Photo of Rabbi Ettedgui

First Day of Rosh Hashanah 5772 (September 29th, 2011)

Shanah Tovah to everyone. It’s a pleasure to welcome you to our fourth High Holy Days services here in our new home.

Seeing our sanctuary filled from wall to wall brings to mind another image, one we read about this past Shabbat in the Torah portion called Nitzavim.

It was Moses’ farewell speech to his people, before he died and just before the children of Israel were to enter the Promised Land. Moses looked at the large crowd that had to come to hear him and he was impressed. He was touched that everyone was there. He said to them: אתם נצבים כולכם לפני ד' אלהיכם "You stand this day all of you before the Lord your G-d;" ראשיכם שבטיכם "your captains, the heads of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, with all the men of Israel, your little ones, your wives, and your stranger who is in your camp, from the hewer of your wood to the drawer of your water;" אתם נצבים כולכם לפני ד' אלהיכם "You are all standing, altogether before the Lord your G-d."

In Hebrew the word for standing is עומדים. But Moses does not say atem Omdim Hayom, he says Atem Nitzavim. What is the difference between Nitzav and Omed ?

Omed means standing, but standing in a passive form. Like you might get tired of sitting during services, so you stand up – that’s omed. Nitzav, however is standing because of a call, standing for a cause. Nitzav is showing up for a purpose. In Moses’ case everyone answered the call when they heard that there was going to be a special event. That’s what made Moses so proud of his people. He looked around and he said look at all of you here today. You have all answered the call. Atem Nitzavim Hayon. You all came: the heads, the leaders, the men, women and children, the strangers, even the poorest among you the wood chopper and the water drawer.

And why did they all show up? What was the call all about ?

It was a special gathering. They would be saying good bye to their beloved leader, and they would enter into a covenant with G-d. A Covenant that they promised to keep – not only for those who were present on that day, but even unto future generations – they made a covenant, a promise that they would pass it on from generation to generation.

That’s why Moses said Atem Nitzavim Hayom, You have answered the call.

We are here today as a living testimony, that the Jewish people have maintained their part of the Covenant. We are here because of the Covenant, the pledge, the commitment that our ancestors accepted upon themselves, that they would teach it to their children and children’s children, no matter what. You are here, we hope not just Omdim, standing in a passive way, but Nitzavim, people who have heard and responded to the call, the call of Rosh Hashanah, the call of the Shofar. How remarkable and extraordinary this is. After 3000 years, we continue to adhere and cling to this Covenant. We may drift away during the year, but comes Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we hear the call, we return to our people, to our commitment.

We all know that this Covenant has not been easy on our people. Throughout our history, adherence to the covenant has on many occasions brought upon us, persecution, exile and oppression, and even annihilation in the hands of our enemies. Many of us here today, come from families who lived through that worst period in our history, the killing fields of the Holocaust. But as a community, the Jewish people never gave up. Wherever we went, we started over and remained loyal to our heritage, to the teachings of our people.

A few weeks ago, America observed the Tenth Anniversary of 9/11. We remembered that tragic day, when America was violated by mad men, whose sole aim was to cause death and suffering to thousands of innocent men, women and children. And they did it mind you in the name of their religion. Ten years later, while we were able to get rid of the perpetrator Osama bin Laden, we are still at war.

America has been violated. And we no longer are the naïve and innocent country that was so trusting, never imagining that such heartless killers, would take advantage of our open skies and open borders.

They will take their time and enroll in our schools, and learn how to fly a plane. Not for the purpose of transporting people, but to turn a plane into a weapon of mass destruction. They used our own flight schools to inflict death and sorrow upon thousands of people. Ten years later, we still pay for that horrific September 11 day. The protracted wars and the loss of thousands of our young men and women, the long wait at airports, the economic waste and losses that have changed our country and the world in which we live.

The consequences are with us in many aspects of our lives. Even here in Minnetonka, MN, far removed from the front line, our synagogues have to hire police officers to make sure that our shuls are safe and secure.

In memory of all those who were murdered on that day, and in honor of the brave men and women, the first responders, who ran without hesitation to rescue and save lives, we, at Sharei Chesed Congregation, dedicate this segment of our Rosh Hashanah prayers, as a token of appreciation and gratitude for their sacrifice, for their exemplary and heroic behavior.

Their sacrifices would not be in vain, if we had learned our lesson, and continue to be mindful and vigilante of the enemy who is still around. It is true that most Muslims are decent, law abiding, and like all of us, all they want is peace and a better future for their children. But let us not forget, that today in many parts of the world, there are radical Islamists, with the same philosophy and determination like the perpetrators of 9/11. They are one and the same, as those who have committed the murders in London, Fort Hood, Madrid, and other places in the world and as those who have attempted and continue to attempt to commit act of terrorism here in America and elsewhere. They are one and the same, as the suicide bombers, those who launch rockets and missile into Israel, whether it's from Hamas in the South or Hizbullah in the North. They are one and the same, as those who ambushed a bus on the way to Eilat, and killed many Israelis.

Last week, Mahmoud Abbas spoke at the United Nations asking for UN recognition of an Independent Palestinian State. What bothered me the most was the fact that when President Obama spoke there was no applause during his speech, not even once. But when Abbas spoke, this world body gave him an unprecedented applause and ovation for a full minute. Here is the head of the Palestinian Authority, who has refused again and again to enter into negotiations with Israel. Before coming to the UN Abbas and Hamas had agreed to a unity government. And the world gives approval not only to the Palestinians on the West Bank, but also to those in Gaza who have vowed to never recognize Israel. Abbas asks for a two state solution but never utters the word that the other State will be for the Jews, a Jewish State. He pleads for mercy by saying that the Palestinians have been living under occupation not since 1967 but for the past 63 years. What does he imply? While the world thinks that the request is for a State within the pre-67 borders, in the Arab language and in the Arab psyche there has been occupation since 1948.

