and a broad range of leaders engaged in business, the arts, education, and public and community service.

Since taking office, President Obama has continued the tradition started under the previous Administration of proclaiming May Jewish American Heritage Month. Last year, the President and First Lady hosted the first ever White House reception in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month.

In this year’s proclamation, President Obama said, “Seeking a brighter future, a small band of Jewish refugees came to this land more than three centuries ago, to a place called New Amsterdam…From those first days in New Amsterdam, Jewish Americans have dedicated their innovation, creativity, and hearts to the greater good, contributing scientific accomplishments, pioneering works of literature and musical genius, and performing distinguished service in our Nation’s military.”

Official Proclamation

Since before our Nation’s founding, America’s shores have been a safe harbor for people seeking shelter, hope, and new lives free from persecution. Here, people of all faiths have broken bread, come together, and built a better future for their families. The Jewish story is intertwined with the American story — one of overcoming great hardship, and one of commitment
to building a more just world. This month, we embrace and celebrate the vast contributions Jewish Americans have made to our country.

Seeking a brighter future, a small band of Jewish refugees came to this land more than three centuries ago, to a place called New Amsterdam. Hundreds of years later, as Holocaust
survivors and families caught behind the Iron Curtain made their way to America, their perseverance in the face of unimaginable tragedy inspired the world and proved that the Jewish people will not be defeated. Many endured bigotry even here, reminding us that we must continue to fight prejudice and violence at home and around the globe. In this spirit, President Truman recognized the small, fledgling nation of Israel within minutes of its creation. To this day, we continue to foster an unbreakable partnership with Israel, and we remain committed to pursuing peace in the region and ensuring Israel’s security.

From those first days in New Amsterdam, Jewish Americans have dedicated their innovation, creativity, and hearts to the greater good — contributing scientific accomplishments, pioneering works of literature and musical genius, and performing distinguished service in our Nation’s military. Jewish Americans have defended our country since the days of the American Revolution as devoted service members and chaplains, and they continue to serve with distinction in our Armed Forces.

Nearly 70 years ago, during World War II, the U.S.A.T. Dorchester suffered an explosion at sea while carrying almost a thousand soldiers and civilian workers. On board were four Army chaplains — two Protestant, one Catholic, and one Jewish. While the ship sank, the four chaplains gave their own life jackets to four men without any, calmed the wounded, and preached strength to the survivors, linking arms and praying together as the ship submerged. In a time of great need, these chaplains showed that their shared commitment to the lives of others was stronger than any division of faith or background.

This same spirit is found in the countless Jewish Americans who, through their every day actions, work to provide a better life for future generations by joining hands with all who seek equality and progress. This month, we remember that the history and unique identity of Jewish Americans is part of the grand narrative of our country, forged in the friendships and shared wisdom between people of different faiths.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim May 2011 as Jewish American Heritage Month I call upon all Americans to visit www.JewishHeritageMonth.gov to learn more about the heritage and contributions of Jewish Americans and to observe this month with appropriate programs, activities, and ceremonies.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-ninth day of April, in the year two thousand eleven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fifth.

Kol b’Seder: Obama’s Passover Wishes


The President called Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu today to convey his best wishes before the start of Passover.  Noting that he would host a seder at the White House, the President recalled that the story of Passover is one of liberation and freedom, and expressed his hope that the Israeli people would be able to celebrate in peace.  The two leaders also discussed U.S.-Israeli cooperation on counter-terrorism, how best to move forward in efforts to advance Middle East peace, and the recent violence near the Gaza strip.

Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed his deep appreciation for U.S. funding for the Iron Dome rocket and mortar defense system, which he noted has successfully intercepted several rockets aimed at Israeli communities.  The President congratulated the Prime Minister on this impressive Israeli technological achievement and expressed his pride that Israeli-American cooperation made it possible.  With the signing of the fiscal year 2011 budget appropriation, the President approved $205 million in U.S. funding for Iron Dome, which is above the annual package of Foreign Military Financing for Israel.

The President and the Prime Minister agreed to stay in close touch on the range of issues facing the United States and Israel.

Passover Greetings from the President to the Jewish Community and Comments from David Harris follow the jump.

President Barach Obama

My family and I send our warmest wishes to all those celebrating the sacred festival of Passover.

