We tend to hear quite a lot about two of the three traditional characteristics of the first days of the new Jewish year — between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur — namely tshuvah (atonement) and tefilah (prayer). This year, maybe we should spend a moment focusing on the more neglected third: zehirut (vigilance).
The rabbis interpret the concept of spiritual watchfulness or vigilance as a special concern for abiding by Jewish law, but they also have expanded this notion of legal vigilance to include laws between man and God and between man and man.
In these days of awe, when it comes to relations between humanity, there is no more pressing concern about which to be vigilant and watchful than Iran and the threat it poses to America’s and Israel’s security and to global peace.
We must be watchful and vocal because Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is up to no good. His government spent the early summer murdering, beating, arresting and torturing its peaceful political opposition. As John Hannah notes in the Weekly Standard, “millions of Iranians have heroically sought to secure through peaceful means their most basic democratic rights. Untold numbers have been subjected to violence, illegal detention, torture, and even murder at the hands of a tyrannical regime that also happens to be the world’s leading state-sponsor of terrorism. They deserve far better from America and the democratic community of nations than deafening silence.”
An English translation of Ahmadinejad’s latest book has just been published, so that now the West can be sickened by his lunatic assertions that the churban (destruction) of European Jewry between 1939 and 1945 is a “myth.” And we should be watchful of a trial in Philadelphia of one Amir Amirnazmi who was arrested in July for the felony of violating U.S. sanctions on Iran. According to journalist Claudia Rossett, in 2006, Ahmadinejad brazenly abused “diplomatic courtesies offered to him by the U.S. in allowing him to attend the U.N. General Assembly” (and where he again spoke this week) in order to meet with the Iranian-American businessman enlisting him to violate current sanctions law. What was the Iranian president up to this year?
We must be vigilant that the Obama administration is maintaining its resolve to prevent Iran from gaining the capability to arm and deliver a nuclear weapon. Sadly, it seems that resolve is weakening. Even though Iran has refused to discuss its nuclear program, the Obama administration proudly announced that talks between the two countries would begin Oct. 1. Earlier this month Dennis Ross spoke at a Washington rally lobbying for sanctions against Iran and admitted that engagement might not work. But he was mute as to what the government was doing to deter progress on an Iranian bomb, while they are busy “engaging.” The General Assembly meetings this week were not geared toward creating a consensus to pressure Iran and the subsequent G-20 gathering isn’t going to be the forum to garner international support for facing down Iran’s ambitions either. Even ordinary Iranians are disappointed in the Obama approach of more carrots, no sticks. Last Friday in Tehran, protestors demanding government reform chanted, “Obama, Obama, your talks should be with us [not the regime].”
Finally, locally, we must be vigilant that our elected officials are urgently and adequately representing our concerns. Several Pittsburghers attended the Sept. 10 lobbying day, taking the time to travel to the Capitol and express to Sens. Arlen Specter and Robert P. Casey Jr., as well as Rep. Mike Doyle, their deep concern that Iran poses a serious threat and that new sanctions legislation should be passed quickly. Casey and Doyle are on record as co-sponsors of the sanctions legislation. Specter is not. If elected officials are not going to represent the views of their constituents, then voters ought to look elsewhere. In the meantime, the cause must be taken up by more than just a handful of people.
Phone calls, e-mails and letters to local government officials, Congress and the White House will make it clear that at the very least (and it is least) sanctions legislation should be passed and signed by President Obama as early in 5770 as possible.
(Abby Wisse Schachter, a Pittsburgh-based political commentator, can be reached online at email@example.com.)