09/24/2014 04:59 pm ET Updated Nov 24, 2014

What Jews Will Be Praying for This Rosh Hashanah

As Jews prepare this year to gather together in prayer round the world on Rosh Hashanah, many of us are struck by a remarkable biblical truth that appears to have been confirmed within the past few months: The fate of the Jews and the fate of the world are inextricably linked.

Jews are not only meant to be, in the words of Isaiah, "a light unto the nations" but what happens to them is a harbinger of universal import. As God put it to Abraham in the book of Genesis, "I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you, and in you shall all the families of the earth be blessed." [12:3]

Going back centuries, Spain was the mightiest empire in the world in 1492 when it decided to cruelly expel the Jews from its midst. For its entire Jewish population, from statesmen and scholars to its simple masses, the Golden Age of Spain came to an abrupt and ignominious end. And so too followed the almost immediate decline of Spanish influence and power. 1492 assumed yet another reason for historic importance as result of the discovery of America by Columbus in that very same year. As Jews would see it in retrospect, God closed one door but at the same time opened another. America would become both the country most favorable to Jews in the history of mankind - as well as the greatest and most successful nation on earth.

This past summer marked a terrifying time for Jews. Israel was the target for thousands of missiles indiscriminately aimed at civilians, including women and children. Hamas made clear its goal was to fulfill the words of its charter to kill every last infidel Jew. Yet, in a shockingly surprising turn of events, much of the world's sympathy went to the Hamas terrorist group who started a war and suffered its consequences. In Europe, just a little over half a century after the Holocaust, voices were raised that urged Jews be again consigned to the crematoria, that Hitler was right, that shops no longer sell to Jews and restaurants no longer serve "Jews and dogs." Anti-Semitism went from forbidden to fashionable. This even in liberal circles so fond of deploring any form of racism.

And now, as America has finally concluded that it must take on Islamic extremism and declared war on ISIS, we've seen yet another validation of what scholars have called the "canary bird in the coal mine" theory of Jew hatred. Coal miners fear toxic fumes that may kill them before they're aware of their presence. For that reason they bring canaries into the mines with them. The birds are the first victims of these noxious gases. As such, they serve to give critical warning.

So too, the enemies of civilization have invariably singled out the Jews first for destruction. For Hitler, for Stalin, for the many tyrants who sought world domination, Jews made for a readily available scapegoat whose death might even be secretly applauded. Islamic extremists were right in determining that their war against the Jews wouldn't disturb the conscience of the civilized world. But somehow people didn't take seriously their slogan that "First we will take care of the Saturday worshipers and then we will finish off the Sunday celebrants."

It was but a short step from the bombing of Israeli Jews to the beheading of American journalists. Extremism doesn't recognize any national boundaries. The war against terror dare not differentiate between its victims. Europeans who excoriated Israel while praising Hamas and praying for its success just a few short months ago need to recognize that if radical Islam and sharia law come to define European culture, its heritage of enlightenment and liberalism will come to a tragic close.

On the forthcoming high holy days, Jews pray for the world. The date for the beginning of the New Year comes not in commemoration of the establishment of the Jewish people as they left Egypt or the moment when Abraham became the first patriarch by intuiting the existence of only one God. Rosh Hashanah marks the creation of Adam and Eve, the universal parents of all human kind who share in the spiritual greatness of being created in the image of God.

At the end of a 10 day period of introspection and prayer, Yom Kippur closes this holy set of days with the public reading of one book from the Bible. It is about the only prophet sent not to the Jews but to Gentiles. It was divine concern for the city of Nineveh and its inhabitants that prompted God to send Jonah, to attempt to bring about their repentance and salvation. That city today is called Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq. It is now controlled by ISIS, emptied for the first time in thousands of years of any remaining Christians who have either been brutally executed or forced to convert to Islam.

As the canary birds of history, Jews will pray this year not only for blessings for our people but for a world that we have all too clearly seen inevitably shares our fate.