Reflections on the cusp of a new year

Rosh Hashanah is a time for reflection, for looking inward, and for contemplating the events of the past year.

It’s been a turbulent 12 months for Israel and the Jewish world. Many of the challenges confronting us a year ago have intensified, few have been resolved, and others have been added to the mix.

The Arab Spring, which began in early 2011, continues to unfold, taking the Middle East and North Africa in unknown and sometimes troubling directions. Civil war rages in Syria, as the last brutal dictator in the Arab world stubbornly clings to power. Hardliners tighten their grip in Egypt, as Israel tries to shore up defenses on its southern border. The specter of a nuclear Iran hangs over the region.

Israelis and Palestinians are no closer to the negotiating table than they were last fall, and there won’t be any movement until after the U.S. elections in November — if then. Jockeying for power intensifies within Palestinian society, with riots in the West Bank this month over economic hardships. Rocket attacks from Gaza continue to plague southern Israel, with no respite in sight.

Inside Israel, secular and ultra-Orthodox Jews square off over military conscription, public modesty, and the right of women to pray with Torahs at the Western Wall. A spate of attacks by Jewish teens against Palestinian Arabs, as well as attacks on African migrant workers, reveal the ugly face of xenophobia in the Jewish state.

But the year was not without its high points. All of Israel and the world cheered when IDF soldier Gilad Shalit returned home after six years in Hamas captivity, although some chafed at the cost — more than a thousand Palestinian prisoners released in exchange.

In the past month, U.S. gymnast Aly Raisman won gold at the Olympics, leaping and somersaulting to the strains of “Hava Nagila.” Young Jews, Muslims and Christians donned yarmulkes and took to the streets of Berlin in a flash mob to support the right to circumcise in Germany. And former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, grievously wounded by a crazed gunman nearly two years ago, led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance at the Democratic National Convention, an inspiration to all of us.

No one knows what 5773 will bring. There will be heartbreak, certainly, along with joy. With the love of our families and friends, and backed by the strength of our community and our traditions, we prepare to greet the coming year, knowing we will survive and hoping we will prosper.

Shanah tovah.