Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is a time for celebrating life and the possibilities to come for millions of Jews around the world. It is also the time for U.S. President Barack Obama’s annual Rosh Hashanah call with a group of influential American rabbis. This year, there were about 900 rabbis on the call to speak with Obama and hear what he had to say.
The focus of the call this year was the numerous ongoing crises in the Middle East, according to the Jewish news agency JTA.
“He spoke about the complexities and dangers of the Middle East and the challenges facing the world,” Rabbi William Gershon, one of the rabbis on the call with Obama, told JTA. Dallas-based Gershon is president of the conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly and senior rabbi at Congregation Shearith Israel.
He said that Obama also took some questions from Gershon and other rabbis on the Rosh Hashanah call. It was off the record.
Obama also posted his first ever Rosh Hashanah greeting video on the White House web site. Support from Jewish allies in the Middle East is an important part of America’s strategy for stability in the region. His video greeting stressed the need for empathy wherever there is suffering. He described Rosh Hashanah as a time to “come together and build a better world for our children and grandchildren.”
The literal meaning of Rosh Hashanah is “head of the year,” and it signifies a time for introspective thought, prayer, and self-reflection. It is also a time for rejoicing, celebrating, and looking forward to a new year at the start of the “high holy days” that are a series of significant Jewish holidays. This year’s Rosh Hashanah marks the start of the year 5775 on the Jewish calendar.
During his phone call with the rabbis on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, Gershon said that Obama also touched on domestic issues, but particularly honed in on foreign affairs and U.S. foreign policy. That included emphasizing America’s commitment to work with its allies to “degrade and destroy ISIL,” the extreme Islamic fundamentalist group that has now begun to call itself Islamic State, also known as ISIS.
The group, which has already publicly beheaded a number of foreign journalists and aid workers, wants to form a caliphate in Iraq and Syria. Airstrikes in the region began this past week just prior to Rosh Hashanah. There are typically cease-fires during the holiday.
In Cairo, ceasefire talks that were already underway about recent fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza have been postponed until the end of October. Talks will resume between Israeli and Palestinian delegations after the Rosh Hashanah holiday is over, according to CBN.