(September 7, 2018 / JNS) This fall, as Jews around the world ready themselves for the High Holiday season, many will perform the ancient ceremony of Tashlich.
As this ritual and period of reflection and renewal comes right before the opening of the U.N. General Assembly, it is a fitting time to consider what the practice of Tashlich can teach us about Israel’s position at the United Nations.
The word tashlich means to “cast out.” It is a symbolic act in which participants congregate on a riverbank and toss bread crumbs—representing their sins—into the river’s flowing waters. Having discarded the sins of the previous year, the participants are now prepared to enter the holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in the proper spiritual frame of mind.
Though a simple act, Tashlich carries a very important message. The great insight of this ritual is that to cleanse something requires action.
To be sure, Tashlich does not replace the central role of teshuvah (“repentance”) on Yom Kippur. The holiest day in the Jewish calendar maintains its place as the decisive and final moment for a Jew to atone for his sins of the previous year.
But ultimately, as a day of internal spiritual cleansing through fasting, Yom Kippur is a time of mental and emotion connection. Tashlich, not in contrast but to bolster, offers a physical manifestation of the internal desire to throw one’s sins and wrongdoings away, and start the year anew.
And the decision to physically act out the casting off of our sins helps us internalize the importance of the ritual of cleansing our souls. This transforms what was once symbolic into something tangible and meaningful.
I apply this same lesson to representing Israel at the United Nations.
Just as Tashlich cleanses the soul, so, too, are we working to cleanse the United Nations of some of its anti-Israel trends.
Upon first arriving in New York, I learned about the public United Nations and the private one. Many countries that appear unfriendly on the floor of the General Assembly will happily and eagerly engage with us privately. My greatest challenge has been to close that gap—to bring what are private conversations into the public domain. And to do so, Israel’s Mission to the United Nations has used our greatest assets—our country and our heritage—as ways to actualize our goals.
For years, Israel has been a central subject at the United Nations. However, despite being the main focus of many speeches and resolutions, those who fixated on us were just as likely to not have visited my country.
Just as Tashlich requires action, we have provided ways for ambassadors throughout the United Nations to be active participants in Israeli and Jewish traditions. These have included holding Passover seders, hosting ambassadors at live performances and movies featuring Israeli artists, exhibiting displays that depict the human and agricultural effects of terrorism, holding conferences featuring Israeli technology and entrepreneurship, and celebrating festive holidays. Perhaps most impactfully, we have brought ambassadors to Israel, where they have the opportunity see, touch and experience firsthand everything that’s discussed at Turtle Bay.
Today, we came full circle when we shared the Tashlich tradition with Secretary-General António Guterres and dozens of ambassadors from nations around the world. Together, we cast our sins into the East River, as we recited the prayers and prepared to begin the year, renewed.
And this is changing the culture at the United Nations. Although the anti-Israel bias will likely not dissipate tomorrow or next week, already we are seeing Israel achieving a degree of “normalcy” throughout the world body, particularly as we continue to play an ever more important role.
These ongoing activities will be in the thoughts of the ambassadors when they enter the General Assembly or the Security Council. When called upon to issue a statement on Israel, they may recall their Tashlich experience. They may want to further their engagement with us, and we will continue to provide opportunities to learn about and join with Israel and the Jewish people.
This is not the beginning of this process; we are in the middle, and it will continue until the world’s nations come to appreciate Israel and our work, and be proud to consider us a partner.
As we open the 73rd General Assembly, we can take pride in having brought the ancient Jewish tradition of Tashlich to the United Nations—continue working to cast out its old ways, and looking forward to the day when we can begin anew.
Danny Danon is Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations.