UN NYCBrussels, September 17th, 2020 – As a dramatic year draws to a close in the Jewish religious calendar on this Friday, September 18th, the European Coalition for Israel and Forum for Cultural Diplomacy wish all its Jewish friends around the world a safe and prosperous New Year 5781!

Nothing better illustrates the extraordinary circumstances in which we are living than the fact that this year, for the first time in its history, the Grand Synagogue of Jerusalem will be closed for the High Holidays.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those who, as during the Pesach/Passover holiday in the spring this year, will be celebrating their autumn High Holidays under lockdown, away from family and friends”, ECI Founding Director Tomas Sandell said on Thursday.

But, even in these most difficult of times, we can see glimpses of hope. On Tuesday Israel signed the Abraham Accords in Washington D.C., opening the way, for the first time since the founding of the Jewish state in 1948, for the establishment of diplomatic relations with two Gulf States, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

“Our prayer for the new year is that this peace accord will soon be followed by many others, as Jews and Arabs come together to build a better future in the Middle East”, Sandell said.

The Jewish New Year celebration, Rosh Hashanah, coincides this year, as the UN celebrates its 75th anniversary, with the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York which will also take place under exceptional circumstances. For the first time in its history, world leaders are not able to travel to the UN Headquarters in New York and will instead have to deliver their speeches via video-link.

The high-level General Debate is set to start on Tuesday, September 22nd, but will come to a halt on Monday, September 28th, the holiest day in the Jewish religious calendar, Yom Kippur, which since 2015 is now one of the official religious holidays within the United Nations organisation.

The Jewish feasts have a special significance in our journey as the European Coalition for Israel, Tomas Sandell explains. “It was on the Feast of Purim in 2003 that ECI was officially launched in Brussels. This religious holiday marks the heroic acts of Queen Esther, who around the fourth century BC saved the Jews living in Persia from extermination. Ten years on, in the summer of 2013, ECI initiated together with the Israeli government the process which led in 2015 to the recognition by the UN of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, as an official UN holiday.”

“The fact that the UN General Assembly as a whole will now pause for the most important day in the Jewish religious calendar is a miracle in itself”, notes Gregory Lafitte, the ECI Director for UN Affairs and Co-Founder of the Forum for Cultural Diplomacy. “It proves that progress and reforms are possible in the international community. No longer will Israeli diplomats have to miss important sessions at the UN because of their religious convictions, but instead the whole assembly of international diplomats will pause together with the Jewish people, to mark Yom Kippur!”

In previous years the European Coalition for Israel and the Forum for Cultural Diplomacy have co-hosted high-level diplomatic events at the UN Headquarters with the UN Secretary-General in attendance, to mark the Jewish New Year.

This year we want to invite the international community to join in the “10 days of awe”, a period of introspection and repentance that follows the Jewish New Year and culminates with Yom Kippur. As the UN begins its 75th session, there can be no better way to reaffirm our commitment to building a better world for future generations.