The ‘Abraham Accord’ Gives New Meaning to an Ancient Prayer
Back in 2012, the Iraqi Mission to the United Nations and the Kurdish Regional Government asked the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) and Museum of Tolerance (MOT) to prepare an exhibition for the 25th anniversary of Saddam Hussein’s gassing of his own citizens. That led my colleague, MOT Director, Liebe Geft and I to Kurdistan where we interviewed survivors of Saddam’s horrific attacks and collected other first-hand information and materials which would be used at the opening at UN headquarters.
I asked to be brought to mass grave of 5,000 Muslim victims and searched for an appropriate prayer, and the words of the first unique paragraph of the Jewish High Holy Days Amidah prayer spilled forth:
“And so, וּבְכֵן,
תֵּן פַּחְדְּךָ יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ
(The word תֵּן implies מַתָּנָה, a gift) We ask Hashem [God] to grant us the feeling of reverence/fear for Him, as a gift…
that Your awe, Adonai, our God,
עַל כָּל מַעֲשֶֽׂיךָ
be upon all Your works,
וְאֵימָתְךָ עַל כָּל מַה שֶּׁבָּרָֽאתָ.
and Your dread upon all You have created;
וְיִירָאֽוּךָ כָּל הַמַּעֲשִׂים
and [then] all [Your] works will fear You,
and prostrate before You
all [Your] created beings.
וְיֵעָשׂוּ כֻלָּם אֲגֻדָּה אֶחָת
And may they all form a single band
to do Your will
with a perfect heart.
כְּמוֹ שֶׁיָּדַֽעְנוּ יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ
For we know Adonai, our God
that ruler-ship is Yours,
strength is in Your hand,
might is in Your right hand
and Your Name is awesome
עַל כָּל מַה שֶּׁבָּרָֽאתָ:
over all You have created.
(Translation courtesy of Sefira.org)
This turns out to be a powerfully appropriate prayer when we are confronted with horrific markers of humankind’s bottomless capacity to do evil in this world.
Yet, those very same words came back to me as I experienced an amazingly sublime moment, so joyous, so fraught with hope, that I and the hundreds of other guests on the White House lawn- Arabs, Jews, and Christians—kept looking at each other—seeking confirmation that we actually were witnessing a new chapter in the history of the Middle East, whose opening paragraph promised peace, real peace between neighbors.
Yes, thank G-d it did happen, an amazing burst of light to pierce our Rosh Hashanah pandemic-induced gloom. Yes, it is real. But nothing is automatic or guaranteed.
Rosh Hashanah is a time of reflection for each of us. Having played a small role in moving the needle towards the embrace of peace and hope between Jews and Muslims, I gratefully introduce the names of a few peacebuilders from the Gulf and Israel- some famous, others not so much.
There is Mohamed Alabbar, the man who built the world’s tallest building, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, but whose humanity and empathy for others towers above that edifice. From the beginning, he gently guided us on the path of understanding his space, his nation even as he hastened to embrace us and understand our values.
There is Betsy Mathieson, the Scottish-born head of This is Bahrain, an amazing NGO that has partnered with the Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, Rome, and Mumbai, achieved spectacular results in pursuit of tolerance and mutual understanding. And Betsy made history in Israel, when in December 2018, she led a delegation of 24 faith leaders from Bahrain for a four-day trailblazing visit to Jerusalem. Beyond the holy sites, her humanity was exemplified by the time she spent at world-renowned Shalva, Jerusalem’s unique gem of an institution devoted to children with multiple handicaps, a place where all differences melt as families are empowered to improve the quality of life for little kids with massive challenges.
There are many, many, others in the United Arab Emirates who have worked for the day when peace would come. I remember that as we left the palace in Abu Dhabi more than a decade ago, Rabbi Marvin Hier, the founder of the SWC said to me, “This is a forthright leader with the courage to make peace someday”. He was referring to His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. That day has arrived.
Finally, Bahrain’s King Hamad, who established a close personal relationship with Rabbi Hier from the moment they met in 2017. King Hamad leads a small country but he has the courage of his convictions. He railed against the Arab Boycott of Israel, allowed his citizens to visit the Jewish State. His people need no lessons in religious tolerance, Bahrainis live it every day. His Bahrain Declaration on Religious Tolerance set a new baseline for inter-group relations and has involved his son Sheikh Nasser in launching the initiative with 800 faith leaders in Los Angeles and Mumbai.
There is one other person who I can only call Mr. X. You will never see his photo, but he is a man of action and grace, who has helped make all that happen. I am proud to call him friend and a mentor who has taught me much about faith, loyalty and humility.
The path forward towards a broader peace with Arab nations is already underway. Local stops may soon include Oman and G-d willing, Morocco and Sudan.
So, this would be the perfect time for all peace-seekers and peace-makers-past-and- future to reflect on that special prayer from the Amidah of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur:
U’vchain Tain Pachdecha—Please Lord gift us all-Jews, Muslims, Christians the feeling of reverence/fear for the Almighty. May that reverence and humility create a pandemic of peace and mutual respect among all humanity.