Rosh Hashanah: No matter our religion, we all want peace

Rosh Hashanah: No matter our religion, we all want peace

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At sundown on Friday, Jews all over the world will begin to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Ten days later, we will observe Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. These holidays are the holiest on the Jewish calendar.

Over the past seven years, I have been privileged and humbled to have had a front-row seat to a dramatically changing Middle East. Among the many changes is how my outward appearance and actions of being an observant Jew are received in some of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries. My kippah (Jewish head covering) might still draw more than the occasional stare when I am there, but more often than not it encourages warm hellos, engagement and friendly curiosity.

I found it fascinating that, on a recent trip to Riyadh, when someone posted a picture of me and my daughter in a Riyadh mall on social media, the post garnered more than 1.8 million views. Most of the comments were welcoming. It was not my kippah that was the issue. Other than some nasty comments from a few haters, the only real controversy was the reaction of many of the commenters who chided the person who posted the photo for doing so without my permission.

I have been fortunate to have had countless powerful experiences with Arabs, Christians and Muslims throughout the Middle East. Sometimes the conversations are easy, sometimes less so, especially when the topic of Israel and the Palestinians comes up. But I can say, without hesitation, that in all conversations, even when we disagree on Israel (a not uncommon occurrence), the conversations have been respectful and typically end with a polite goodbye, perhaps a handshake, and sometimes even a hug.

In more and more conversations, people tell me that Israel must be integrated into the region

Jason D. Greenblatt

I remember when, in 2019, Arab News published an advert wishing Jews around the world a “Shanah Tovah” (the traditional blessing, in Hebrew, for a good year), when UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan wrote a “Shanah Tovah” greeting on social media, and when Saudi Ambassador to the US Princess Reema bint Bandar sent her wishes “for a happy and sweet new year” on a card from the Saudi Embassy in Washington. I receive so many messages from friends and business associates in Arab lands wishing me a sweet and healthy Jewish New Year, many in Hebrew (thank goodness for Google translate) and each one is meaningful.

I am deeply inspired by the changes that I see in the tone and tenor of the conversations. Reactions to my op-eds in the Arab press are often quite positive, pragmatic and hopeful, even if my views are contrary to the beliefs of many.

Here is an example from a friend of mine in one of the GCC countries: “The thoughts you express are becoming more and more common in the region. I believe the major Gulf states and a lot of the Arab states have recognized that the Palestinian question will not be resolved given the current status quo and while the internal divisions within the Palestinians themselves are not resolved. Regional cooperation is becoming all the more dire given that Iran is getting closer to acquiring nuclear weapons, China is rising and we are coming closer to entering a bipolar era. We will be faced with the reality that regional cooperation will be paramount to ensuring security.”

I know many would be surprised by this, but I hear these sentiments more and more these days in coffee houses and majlises all over the region, from Riyadh to Doha, from Jeddah to Abu Dhabi and Dubai. I will note that this friend is very pro-Palestinian, as many Arabs from the region are. She does not shy away from politely arguing her positions in support of the Palestinians, yet never in an anti-Israel way, and certainly not with any anti-Jewish sentiment whatsoever.

She and so many others I interact with in the region have a real handle on today’s geopolitics and the reality of the Middle East, including Israel’s place in the region. She, her husband and his cousin have had a Shabbat meal with my family in her country — including all the Jewish prayers and rituals that go with it. One of my funniest and fondest memories is from that dinner. As my children lined up for me to give them their customary blessing before I made the blessing over the wine for Shabbat, the cousin lined up with them — he wanted his blessing too.

Let us work together to build a beautiful, prosperous and peaceful future for the next generation

Jason D. Greenblatt

We have so much in common and so much to work on together, despite our differences. I firmly believe that, while most of the region would love to see an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they also know that, for the time being and for so many reasons, that is not achievable. But more and more they are recognizing that we cannot make perfect the enemy of good — we cannot get so caught up in making things perfect and, as a result, never get anything done.

In more and more conversations, people tell me that Israel must be integrated into the region. I see a welcoming of Jews, Christians and others into their countries, all while not giving up hope that, one day, a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will present itself. People recognize the numerous serious problems plaguing the region, such as the threat of the Iranian regime, the tragedy of the civil war in Syria, the suffering of the people in Lebanon, Daesh and other terrorist groups, the suffering in Yemen, and other problems. At the same time, they recognize that the region — and the GCC countries in particular — are evolving in ways most could not have imagined only a few years ago, focusing on their own visions for a new future for their societies and economies and playing a growing, critical role on the world stage.

During Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Jews all over the world will pray for many things. Among those things is peace. To my dear cousins in Arab lands, I hope you will join us in our prayers for peace. Let us walk down the path of Abraham together, as descendants of Abraham, and work together to build a beautiful, prosperous and peaceful future for the next generation.

May God bless all of us with good health, sweetness, happiness and tranquility. May God spread peace, salaam, shalom over all of us.

  • Jason D. Greenblatt was White House Middle East envoy in the Trump administration. He is the author of the widely acclaimed book “In the Path of Abraham” and the founder of Abraham Venture LLC, a consulting company that connects American and Middle Eastern businesses. Twitter: @GreenblattJD
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