I receive many greeting cards from family and friends at Rosh Hashanah time. I enjoy them all, especially the ones that come to me from the president of the United States â€" each successive president sends one out at the Jewish New Year and at Passover. It is a wonderful gesture because it helps religious minorities in America feel valued and respected in this great nation. Yet, I have to confess â€" since today is Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year when Jewish people atone for their transgressions before God â€" there was one greeting last week that threw me for a loop and is testing my conscience.
The day before Rosh Hashanah, the president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, and his new prime minister, Javad Zarif, apparently tweeted the following message to Jews all over the world: "As the sun is about to set here in Tehran I wish all Jews, especially Iranian Jews, a blessed Rosh Hashanah."
Needless to say, the Internet was full of discussion debating whether it was a fake. Most seem to think the tweet did, in fact, come from the president's account. Most people do not know that Iran still has 20,000 Jews living there, which makes it the largest Jewish community outside of Israel in the Middle East. Of course, the new Iranian president is trying to portray himself as a moderate compared with his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who spent his terms building a nuclear bomb, threatening to wipe Israel off the planet and claiming that the Holocaust was a hoax.
So does this tweet signal an opening or a thawing of relations with the West and a shift in the Iranian theocrat's view as well as that of the Supreme leader of Iran Ayatollah Khamenei toward the Jews and Judaism, let alone Israel?
I am sure there are some in our country who will react to this tweet and believe that the Iranian president is changing his tone and, therefore, the Jewish community should be open to this wonderful gesture of peace and good will. Others will condemn it as a publicity stunt. I caution against such optimistic thinking, despite the temptation to welcome his tweet as a sincere revelation and a change of heart.
Judaism teaches to judge people on their merit, but it also warns us as well about those who have previously sworn to destroy us before believing their words. Actions count more than words. Another part of me goes back to my reading of Shakespeare in Act 1, Scene 5 of "Hamlet." After Prince Hamlet learns from the ghost of his father that his stepfather Claudius was responsible for his father's death, he says, "Yes, by God! O you evil woman (referring to his mother). Oh, you villain, villain, you damned, smiling villain! Where is my notebook? It is a good idea for me to write down that one can smile, and be a villain. At least it's possible in Denmark."
Should I give Mr. Rouhani the benefit of the doubt because on this Day of Atonement God teaches us to not give up hope that even our adversaries can see the light?
Here is my response to him: "Thank you for your New Year's greeting, Mr. President. As the sun has risen upon us so that the Jewish community throughout the world may observe the Day of Atonement and complete our New Year prayers for renewal and spiritual cleansing, I bring you greetings as well. So that the Jewish people in your nation and around the world can enjoy a 'Blessed New Year,' I respectfully request a few steps for you to take to ensure it will be so. How about acknowledging the Holocaust? Stop threatening to destroy Israel and invite Prime Minister Netanyahu to visit you so that you can show how Islam believes in peace with its neighbors? Will you cease your support of Hezbollah's efforts to attack Israel and be part of a solution to stabilize Syria? Negotiate seriously to stop building a nuclear bomb that threatens to create an arms race in the Middle East and start a regional war? All these actions are within your power to bring about a new era of peace. Then it would indeed be a blessed New Year for the Jewish people and for the rest of the world. In the Talmud, it is written, 'Who is the hero of heroes?' The sages replied, 'Not one who defeats his enemy but one who turns an enemy into a friend.'"
Let us hope and pray that this greeting from the president of Iran will lead to better tidings for the world in the new Jewish year.
Columnist Rabbi Brad L. Bloom is the rabbi at Congregation Beth Yam on Hilton Head Island. He can be reached at 843-689-2178. Read his blog at www.fusion613.blogspot.com and follow him at twitter.com/rabbibloom.
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