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Thoughts on the Jewish New Year and Mooncake Festival: ‘ We have to heal what we have hurt’

By WILSON LEE FLORES, The Philippine Star Published Sep 24, 2023 5:00 am

The 5,784-year-old Rosh Hashanah or Jewish New Year was recently celebrated by the Philippines’ great friend Israeli Ambassador Ilan Fluss at Pandesal Forum of Kamuning Bakery Cafe in Quezon City. The solemn celebration was complete with beautiful, historic Jewish traditions and delicious foods like challah breads and apples dipped in honey to symbolize hopes for a “sweet” new year.

Shana Tova” (Hebrew for “A Good Year”) is the greeting given by Jewish people worldwide during this festival.

One of the rituals at the celebration had Ambassador Fluss blowing the shofar, which is an ancient musical instrument usually made of ram’s horn. The diplomat also explained various rituals and customs of the Jewish New Year, which he said focused on more self-reflection, renewal, seeking improvement and spirituality.

After demonstrating and explaining Jewish customs, Ambassador Fluss answered diverse questions from the media guests.

Israel Ambassador Ilan Fluss with challah breads and pandesal, Pandesal Forum moderator Wilson Lee Flores with mooncakes and challah at Kamuning Bakery Café

The topics ranged from trade (goal of exceeding $1 billion by 2024), technology, agriculture (tycoon Manny Pangilinan’s Metro Pacific and Israeli firm LR Group partnered to build a P2 billion dairy farm in Laguna), tourism (the diplomat said they are waiting for Philippine Airlines and El Al to finalize plans for direct flights between Manila and Tel Aviv), overseas Filipino workers (mostly caregivers and now the envoy said tourism is a newly-opened sector for Filipino workers), culture (the Israeli Film Festival will resume this year in the Philippines and Israeli filmmakers will also join the QCinema International Film Festival hosted by the Quezon City government led by Mayor Joy Belmonte), security (a journalist asked about security assistance, citing former President Rodrigo R. Duterte revealing that Israel had given assistance to the Philippines in our war against terrorists in Marawi City), and further cooperation between the Philippines and Israel.

3 success secrets of Jews in overcoming 2,000 years exile

One question I asked Ambassador Ilan Fluss: What are the top three success secrets of the Jewish people throughout history, living 2,000 years without a country (Israel was miraculously re-established in 1948) and as often persecuted minorities worldwide?

Facebook founder and Jewish tycoon Mark Zuckerberg blowing shofar or ram horn to mark Jewish New Year

There are so many Jewish success stories—from great scientists Albert Einstein and J. Robert Oppenheimer (subject of the recent excellent movie Oppenheimer), singer/actress Barbra Streisand, actress Natalie Portman, French Premier Elisabeth Borne, World Jewish Congress president and billionaire Ronald Lauder of Estee Lauder cosmetics company, Disney Entertainment co-chairman Dana Walden, director Steven Spielberg, Marvel comics writer Stan Lee (co-creator of Spider-Man, X-Men, Iron Man, etc.) to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Starbucks tycoon Howard Schultz and media mogul and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The envoy replied that the first reason is the Jewish people’s faith in God; second is their continuous studying to enhance their minds since they’re known as “people of the book”; and the third reason is the Jews’ fealty to their Jewish culture—traditions like the Rosh Hashanah or Jewish New Year, which begins a 10-day period of penitence culminating in Yom Kippur.

Since the number of Filipino tourists to Israel jumped 40 percent from January to June 2023 at 19,300 tourists, I asked the envoy to recommend his top three tourist destinations in Israel. Fluss responded: “Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and the Ambassador’s residence.”

Rosh Hashanah & Mooncake Festival for thanksgiving, prayers

Ambassador Ilan Fluss gave gifts of challah bread, honey, and a book on Israeli tourism to me as moderator of the Pandesal Forum, while I also gifted the diplomat with traditional Filipino pandesal made by Kamuning Bakery Café and also a red box of mooncakes, explaining how this is also the season of the over 3,000-year-old Mid-Autumn Festival in Chinese culture, casually known as “Mooncake Festival.” The exact day this year is Sept. 29, 2023, when the moon is brightest and fullest.

Mooncake celebrates the Mid-Autumn Festival of thanksgiving, reunion, and prayer.

Another popular story on the Mid-Autumn Festival: it was used by the Han Chinese uprising against the Mongol rulers at the end of the Yuan Dynasty (1280-1368 CE), wherein the Han Chinese people used traditional mooncakes to hide the secret message that they were to simultaneously rebel on Mid-Autumn Day.

Coincidentally, both Rosh Hashanah and the Mid-Autumn Festival celebrate reunions, thanksgiving for the autumn harvest, and praying for a better future.

Why does Rosh Hashanah precede Yom Kippur? My friend the famous Rabbi David Wolpe of Los Angeles said: “No sooner do we mark the New Year than we begin repenting for our sins. Surely the logical sequence would be the reverse: we should repent and then usher in the New Year with a clean slate. Rosh Hashanah is a day we celebrate the world. We appreciate the beauty, the wonder, and the miraculousness of life. That appreciation is critical; for only when we understand how splendid yet fragile is God’s world can we begin to repent for having damaged or neglected it. All tikkun, all reparation, begins in appreciation.”

Rabbi Wolpe added: “We heal relationships because we understand their value. We seek to restore the imbalances in the natural world because its native pageantry dazzles our eyes. Yom Kippur is the outcome of our Rosh Hashanah vision: surrounded by possibility, we need to heal what we have hurt, or nurture the untended patches of God’s garden. Seeing the cracks in creation, we acknowledge our obligation to fill them. First comes gratitude, then regret, then restoration.”

Happy Rosh Hashanah and Mid-Autumn Festival to all!