Washington, Sept. 14 — Jews worldwide are preparing to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, amid a new burst of violence in the Middle East and heightened threats by Iran, which is seeking to develop a nuclear weapon.
Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown on Sunday (Sept. 16). During the two-day holiday that kicks off the High Holy Days, Jews listen to blasts from the shofar and reflect on their actions during the past year untilYom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Yom Kippur begins at sundown on Sept. 25.
Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, is marked by a 25-hour period of fasting and prayer. In Israel, most activities are suspended, including TV and radio broadcasts and public transportation. Roads are closed, as are entertainment venues.
Jews in Israel and around the world will beef up security during the High Holy Days because enemies have in the past used the period to carry out attacks. The most notable example is the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when Arab armies attacked Israel as Jews were in synagogues praying and fasting.
This year – 5773 on the Jewish calendar – begins as demonstrations once again rock Arab countries, from Egypt and Libya to Iraq and Yemen. Rioters this week killed four people at the Libyan Consulate in Benghazi - U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stephens and three other diplomats.
Protesters said they were incited by an obscure film that depicted the Prophet Mohammed in insulting ways.
Iran, meanwhile, is increasing the pace in its quest to develop a nuclear weapon, despite U.N. Security Council sanctions and a new rebuke this week from the international community. In the near-unanimous condemnation, the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) expressed “serious concern” about Iran’s continued defiance of sanctions that demand the Islamic republic stop enriching uranium that could be used for a nuclear bomb and answer questions about its nuclear program.
The U.N. nuclear watchdog reported last week that Iran had boosted its capacity to enrich uranium at its Fordow underground site. On Tuesday, the Associated Press reported new intelligence over the past month indicating that Iran has moved further toward the ability to build a nuclear weapon. The intelligence shows that Iran has advanced its work on calculating the destructive power of an atomic warhead through a series of computer models that it ran sometime within the past three years.
Iran’s leaders, who deny the Holocaust, have called repeatedly for the destruction of Israel – the only United Nations member-country that has made such threats. The Islamic republic also trains, arms and funds terrorist groups including Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, and has promised to share its nuclear know-how with like-minded countries.
Such threats haven’t stopped leaders such as President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from offering traditional well-wishes for a sweet and happy New Year.
Netanyahu’s video greeting includes a timeline of major events during the past year. In the video, the prime minister said, “We will continue to successfully navigate our country… protect our security, workplaces, our economy in the face of a tumultuous and volatile region and unstable international economy."
President Obama extended New Year’s wishes for a “year full of health, happiness, and peace.” In his video message, the president said, “At a time when our public discourse can too often seem harsh; when society too often focuses on what divides us instead of what unites us; I hope that Americans of all faiths can take this opportunity to reach out to those who are less fortunate; to be tolerant of our neighbors; and to recognize ourselves in one another.”
Washington, Sept. 27 — The Jewish New Year, or Rosh Hashanah, begins at sundown Wednesday (Sept. 28). During the festival, Jews listen to the shofar or ram ’s horn and reflect on their actions of the past year until the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, on Oct. 8.
The Jewish calendar year of 5772 begins at a time of intense political turmoil particularly for Israelis who face concerns ranging from the Palestinians’ bid for unilateral statehood and their refusal to return to negotiations to threats by Turkey to send warships into Israeli waters off of Gaza and new reports of Iranian nuclear development. Iran has called for Israel to be “wiped off the map” and last week accused ‘Zionists’ for causing all of the world’s ills.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the Palestinian rejection of peace talks in his annual Rosh Hashanah message, saying, “The Palestinians finally have to do what they've refused to do throughout the decades: recognize the one and only Jewish State. And if they do, then I think we'll have a very, very good year.”
In the case of Iran, an International Atomic Energy Agency report earlier this month stated that it is “increasingly concerned” about “extensive and comprehensive” information that Iran is clandestinely continuing nuclear weapons pursuits.
Jews in Israel and around the world will beef up security during the High Holy days because terrorists have in the past used the period to carry out attacks. (See below for list of terror attacks on Jewish holidays.) The most notable example is the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when Arab armies attacked Israel as Jews were in synagogues praying and fasting.
President Obama used the occasion of Rosh Hashanah to reaffirm the strong United States-Israel relationship: “While we cannot know all that the New Year will bring, we do know this: the United States will continue to stand with Israel, because the bond between our two nations is unshakable,” the President said.
Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement, is the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. Jews fast for 25 hours and spend much of the day praying. In Israel, most activities are suspended, including TV and radio broadcasts and public transportation. Roads are closed, as are entertainment venues.
Sukkoth, also known as the harvest festival, comes five days after Yom Kippur and lasts for a week. Booths are erected across Israel to symbolize the tents that Jews lived in after their exodus from Egypt. Schools are typically closed and many Israelis take advantage of the break for leisure activities.
In Israel, Shemini Atzeret and Simhat Torah are combined into one holiday and are observed when Sukkoth ends. It is a joyous time during which Jews recite the final and beginning chapters of the Torah (bible) as they renew its yearly reading cycle.
In accompanying grey boxes below release:
Jewish High Holy Days
Rosh Hashanah: sundown Sept. 28 – sundown Sept. 29
Yom Kippur: sundown Oct. 7 – sundown Oct. 8
Sukkot: sundown Oct. 12 – sundown Oct. 19
Shemini Atzeret (also Simhat Torah in Israel): sundown Oct. 19 – sundown Oct. 20
Simhat Torah: sundown Oct. 20 – sundown Oct. 21
Terror attacks during Jewish holidays
- On Yom Kippur in 1973, Israel was attacked by surrounding Arab armies as many Israelis were in synagogues fasting and praying;
- On March 4, 1996, during Purim, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up outside the busy Dizengoff Center shopping mall in Tel Aviv. Thirteen people were killed and many were injured. Many of the victims were children dressed up to celebrate the spring festivities.
- On Sept. 26, 2003, a 27-year-old man and a 7-month old infant were shot dead by a Palestinian terrorist who knocked on the door of a home in Negohot, south of Hebron, during a celebratory Rosh Hashanah dinner;
- On March 27, 2002 22 people were killed and 140 injured - 20 seriously - in a suicide bombing at the Park Hotel in the coastal city of Netanya, in the midst of the Passover holiday seder with 250 guests;
- On Sept. 23, 2002, a man was killed and his three sons were injured by Palestinian gunmen while they were celebrating the Sukkoth festival near Hebron.