Several years ago, my father, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, and I were in Chicago for important year-end meetings. After a long, cold day, I was looking forward to being home and warm. But when I looked outside, it was snowing. I was not happy.
My father, however, smiled. “If we have to go out in the snow anyway,” he said, “we may as well make the best of it!” And that’s exactly what we did. We laughed and played in the snow like children.
My father passed away in 2019, and the snow that I had resented on that cold day in Chicago is now a cherished memory. My father’s guidance to see the good in every situation and choose a positive reaction to any circumstance changed what could have been a negative experience into one of wonder and magic.
As we begin the Jewish New Year, I am taking this attitude with me.
It may seem difficult to find goodness in today’s world. One source reported that a full 90 percent of news stories are negative, and almost a third of us check those headlines every hour.
At the top of the news is almost always a story on the global economic crisis, or the war in Ukraine – or the worldwide increase of a dangerous and unsettling anti-Semitism now running rampant throughout Europe, and even Canada.
Yet despite the negative news we are barraged with every day, we must always remember that there is so much good in our world. One of my great sources of inspiration is the beautiful and holy progress that has taken place between Christians and Jews. For the first time in history, the Jewish people have friends.
Some of the greatest blessings I receive each year are simple words of greeting and hope that come from Christians during our sacred Jewish holidays. These words cannot erase the rise of anti-Semitism, nor can they eliminate its dangers. Yet they provide hope and encouragement that community and humanity are not lost.
As we prepare for Rosh Hashanah – our Jewish New Year and the beginning of the High Holy Days – every year my heart is warmed by this thoughtfulness. Numerous Christian friends wish me a Happy Jewish New Year. Some even pray for me. And many have become generous donors to causes that protect the Jewish people around the world. Their heart for Israel and the Jewish people is truly a blessing for so many in need around the globe.
Certainly, there is darkness in the world, and for the Jewish people, the darkness of anti-Semitism is very discouraging and worrisome. But I'm thankful for those who have moved beyond simply condemning anti-Semitism and are actively working to protect and bless the Jewish people. I am grateful for all the pro-Semitic friends and allies who surround me.
There is a prayer that Jews say when they open their eyes in the morning, called the modeh ani. While still in bed, we thank God for another day. This prayer helps us, from the moment we open our eyes, to make a conscious effort to focus on the simple blessings. It helps instill in us a spirit of gratitude which, at the end of the day, is everything, and is the critical first step to filling our dark world with light.
In this spirit, as my Jewish friends and I celebrate the two-day holiday of Rosh Hashanah starting at sundown on September 25, I want to extend the celebration by offering words of support and love to our Christian friends.
My family and friends will blow the shofar, feast on fruits and sweets, say prayers to God and, of course, light candles. As we do, I am going to remember with gratitude the goodness and human kindness that surrounds me, and recognize that the words of the old proverb are true: Lighting a candle is more important than cursing the darkness – or the headlines.
I will spend this sacred holiday in September reflecting on the past year, and looking forward to the future with hope. I will choose to be thankful—despite the bad news swirling around me—for those who seek to bless Israel, and protect us from terror, bigotry, and hostility.
Yael Eckstein is the president and CEO of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (The Fellowship). In this role, Eckstein oversees all ministry programs and serves as the organization's international spokesperson. She can be heard on The Fellowship's daily radio program airing on 1,300 stations worldwide, on her podcasts, Nourish Your Biblical Roots and Conversations with Yael. Before her present duties, Yael served as global executive vice president, senior vice president, and director of program development and ministry outreach. Based in Jerusalem, Yael is a published writer, leading international advocate for persecuted religious minorities, and a respected social services professional.