As my family and I prepare for Rosh Hashanah, we look back with grateful hearts for the brachot, blessings, in our lives. We take time to reflect on the joys and the challenges, the ups and downs that we experienced during the previous year. To me, a meaningful observance of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur requires taking stock of life’s hard-earned victories and heartfelt woes, its wondrous gifts and unceremonious misfortunes, its underappreciated blessings and unfulfilled potential.
As Jews, we have the opportunity — indeed, the obligation — to renew ourselves in mind and soul at this time of year. Sometimes the hardships we have faced over the past year or the significant unrest in today’s world can make the promise of hope implicit in Rosh Hashanah seem elusive. Yet just as it has throughout Jewish history, the cry of the shofar summons us to spiritual clarity, renewing our faith in a brighter tomorrow and calling on us to craft it together.
Ever since I was a child, Unesaneh Tokef, the piyut that has been a part of the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services since the 13th century, frequently runs through my mind during the month of Elul. The words of the piyut are awe-inspiring, yet frightening; intimidating, yet beautiful. The story behind the piyut, as described in the machzor that I use, is jarring and powerful. It takes my breath away, fills me with emotion and motivates me each year when I read it.
As I reflect on my own year gone by and prepare for 5777, three verses from the Unesaneh Tokef continuously echo through my mind, more so than in any other year:
“Who will rest and who will wander? Who will be safe and who will be torn? Who will be calm and who will be tormented?”
Since the last blowing of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, so many people around the world have not been at rest because of the hatred that terrorist organizations seek to spread. Too many have been forced to wander the earth as their homelands have been torn apart. Too many lives have been tormented by violence abroad and on our very own shores.
Though it is painful for us to recall these events, we must not forget the horrors that we have seen, lest we become immune to atrocities. We have seen jihadis storm a Parisian music hall taking the lives of concertgoers. We have seen a Palestinian attacker murder a 13-year-old Israeli girl, Hallel Yaffe Ariel, while she slept inside her home. We have seen the murder of an 84-year-old priest, Father Jacques Hamel, while he was leading church services in Normandy. We have seen coordinated bombings across resort cities in Thailand.
We have seen a shooting spree in a crowded mall in Munich. We have seen the slaughter of people in an Orlando nightclub. We have seen the bombing of an airport in Istanbul. We have seen Palestinian terrorists gun down a rabbi and father of 10, Michael “Miki” Mark, while he was driving with family members along a highway. Terrorists have stabbed and fired at innocent civilians, shot missiles at and bombed cities and towns, and mowed down people in vehicular attacks in many places around the world, resulting in so many innocent lives lost and forever impacting the lives of their loved ones.
But in spite of all this unrest and torment, I have also seen so much that gives me hope over the past year. Ever since Donald Trump asked me to serve as co-chairman of his Israel Advisory Committee, I have been a witness to the deep passion and unity among Jews of all kinds, who together with so many non-Jews care deeply about the safety and security of Israel. I have seen and heard of people who are able to ignore the hatred and violence that surround them and focus on our shared humanity.
Additionally, I have met many remarkable Americans who possess a deep passion for our country. The stories I have heard over the course of Trump’s campaign have reinforced my gratitude for the abundant blessings of American liberty. We should never forget how fortunate we are to live in the United States — a country of great freedom, tolerance and respect for all its people. How blessed we are to be able to live and raise our children in a country where we are free to live as Jews, practice our religion to its fullest and contribute to the betterment of the broader society at large, hand in hand with all of the great citizens of this blessed country.
Yet in our own country, too, we can dream bigger. We can, during this time of introspection, hope, pray and work toward a brighter tomorrow. We can build a future where all Americans are offered the tools and opportunities to succeed in life. We can resolve in ourselves to elect a president who refuses to accept the status quo, a president who dreams big and has the talent and skills to make those dreams a reality. A president who agrees that the security of our nation and the security of Israel are matters of the utmost importance.
As the High Holidays draw near, stirring hearts and minds toward meaningful, positive change, so, too, does a presidential election offering Jews and non-Jews alike the chance to shape the future of our nation in a manner consistent with our highest values and aspirations. Democracy, not unlike Judaism, places the responsibility for improving the world squarely on the individual. We do so through the concrete actions we take, lending substance to those ideals.
May Hashem bless all of us with a year of good health, happiness, peace and tranquility. May this be the year where mankind merits the fulfillment of the prophesy, “Nation shall not lift sword against another nation, nor shall they learn war anymore.”
Jason Greenblatt is executive vice president and chief legal officer of The Trump Organization, co-chairman of Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump’s Israel Advisory Committee and co-founder of the popular parenting and family website inspireconversation.com.