On Monday evening, Jewish families and their friends in America, Israel, and around the world will gather around the Seder table and retell the story of the Exodus, one of the most powerful stories of suffering and redemption in history. The story of Passover – which recalls the passage of the children of Israel from bondage and repression to freedom and liberty – inspires hope that those oppressed and enslaved can become free. The Seder, with its rich traditions and rituals, instructs each generation to remember its past, while appreciating the beauty of freedom and the responsibility it entails.

This year, that ancient instruction is reflected in the daily headlines as we see modern stories of social transformation and liberation unfolding in the Middle East and North Africa. Against the backdrop of change, we continue to pray for peace between Israel and her neighbors, while reaffirming our enduring commitment to Israel’s security.

As Jewish families gather for this joyous celebration of freedom, let us all be thankful for the gifts that have been bestowed upon us, and let us work to alleviate the suffering, poverty, injustice, and hunger of those who are not yet free. Chag Sameach.

David Harris (NJDC):

Tonight, as we gather at Passover seders throughout the world and remember our exodus from Egypt, recite the four questions and nosh on Passover delicacies, the First Family will be doing the same.

The Obama family will gather with some of their closest Jewish friends and several of the President’s most trusted Jewish advisors to celebrate the third annual White House Passover seder, which will be led by none other than President Barack Obama himself. Obama’s seders have garnered a reputation for following the traditions in the Haggadah, with every ritual of the seder being carried out (Sasha and Malia typically recite the four questions). Obama and the White House kitchen staff also make sure that the food served on the table would live up to your grandmother’s standards — even the gefilte fish. Above is a photo from last year’s seder.

Obama has been hosting Passover seders since his Presidential campaign and has made a point to keep the tradition going as President. All American Jews should take pride in knowing that our President deeply respects Jewish tradition — so much so that he and First Lady Michele Obama enthusiastically celebrate with us multiple times during the year, including during May — which has been designated as Jewish Heritage Month. And all of this is in addition to the intimate meetings that regularly occur between Obama and Jewish communal leaders — including leadership from an array of American Jewish organizations, including NJDC.

Tax Calculators: Tax cut savings? How much is going to Afghanistan?

Check out the White House tax cut calculator to learn how the December tax deal will benefit you, both in your taxes for 2011 and in your paychecks right now.

Now, check out Derrick Crowe, Robert Greenwald and the Brave New Foundation’s tax calculator at http://rethinkafghanistan.com/… and find out how much of your taxes are being spent to prosecute wars in the Middle East.

New Orleans Menorah Inspires White House Hanukkah Celebration

— Kori Schulman

The menorah used at the White House Hanukkah ceremony was generously loaned from the Congregation Beth Israel in New Orleans — one of very few items from the congregation that survived the devastation of Katrina. “Five years ago, when Hurricane Katrina hit, the synagogue was covered in eight feet of water. Later, as the cleanup crew dug through the rubble, they discovered this menorah, caked in dirt and mold,” said President Obama in his remarks, “And today it stands as a reminder of the tragedy and a source of inspiration for the future.”

Today, Congregation Beth Israel has just broken ground on a new synagogue and they look forward to lighting this menorah as part of the dedication ceremonies next year at Hanukkah.

L’Shana Tovah from the President


Text after the jump
As Jews in America and around the world celebrate the first of the High Holy Days I want to extend my warmest wishes for the New Year.  L’shana Tova Tikatevu – may you be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life.

Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the spiritual calendar and the birth of the world.  It serves as a reminder of the special relationship between God and his children, now and always.  And it calls us to look within ourselves – to repent for our sins; recommit ourselves to prayer; and remember the blessings that come from helping those in need.

Today, those lessons ring as true as they did thousands of years ago.  And as we begin this New Year, it is more important than ever to believe in the power of humility and compassion to deepen our faith and repair our world.

At a time when too many of our friends and neighbors are struggling to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads, it is up to us to do what we can to help those less fortunate.

At a time when prejudice and oppression still exist in the shadows of our society, it is up to us to stand as a beacon of freedom and tolerance and embrace the diversity that has always made us stronger as a people.

And at a time when Israelis and Palestinians have returned to direct dialogue, it is up to us to encourage and support those who are willing to move beyond their differences and work towards security and peace in the Holy Land. Progress will not come easy, it will not come quick.  But today we had an opportunity to move forward, toward the goal we share-two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.

The scripture teaches us that there is “a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.”  In this season of repentance and renewal, let us commit ourselves to a more hopeful future.

Michelle and I wish all who celebrate Rosh Hashanah a sweet year full of health and prosperity.