Erev Tov, Bruchim HaBa’im, v’Shana Tova l’culam.
Good evening, welcome and a hearty New Year’s greeting to everyone.
Julie and I are delighted to celebrate the Jewish New Year, 5776, with so many friends and partners here tonight.
I want to offer a special welcome to the religious leaders who are joining us this evening. I also want to acknowledge Defense Minister Yaalon, other Ministers, Members of Knesset, government officials, representatives of civil society, diplomatic colleagues, and members of the business community who are here.
Together with our daughters, Julie and I were fortunate to take a little break this summer and return to the United States to spend time with family and friends.
While our girls enjoyed the blessing of Jewish summer camp, we spent some time with the Jewish communities of Rhode Island, our smallest state, including an unforgettable visit to the Touro Synagogue in Newport – the oldest synagogue building in the United States and the only shul dating from the colonial era.
President George Washington famously visited the community in 1790, then still in the shadows of our long and painful war of independence. His visit was 225 years ago – almost to the day.
After the visit, in a letter to the Newport community, President Washington reflected on the young republic’s commitment to set a universal example by respecting the inherent “natural rights” of all peoples – including the right of every people to practice their religion as they see fit.
President Washington proudly declared that the United States “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”
This was a special moment for these American Jews, the descendants of Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal. Perhaps nowhere else in the world at that time could a leader write, as President Washington did, so warmly to his nation’s Jews, even citing their own biblical teachings: “May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants – while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”
V’yashvu ish tachat gafno v’tachat t’einato, v’ein macharid.
And while the letter may have been sent to our young nation’s Jewish community, it was really directed to all communities. Washington concluded with: “May the father of all mercies—Av Harachamim— scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths.”
For more than two centuries, America has fulfilled President Washington’s promise. Our country has been a beacon of tolerance and liberal, democratic values–undoubtedly our greatest heritage.
Yet ours is not a perfect union. From Baltimore to Ferguson to Charleston and elsewhere, the darkness of injustice and hatred is still scattered on our paths. Many Americans have responded with introspection and stocktaking of what more we can do to nurture tolerance and root out bigotry.
Today, as throughout American history, Jewish tradition remains a source of inspiration on this quest. As President Obama said in his address to Julie and my home synagogue Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C. earlier this year, Judaism has long informed America’s own process ofcheshbon nefesh, of taking stock of our souls.
As Israel’s greatest ally and friend, we see that a similar process ofcheshbon nefesh is taking place here in Israel. Over the course of just two days this summer—the blink of an eye—two horrible acts of violence and intolerance shook Israelis to their core.
We joined with so many Israeli leaders and citizens to condemn the hateful, deadly attacks at the Jerusalem March for Pride and Tolerance and the murderous arson in Duma, which took the lives of baby Ali Dawabshe and his father, Sa’ad. We continue to call for all perpetrators of these terrorist crimes to be brought to justice.
We are humbled today to be in the presence of the family of Shira Banki,zichrona l’vracha. As her parents, Ori and Mika, know better than anyone, Shira had remarkable talents, and an even more remarkable spirit. She stands out as a symbol of how we should all live our lives: with compassion, with understanding, and with generosity.
Thirty days may have passed, but the shock has not.
Ori, Mika, may you feel the warm embrace and the sense of shared sorrow of all of us gathered here tonight.
May those at the Hebrew University Secondary school – the L’yada school – and all those in Shira’s wider community be comforted.
We are also joined tonight by other Israelis touched by recent acts of terrorism, including other victims of the attack on the Pride March. May they also share in our collective embrace.
One of our embassy’s highest priorities is working with Israelis to promote mutual understanding, tolerance, and social cohesion, and we are proud to work with a wide range of civil society representatives. We work in every community – religious, secular, Haredi, Arab, Druze, Bedouin, Muslim, Christian, Russian, Ethiopian, Mizrachi, Ashkenazi.
Although too numerous to name, I do want to collectively acknowledge the many individuals and organizations who have partnered with us in these efforts. I say to everyone gathered here tonight who is committed to promoting tolerance and rejecting hate: thank you and let me assure you of our ongoing support.
Now, some might say the year 5775 which is now concluding did not represent a high point in U.S.-Israel relations. And I might not disagree. But even in a hard year, in which one of our rare disagreements took on such prominence, our ties were nevertheless strengthened and deepened.
American sailors, soldiers, pilots, and Marines came to train with their IDF counterparts. Israeli Fulbright scholars set off to American universities, and their American counterparts came here. More Israeli companies found success investing in the United States, and more American firms benefited from Israeli innovation.
El Al launched a direct flight between Tel Aviv and Boston and purchased Boeing 787 Dreamliners to expand its all-American fleet. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis traveled to America, and nearly twice as many Americans came to Israel—over 600,000.
We are building, learning, and innovating together. We are on guard together, reaffirming the United States’ bedrock commitment to stand by Israel as it faces the threat of rockets, terror, and enemies sworn to its destruction. Julie and I also visited the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York this summer. It was a stark reminder of something else Israelis and Americans share – the experience of being attacked by terrorists in our own homes.
We stand should-to-shoulder with Israelis in any arena where the right or the ability of the Jewish state to defend itself is called into question. We stand should-to-shoulder when Israel faces defamation, delegitimization or double-standards—including our leadership role in the global fight against rising anti-Semitism.
As President Obama said this past Friday, “the bond between the United States and Israel is not political. It’s not based on alliances of convenience. We are family.”
Our governments are united on the need to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. And although we have a serious and honest disagreement about the best approach to achieve that common goal, nothing about this disagreement affects the core commitments we have to each other’s security.
As the President also said Friday, we are ready, and look forward, to resuming our dialogue on ways to “improve and enhance Israel’s security in a very troubled neighborhood.”
The United States also remains deeply committed to the goal of a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace, including a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Two states for two peoples. It is more than just a policy; it is in America’s interest and it remains our solemn obligation.
If Elul was a month for introspection, then Tishrei is a time for t’shuva – for repentance. The call of the shofar, which we will soon hear, is an annual reminder—a reminder that t’shuva is not only about acknowledging sin and transgression, but about the fulfillment of higher ideals.
This spiritual journey takes on special meaning this year as we reflect—individually and collectively—on these recent events and recommit ourselves to the pursuit of higher ideals.
Looking into the coming year, it is clear we all have much work to do.
Let these Yameem Nora’eem be a time for renewal; a time to reject fatalism and apathy; a time to pull closer together in pursuit of our common values and interests; and a time to renew our common commitment to create more just societies and a safer, more peaceful world.
During these Days of Awe we honor the Holy One’s creation of the world and the Lord’s original vision for humankind. Through cheshbon nefesh andt’shuva, we also acknowledge our roles in achieving the full realization of God’s vision and thereby help create the world anew.
On behalf of Julie and our family, let me again welcome you and wish you shana tova u’metuka.