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.”