There is no reconciliation with the facts. In their eyes Israel does not have a right to exist.

And for that he gets a long and loud applause.

Abbas does not mention the fact that from 1948 to 1967, the West Bank was occupied by Jordan, and Gaza was annexed by Egypt. Jordan and Egypt never entertained the idea of creating a Palestinian State, as there never was a Palestinian State. Thanks to Israel for the victory in the 1967 War which liberated these territories and at the Oslo agreement, Israel handed their administration to the Palestinians.

And these same nations who are well aware of this history applaud Abbas.

What would this new state be like? Can they truly live in peace with Israel without negotiations? Will the West Bank turn into a bastion of terrorist centers for fundamentalists from throughout the Middle East staging attacks on Israel?

In this war of Islamists against the West, Israel is the laboratory.

Rabbi Lewis of Atlanta points out that every attack, every explosion, every success in the propaganda against Israel and her people, is a continuing battle against not just Israel but the entire West. Israel , as imperfect as she is, represents the front line against all these forces of Islamists. Their names don’t matter. They are Jihadists, Hamas. Hizbullah, Palestine Liberation Army, Al Kassam, the Islamic Brotherhood, and on and on. Their sole aim is to rid the Middle East of this tiny Jewish country.

Many in the Western World, especially on college campuses have lost their way displaying not admiration, not sympathy, not understanding, for Israel’s plight, but downright hostility and contempt. How else can you explain the efforts that take place in many European countries to boycott Israel’s participation in academic, cultural and other international conferences? We have seen over and over again, how free speech on campus is only for those championing Palestinian rights. Those representing Israel’s position are jeered and interrupted and oftentimes, have their appearances cancelled. Even humanitarian organizations like the International Red Cross, Amnesty International, and many NGO’s have time and again, closed their eyes to the real truth and boycott or condemn Israel at every opportunity.

Today, we see that moral confusion in the halls of the United Nations. That’s why the world applauds Abbas, without requiring of him any explanations or statements that would once and for all commit his people to accepting a Jewish State as their neighbor. This is the same body that blasts Israel relentlessly, but they ignore Iran, North Korea, China and other oppressive states.

How do we convince the world and many of our own, that this is not just anti-Zionism but an on-going attack by radical Islamists on everything that is morally precious to us?

The year 5771 has seen an Arab Spring. Citizens in many Arab lands have risen against their tyrants demanding freedom and liberty. We admired those unarmed civilians who were willing to face the army and the police, as they continued to demand freedom. What will happen when elections take place and new leaders emerge? Will peace come to that part of the world? Or will the Islamists have the upper hand?

We have already seen how the Arab Street was easily turned against the West and especially against Israel. When you look at the map of the region and see how tiny Israel is totally isolated, you wonder what the future may hold. Israel was able to fight Hizbullah and Hamas because they enjoyed peace with Egypt, Jordan and Turkey. With the upheavals in Syria, the change in the Turkish relationship to Israel from friends to enemies, when you look to all four corners, you ask מאין יבוא עזרי "from where will my help come?"

In the next few days and weeks, we will be bombarded again with condemnations of Israel as being intransigent, an occupier and a land grabber. I know that it is very hard for us, sitting here in Minnetonka to understand and have to defend Israel’s actions on the last days of 5771 when permits for the building of 1100 units were issued for the residents of Gilo. I am sure our reaction is “there we go again” an Israeli blunder in PR. Just when the Quartet is pushing for the two sides to come to the bargaining table Israel gives ammunition to Abbas and an excuse not to come to the table! I really don’t have an answer. But I can understand Israel’s position. There was a ten month construction freeze pledged by Israel when President Obama first took office. Abbas waited until the last two weeks of the ten month freeze before accepting to come to the table, but on condition that Israel extends the freeze. Nothing happened for the past two years as Abbas chose the way of going to the United Nations. Israel has said again and again that they are willing to negotiate with no pre-conditions. Something Abbas refuses to do. I believe that Israel’s decision is to show Abbas that he cannot expect to be rewarded for going to the UN.

Secondly, there are neighborhoods in Jerusalem that Israel considers an integral part of Israel and they are non-negotiable. Gilo is such a neighborhood. Those of you who have been to Israel, have seen Gilo, when you enter Jerusalem from the direction of Tel Aviv, it’s a hill overlooking Jerusalem that is one of the largest Jewish neighborhoods. Gilo is not in east Jerusalem. It is a Jerusalem neighborhood with a population of over 40,000. The ground was bought by Jews before WWII and settled in 1971 in southwest Jerusalem opposite Mount Gilo within the municipal borders. If 1100 building permits have been issued, you can imagine how long they have been in the process. Building permits in Israel take a long time because of the bureaucratic red tape. Several months ago, we all saw the tent cities protests throughout Israel, demanding affordable housing. I believe that the decision has much to do with internal politics and at the same time to let the world know that Gilo is not a settlement.

On this first day of Rosh Hashanah as we remember the fallen and the heroes of 9/11, let us remember that that struggle continues and that we must not let our guards down. We must speak up whenever we can, and show our support to our people. Things are a thousand times better that they were 70 years ago. Because Israel, will defend herself. Our job is to express our voices whenever we can.

I ask you to please turn to the supplement and turn to the last page as we read responsively the poem about our heroes, the first responders. Morris and his brother Lewis Miller will hold a memorial flag, with our pledge that we will always remember what happened on 9/11.