Office of the Chief Rabbi

Thought for the Day: Rosh Hashana message

With Rosh Hashana falling tomorrow, the Chief Rabbi hopes for more unity between peoples and better lives for all the world’s citizens in today’s ‘Thought of the Day’ for BBC Radio 4. He implored listeners to nurture their connections with others and celebrate, rather than despise difference.

“When we were living in Ireland, my wife and I sent our children to Montessori play schools, where they received an outstanding educational grounding during their formative years. One afternoon, when I fetched my son, Noam, from school, his teacher told me proudly that she had taught the class all about the continents.

I was deeply impressed. Later that day I said to Noam, ‘So you know the names of the continents?’ ‘Yes’ he beamed with pride. ‘Okay,’ I said, ‘I’ll start them off and you complete them’. So, I said ‘Afri’ and he said ‘ca’, I said ‘Eu’ and he said ‘rope’, I said ‘A’ and he said ‘sia’, I said ‘Austra’, and he said ‘lia’. And then I said ‘Ameri’ – and he said ‘Christmas’.

“Each of us strives to carve out a destiny true to our own particular tradition”

Not quite the answer I was expecting, but it reminded me that in our multicultural society we encounter the beliefs, traditions and practices of many diverse faiths and cultures. Each of us strives to carve out a destiny true to our own particular tradition. At the same time, each one of us is an integral part of our shared society.

I find that there is an increased tendency for people to define themselves according to the differences between them and others. Yes, it is important for each of us to have our own particular identity and to have pride in who we are. But, at the same time, we must nurture our connections with others and discover unity in diversity. As radical extremism sweeps through our fragile world, we need to emphasize the values and aspirations which bind us together.

Empathy is a key component of a moral society and cultural differences bring a collective strength that benefits all of humanity.

Martin Luther King Jr said: We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.

Close to three thousand years ago, the Book of Psalms put it this way: “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity.”

Tomorrow is a festival which could hardly be more Jewish: Rosh Hashana, our New Year, celebrates the birth of the universe. Communities will come together in festive spirit with song and devotion and, at the heart of our prayers we will cry out to the Almighty: Remember all nations for life and for good, thus emphasising our concern for all mankind.

In the past year we have seen so much violence and hostility, together with worrying levels of hate and intolerance. May the coming twelve months produce a better life for all of us. Shana Tova!”