The next few days feature a surprising string of important anniversaries in contemporary history. Here are a few of the key dates:
September 15, 1959. Next Tuesday, for all you 20th-century history buffs (and you “Car 54, Where Are You?” fans) is the 50th anniversary of the day Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev landed at Idlewild, now known as Kennedy International Aiport, for the first-ever U.S. visit by a Soviet leader, a turning point in the Cold War. Khrushchev was the post-Stalin party boss who exposed Stalin’s crimes, eased up East-West tensions and opened up some cultural freedom (including permitting the launch in 1961 of the Soviet Union’s first Jewish periodical in a generation, the Yiddish literary magazine Sovietish Heimland). He should be remembered as the granddaddy of glasnost but mostly he isn’t because memories are short and vindictiveness is enduring.
September 14, 1965. Next Monday is the 44th anniversary of the opening by Pope Paul VI of the fourth and final session of the Second Vatican Council. The session ran for three months and adopted (among other documents) the historic Nostra Aetate proclamation ending the accusation of deicide and calling for historic reforms in Catholic-Jewish relations.
Also on this date, in 1946, Hank Greenberg hit 7 RBIs, including 2 home runs, to lift 1945 world champion Detroit over the Yankees in the final game of the season. Unfortunately, Boston won the American League pennant and then lost the World Series to St. Louis.
September 12, 1991. This Saturday is the 18th anniversary of the congressional lobbying day, organized by the Council of Jewish Federations and the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, that brought about 1,200 local community leaders to Washington to press for a $10 billion federal loan guarantee to help Israel resettle Soviet immigrants. President George H.W. Bush was making the loan guarantees conditional on an Israeli settlement freeze, which Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir refused to accept. The lobbying day was Shamir’s attempt to go straight to Congress as an end-run around Bush. Bush held a press conference that afternoon and complained, banging angrily on the podium, that he was “one lonely little guy” standing alone, “up against some powerful political forces,” meaning the Jewish community. It sounded anti-Semitic to a lot of Jews and the collective anger on all sides contributed directly to the fall the following year of both Bush and Shamir.
September 13, 1993. Sunday is the 16th anniversary of the signing ceremony on the White House lawn at which Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat formalized the peace accord negotiated that spring in Oslo, ushering in what promised to be a new era in Israeli-Palestinian relations.
September 11, 2001. Friday is — well, you know. As they say in Yiddish, “man tracht un Got lacht” — man plans and God laughs.
But soon after, of course, comes September 18. Friday evening is, so our sages teach, the mother of all anniversaries, the birthday of the world. A time for new beginnings. And since that day ushers in the 10 Days of Teshuva, I wish all of us many happy returns (ba-dum-bum) and a happy 5,770th birthday.