Photo of Rabbi Ettedgui

First Day of Rosh Hashanah 5773 (September 17th, 2012)

Welcome to Sharei Chesed. It is a pleasure to have you join us on these important days in the Jewish calendar.

Sharei Chesed, just like other synagogues throughout the Twin Cities and the Jewish world, gets filled to capacity on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. No matter what level of Jewish observance one practices throughout the year, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur awaken in each of us a Jewish spark that inspires us to return to our sacred places and, together with the community, pray for a better year. That is the Jewish Neshama, the Jewish soul that tyrants throughout history have tried to extinguish.

From the time of the Greeks, the Romans, the various enemies found in every country where Jews have lived, to the cruelest of all - the Nazis - followed by the Communist regime - all have tried and, and to a certain extent, succeeded in destroying hundreds of communities. But they did not succeed in crushing the Jewish soul, the Jewish spirit. The Nazis used their military might and scientific knowledge in annihilating physically, in a very short period of time, millions of our people. The Communist regime denied our people the right to learn and practice Judaism.

There are many among us who have been raised in an environment where they knew they were Jews, but were not permitted to live a Jewish life. I am always impressed when I meet with a family who will tell you that, though they never had a Jewish education or Jewish upbringing, they always knew they were Jews and waited for the day when they could express their Judaism openly, without fear. Unfortunately, it was not only the generation that had lived under Communism that was affected. In many cases, their children and grandchildren were also lost to our community.

It takes much courage and determination for parents to instill in their children the value of Jewish learning, when they themselves did not have that choice. But even with the lack of a formal Jewish education, something happens on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The Jewish spark is there and we all gather together, no matter what our level of knowledge or Jewish practices. Something draws us to be here, in our synagogues, with our people.

The story is told of a Jewish tourist in the city of Rome, who found himself in front of the Arch of Titus. He saw the carvings on the stones of the various items that were carried by Titus's soldiers into Rome as a sign of victory. These were the golden vessels that the Romans took from the Temple in Jerusalem, like the Ark and the Menorah. This tourist stood by the Arch of Titus and remarked, "Where are those Romans who exiled our people? Where are the Babylonians and the Greeks and the Egyptians that have all persecuted us? They are all gone but I am here - the descendant of those who were oppressed."

They are gone - but we are still here.

A week ago today, on the anniversary of 9/11, a day when America was honoring the memories of the thousands who were killed 11 years ago, Islamic terrorists, mobs of blood-thirsty militants, attacked and killed America’s Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, his fellow diplomat Sean Smith, and two Navy Seals, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty. These individuals were there to help the Libyans bring democracy to their land. According to all those who knew Ambassador Stevens, he was a peaceful and wonderful human being, who risked his life in the middle of the Arab Spring to save the people of Benghazi during the rebellion against the dictator Muammar Kadhafi. How tragic - that he was killed in the city that he had saved - on the day when many of us were remembering 9/11 - those terrible moments that have been embedded in our brains and our collective memories. How passenger planes filled with innocent, peaceful travelers - men, women and children - would become flying explosives in the hands of hateful and despicable individuals, who would bring havoc and tragedy to thousands of our people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, and would change forever the way Americans travel.

On 9/11/2012 we saw thousands of mostly hateful young men attacking American embassies in Cairo and other cities of the Middle East, tearing and burning American and Israeli flags. It is interesting to note that that same week, there were over 100 American businessmen visiting Egypt, their trip organized by the State department to help the Egyptian economy. It is also interesting to note that there were two types of messages being sent by Egyptian President Morsi. One "twitter" was in Arabic. It supported the people and the demonstrations and blaming America. The other "twitter" from the same president was in English, condemning the demonstrations and the attack on the American embassy. It took a phone call from President Obama to Morsi, to have him stop the Twitter message in Arabic.

Israel has for years complained to the world media, the US and the UN, that the Palestinian authority was sending different messages. To the world they were always these peaceful people, suffering from the occupation. But the Arabic messages to the Arab world were filled with incitement and anger against Israel. To this day, the textbooks used in the Palestinian schools are filled with poisonous attacks on the Jews. If ever a peace treaty is to be signed, how do you undo the hate that has been planted in the hearts of young Palestinians against Israel and the Jews? If there was anything learned from the events of this past week, is that once you teach young people to hate, it becomes very difficult to turn them around.

For many years now, the Muslim Brotherhood has stood for militancy against Israel and America. Generations of young people have been raised on the premise that all their misfortune, the lack of education and economic opportunities are all due to Israel and America. Any incident that is perceived as insulting to their religion or their state will trigger mass demonstrations and mob attacks.

