Holy days and history

September 15, 1993

For Jews, the New Year's celebration that is about to commence marks the beginning of an innately inward-looking, contemplative set of holidays. The celebratory Rosh Hashana and atoning Yom Kippur are commemorations that require Jews to take stock of who they are, of how they can improve, of things for which they should be thankful.

It can be a time of emotion even for the great share of American Jews who hardly mark their religion and heritage the rest of the year and certainly not to the same extent as their immigrant ancestors only a few generations ago.

Ironically, these holidays rife with personal introspection have also coincided with some major events involving Israel and world Jewry over the past generation.

When their New Year arrived in 1972, Jews -- and non-Jews alike -- were still seized by the fresh, haunting images of hooded terrorists kidnapping members of the Israeli Olympic team in Munich earlier that autumn.

The following year, 1973, was marked by the Yom Kippur War in the Middle East. And this week, just days before Rosh Hashana marks the Jewish year 5754, an historic peace accord was signed at the White House between leaders of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

While the more conservative members of the Jewish community may be loath to patch up with the Palestinians after decades of warring, in general, many Jews in America see mostly good in this development; that it's finally a recognition by Middle East leaders that compromise isn't an automatic retreat from survival, and that a handshake is no more an act of weakness than a punch is a certain sign of strength.

The Jews who will gather in synagogues in Baltimore and beyond starting tonight cannot foretell what will come of this accord any more than the rest of the world.

But there should be no question that the symbol of a handshake toward peace with the Palestinians is undoubtedly better than the images of terrorists and tanks that have ushered in Jewish new years past.

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