New York, September 10th, 2018 – The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, wished the Jewish world “Shanah Tovah”- “A Happy New Year”- at an official Tashlich ceremony co-hosted by the Forum for Cultural Diplomacy (FCD) and the Israeli Permanent Mission to the UN on Thursday evening, just days before the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, and the opening of the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly.
In his brief remarks the Secretary-General acknowledged that the event “provided an opportunity to reflect on the gains and setbacks of the past year and to consider how we can better serve the world’s people in the year ahead”.
Guterres, together with UN ambassadors and senior UN-officials, took part in a Jewish Tashlich ceremony which included the tossing of bread into the East River, symbolizing the casting away of sins of the past year in order to start the new year on a clean slate.
In his speech, Israeli Permanent Representative to the UN, Danny Danon, noted that at the same time as the Jewish New Year, the UN is also beginning a new year. He also pointed out that “Tashlich is an opportunity for the UN to look inward and conduct some soul-searching. We hope the UN will participate in “cheshbon hanefesh”, an accounting of its actions of the previous year”.
By hosting the event, the organizers wanted to highlight the significant contributions of Jewish culture to the international community.
ECI Founding Director Tomas Sandell noted that every one of the 120 or so nations that now welcomes, or has in the past welcomed, a Jewish community within its nation has been enriched culturally and economically by their presence. “In a time and age when antisemitism is again on the rise, ´tolerance´ is simply not a sufficient antidote to this old deadly disease. We need to pro-actively express our appreciation of the Jewish culture as a resource and blessing for our nations.”
In an earlier speech at the UN last year, Guterres admitted that Portugal had stagnated economically and culturally after they deported the Jews in the 16th century, whereas the Netherlands, which then received them, became one of the leading economies and innovators of the 17th century. As the Prime Minister of Portugal in 1995, he officially apologized for the deportation of Jews and offered Portuguese citizenship for those who chose to return.
Forum for Cultural Diplomacy co-founder, Gregory Lafitte, also touched upon the meaning of “return” in his remarks at the Tashlich ceremony.
He noted that the original meaning of Tashlich can be understood by the words of the psalmist: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, and we wept when we remembered Zion.” (Psalm 137:1). Yehuda Halevi, the Spanish Jewish physician, poet and philosopher, already in the early middle ages, wrote that prophets in Babylon went to a flowing river because the flow of the river reminded them of the passage of time, and from the fact that all rivers eventually flow into the sea, they were able to somehow capture a sense of hope that one day the flowing river would carry them back to Zion. Tashlich carries this hope. It is the call of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to the spiritual “return” to home.
This was the second time that the Forum for Cultural Diplomacy (an initiative of ECI within the UN) and the Israeli Permanent Mission to the UN have together co-hosted a Tashlich event at the UN.
In his closing remarks Ambassador Danon thanked the Secretary-General for participating in the event, and expressed his hope that the Tashlich ceremony would become an annual UN event in preparation for each new annual session of the General Assembly which each year starts at the time of the Jewish High Holidays.
The Jewish New Year began on Sunday evening September 9th, leading up to Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), the holiest day in the Jewish calendar on September 19th. The 73rd session of the UN General Assembly will open on September 18th.
Photo credit for the front page image: Shahah Aznar