5772 has been relatively calm for Israel. While the government has been preoccupied with Iran and their race to acquire nuclear power, the typical Israeli family has been working to improve their lot and build a future for their children.

I spent a couple of weeks in Israel this year. Unlike past visits, I did not see or hear people engaged in heated discussions in politics. People were more interested in the latest technology and gadgets that would make their lives better. There is a strong awareness of the importance of preserving water. I noticed how water is re-cycled in different ways. For example, in my daughter's home the water from the air conditioning is directed towards flushing toilets or watering plants. When you take a shower, it usually takes a few minutes before the water is warm or hot. They capture that water in a bucket and use it for the plants.

We complain when we have to pay almost $4.00 a gallon for gas. Well, right now the cost of a gallon of gas in Israel is $8.50! Very few people pull up to the pump and say, "Fill 'er up." It’s more like put 200 shekels , the equivalent of 50 dollars. I was the passenger in a car when the driver stopped for gas and he gave a hundred shekel bill to the attendant. I noticed that the gauge hardly moved. For the equivalent of $25 dollars he got only 3 gallons!

What’s remarkable about Israel is that they are aware of the shortage of water and energy. And they are doing something about it. They are using technology to reduce the use of water in all kinds of situations.

I had the pleasure of riding in a 100% electric car called "Better Place". My friend Dr. David Passig was selected as one of the first 100 individuals to get this car. It looks like a regular car, but the ride is unbelievably quiet. He plugs the car in at his home at night. And there are stations in Israel where, if his battery is way down, it takes 5 minutes to trade in his battery for one that’s fully charged. He estimates that this car is saving him about $400 per month in fuel costs. The company is ready to deliver hundreds of cars. The priority at this time is to sell it to companies that have fleets of cars, so that they can charge them overnight. In the meantime charging stations are being built throughout the country.

I started this talk today by describing the Jewish soul. That Jewish soul does not come by itself. Parents have a tremendous responsibility in nurturing and developing that soul. We don’t always succeed but we are commanded to at least try. "Veshinnatam Levaneicha vedibarta bam" - teach them to you children and discuss the words of Torah with them.

During the two days of Rosh Hashanah, the Torah reading talks about families and children. The first story is about Abraham, Sarah, and their son Isaac. Today we read that G-d remembered Sarah because she had been childless and that, finally, she conceived and had a boy. Her yearning for the experience of giving life and raising a child in this world is miraculously fulfilled. Much of our tradition understands this as a story about miracles, about the possibility that G-d takes note of us, remembers our pain, and enables us to experience true joy at the most unexpected moments in our lives. But it is also a story about a woman who has spent her life yearning for a dream unfulfilled. Her laughter after giving birth to Isaac was not just an expression of joy. As is often true with laughter, it also expressed her deep-set sadness. Her underlying pain was still very much alive. How is she going to raise this child? A challenge that comes when it would be very difficult for her to bring him to his first day at school. The only other child in this household is Ishamael, Isaac’s half brother from Abraham wife Hagar. Is he going to be like his half brother Ishmael, who the Torah describes as "Pere Adam", a wild person?

I believe that our sages chose this story of raising a child as a reading for Rosh Hashanah, because Rosh Hahsanah is the day of creation. And having and raising a child is the most important way that we show that we are partners with G-d in the creation process. To raise a Jewish child implies added responsibilities. In addition to education, you have to provide "veshinnantam levaneicha", teach him/her Torah. Teach him/her the Jewish way of life.

Raising a child in America is not easy. You are going against the flow, against the majority. There are so many distractions. I would like to share with you a story that appeared in the New York Times a couple of days ago, called, "Going to School on Rosh Hahsanah" and written by columnist Judy Bolton-Fasman. She tells us about her son who had attended a Jewish day school, but now he is in a very demanding prep high school. Last year, he told his mom that he could not skip school on Rosh Hahsanah, as he will miss much of his work. After much negotiation, she allowed him to attend school rather than the synagogue on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. This year the conversation was about Yom Kippur. He feels he cannot afford to miss school, and his mom should understand. After all she is the one who placed him in ths school. His mother had to put her foot down and explain that, as long as he was still living at home, he was not going to attend school on Yom Kippur, no matter what.

We must give much credit and admiration to parents, and students, who in spite of all the distractions and demands on their time, set aside time for Jeiwsh education, for Jewish camps, and synagogue participation. We are born with a Jewish neshamah, a Jewish soul. That soul needs nurturing, education and Jewish living experiences, so that it will always be expressed when the call comes to show your Judaism, to participate in your Jewish community and Jewish world.

We wish you and your family "Shanah Tovah Umetukah".