By Larry Gordon

“As a Shepherd examines his flock, making his sheep pass under his staff, so do you cause to pass before you every living soul and you count, reckon and are mindful of them….” This is a small section of the Unesana Tokef prayer viewed by many by virtue of its profundity to be the centerpiece of the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippor liturgy.

Aside from speaking about every individual who experiences judgment on these days of awe, our sages say that the same is true of all entities including the countries that dot and populate the globe. This idea was brought home to me this year over Rosh Hashana when I spent the 72 hours of the observance attached to a Shabbos at the Woodcliff Lake Hilton on the New York/New Jersey border. The program directed expertly by Rabbi Moshe Fuchs of Far Rockaway also featured as scholar in residence, Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Needless to say that for three afternoons the subject was the Middle East and how the currently unfolding situation there interfaces and is so poignantly relevant to our Rosh Hashana Tefilos. It is difficult to write about such a fluid situation in a weekly newspaper. The daily papers have problems with how the situation on the ground changes in Syria from the time they go to press until the papers hit the lawns or the newsstands. What can I say about a weekly paper that has to say something definitive about a matter that changes daily and often a few times a day?

Additionally it was difficult to grasp and absorb everything Mr. Hoenlein said without the benefit of any note taking because it was after all yom tov. So I’m going to do some paraphrasing and summation based on what I heard and took from the talks.

Hoenlein’s overall message is that just about everything being reported on that emanates from the Middle East is not what it seems to be on the surface. That is that news organizations are being bery superficial in their reporting and because of the danger there are virtually no correspondence reporting from the field. As a result of this reality major news outlets are forced to rely on information about revolutions and uprisings from unreliable sources combined with those who have an agenda to intentionally misinform and mislead the public.

About Syria, the Conference of Presidents director says that much has been bungled by the Obama administration. He says that there is a fundamental misunderstanding in Washington about what it is that energizes these conflicts in places like Syria, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon and Jordan. There is a reflexive need to simplify everything and couch them in easily understood terms so that the information can be fed to an ill-informed public that has no idea about what is a play on the ground in the Middle East.

Just as importantly, Malcolm Hoenlein explains, is that it is becoming abundantly and rapidly clear to most that the issue that needs to be urgently dealt with is not the Israel-Palestinian situation. He says that he and other representatives of his group can have meeting with Arab leaders these days and the issue is hardly ever raised or discussed.


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