New York, September 29th, 2017 – An official delegation of the European Coalition for Israel has met with the President of the United Nations General Assembly, H.E. Miroslav Lajčák, to mark the UN recognition of the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur which commences tonight, Friday evening.
It was only last year that the United Nations finally recognized Yom Kippur as an official UN holiday after more than 67 years of Israeli membership in the world organization. At the meeting President Lajčák stressed how this recognition was long overdue, and how the acceptance of Yom Kippur and the five other religious holidays* makes the UN more inclusive and reflects the religious diversity of the world organization better today compared to its founding in 1945.
Adding Yom Kippur to the list of official UN holidays was made possible thanks to the generous support of the US administration, which gave up its Presidents’ Day as one of the existing holidays in order to make room for Yom Kippur and the five other religious holidays as rotating UN holidays.
At the meeting, ECI stressed the importance of not only respecting the holiest day in the Jewish calendar year but also emphasizing the universal values of forgiveness and reconciliation which this holiday conveys. The ten days between the Jewish New Year (Rosh HaShana) and Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) are marked by deep introspection and soul searching.
“In an international community with increasing tension and polarization, these fundamental values and principles are now more important than ever,” ECI Founding Director Tomas Sandell said at the meeting. He pointed out that next month will mark the 40th anniversary of the first-ever visit of an Arab leader to Jerusalem, which paved the way for the peace accord between Israel and Egypt in 1979. “The historic peace agreement between Israel and Egypt proves that even long-standing conflicts can be resolved when there is a genuine will for peace, and when this is translated into concrete acts of reconciliation, such as the historic visit of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to Jerusalem in 1977,” he said.
In his remarks, ECI Director of UN Affairs Dr Gregory Lafitte pointed out that the Book of Jonah, which is read in Jewish synagogues around the world during Yom Kippur, has a universal message for all humanity and not only for the Jewish people.
“The story of Jonah is unique in that it illustrates God´s compassion for all people. This compassion also goes so far as to include animals, which is unique to the Jewish culture,” he said.
In 2014, ECI hosted its first official diplomatic high-level Yom Kippur breakfast meeting at the UN headquarters in New York, where keynote speakers from Europe and Africa shared concrete examples on how forgiveness and reconciliation have been implemented in international relations in our days, from postwar reconciliation in Europe to the justice and reconciliation process in Rwanda after the genocide of 1994.
The meeting on Thursday morning in New York was part of the activities of the Forum for Cultural Diplomacy, and consisted of its Co-Founders Tomas Sandell and Gregory Lafitte as well as the Honorary Chairman of ECI, J. Rudolf Geigy.
*The other five religious holidays which were recognized by the UN alongside Yom Kippur are the Day of Vesak, Diwali, Gurpurab, Orthodox Christmas and Orthodox Good Friday.