The Freedom of Hope

Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, April 2, 2021 / 20 Nisan 5781

Summary: This week’s Oasis Songs focuses on what allows us to hope as well as what gets in the way. Additionally, I discuss an important Israeli-Palestinian peace project that our community has agreed to co-sponsor.

Reading Time: Four minutes

Have you ever found yourself refusing to hope? Maybe after a big break up or the loss of a job? Perhaps after the death of a loved one?

There’s a way that hope can feel dangerous. “How will I deal with my disappointment if what I hope for doesn’t come to be?” Allowing ourselves to hope can make us vulnerable to pain and disappointment. At the same time, to live without hope is its own type of pain that drains the color from life.

I suspect that some sort of unresolved trauma lies at the root of this all-too-human tendency to deny hope. It’s a bit like the Greek myth of Pandora’s box (or jar). After the gods present Pandora with this jar, they instruct her never to open it. Well, you know how that goes. Tell people not to do something, and of course they will. What first spills out are all the hardships and ills of being human. So stunned is she by these traumas that she quickly shuts the lid. What remains in the jar is bottled-up-hope, which of course is an essential ingredient to process our pain and embrace both the present and the possibility of a different future.

When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it seems like all the ills have spilled out while hope remains locked in the jar. There’s been so much hurt that neither side really can muster the hope that things can change. In recent years, many Palestinians have relinquished the promise of a two-state solution and imagine that their best opportunity resides in a single state for all. While my personal preference is for a two-state solution, ultimately such a decision rests in the hands of the two peoples. I have pondered, however, whether this move is driven by despair and an inability to hope. The argument goes that Israeli control of certain territories has made a sustainable and contiguous Palestinian state impossible. Yet anyone who has studied ancient Jewish history is aware that the boundaries of the land of Israel have always been fluid, as is the case with many nations. Just because Israel occupies certain areas or has population centers where the Palestinians hope to build their destiny doesn’t actually take anything off the table. It’s the lack of hope that collapses the horizon of our imagination.

As we near the end of Passover, and as we approach Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for her fallen soldiers, it’s worth asking what provides us the freedom to hope, especially when hope seems unrealistic? In at least some cases, we need to go back and explore the pain which first extinguished our hope. Moreover, we sometimes need others to share in and recognize the burden that we carry.

Last night, our Executive Committee decided that our congregation would sponsor the upcoming Israeli-Palestinian Joint Memorial Day Ceremony on April 13th. This marks the 16th year when Israelis and Palestinians who have lost a loved one to the conflict come together to grieve. It is the largest Israeli-Palestinian peace event in history. To put this in perspective, last year, 200,000 people joined virtually, and a million people later streamed the ceremony. Last year’s ceremony was quite touching as parents would take turns speaking of whom they lost as well as sharing their values and commitments for a different future between these two peoples. The organization which puts this event together is Combatants for Peace. They are dedicated to the principles of non-violence. Here’s the link. Because of the time difference, the ceremony will occur at 11 AM PST. Please look at our weekly eblast for more details as they become available.

I am proud that our kehilla is standing with these brave Israelis and Palestinians who have the courage to hope. I am moved by their willingness to hear one another’s pain since this is the fertile ground upon which hope can grow. We all understand how many efforts of peace and cooperation have occurred over the years. We are all too familiar with how those efforts collapsed in the face of new violence. It would be all too easy to shut the jar while hope is stuck inside, yet any reading of history would be incomplete without a corresponding history of ideas. The more people who participate in this memorial and share in our common humanity, the greater is the opportunity to change people’s hearts, souls, and minds.

Margaret Mead, the great cultural anthropologist, famously stated, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Well, if a small group can do that, what about 200,000 people? What about you and me?

As we enter Shabbat and the final days of Pesach, let me wish you the freedom to hope.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rav D

Shabbat Table Talk

  1. What great hope have you seen come to fruition?
  2. Which of your hopes have been squashed?
  3. How have you picked up the pieces afterwards?
  4. How do you balance a healthy and necessary skepticism with a willingness to believe?
  5. What gives you the freedom to hope?

If you’d like to continue this discussion, follow this link to CNS’s Facebook page to share your own perspectives on the topics raised in this week’s Oasis Songs. Comments will be moderated as necessary.

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