Addressing the Syrian Crisis in High Holy Day Sermons

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The celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and the start of the Jewish High Holy Days, begins on Wednesday at sundown. In synagogues all over the region rabbis will be delivering sermons that attract a large number of people, and some plan to bring up the Syrian crisis.

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner, who leads the Conservative Temple Emanu-El in Closter, N.J., intends to send a clear message that the United States cannot tolerate the use of chemical weapons.

“We can’t live in a world after the Holocaust, where Jews and gentiles alike proclaim never again," Rabbi Kirshner said. "And we [cannot] watch as a dictator gases his own people.”

Some rabbis have signed a petition urging Congress to authorize President Obama to use force in Syria. Among them is Orthodox Rabbi Avi Weiss, who heads the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale in the Bronx.

“The Syrians have to hear a very, very clear message that this is going to be unacceptable to the world,” he said.

Other rabbis, however, are not planning to bring up Syria in their Rosh Hashanah sermons. Jeremy Kalmanofsky serves as rabbi at the Conservative synagogue Ansche Chesed on the Upper West Side

“I have no intention of saying ‘This is what I hope the United States does’ or something like that,” Rabbi Kalmanofsky said. “I think one needs the degree of policy expertise about which I’m no more qualified than any other person.”

Still others are taking a middle-of-the-road approach. Andy Bachman, of the Reform Beth Elohim Congregation in Park Slope, Brooklyn, says he’ll encourage his congregants to discuss the Syria crisis. But he won’t be taking a position on what the U.S. needs to do.

“One really wouldn’t want to endorse one view over another, but rather encourage the community to engage itself and then to choose among themselves about what kind of action they would want to take as impassioned and informed Jews,” he said.