Hope’ is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—
And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
And sore must be the storm—
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm—
I’ve heard it in the chillest land—
And on the strangest Sea—
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb—of Me.
So what is hope? And why talk about it today?
Today we at a moment in between, between Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, and Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel Independence Day. So today, we must find hope. This is what Elie Wiesel said in an interview with Reform Judaism:
“We must ask ourselves the painful questions: ‘Have we survivors done our duty?’ ‘Has our warning been properly articulated?’ ‘Has our message been accurately communicated?’ ‘Have we acted as true witnesses?’ It is with fear and trembling that we often reach the conclusion: something went wrong with our testimony; it was not received. Otherwise, things would have been different…. Had anyone told us when we were liberated that we would be compelled in our lifetime to fight anti-Semitism once more… we would have had no strength to lift our eyes from the ruins. If only we could tell the tale, we thought, the world would change. Well, we have told the tale, and the world has remained the same….
And yet, we shall not give up, we shall not give in. It may be too late for the victims and even for the survivors – but not for our children, not for mankind. Yes, in an age tainted by violence, we must teach coming generations of the origins and consequences of violence. In a society of bigotry and indifference, we must tell our contemporaries that whatever the answer, it must grow out of human compassion and reflect man’s relentless quest for justice and memory.”
That’s forward thinking. That’s hope.
Elie Wiesel worked for a time where there would never be a holocaust again—to anyone, at anytime, any place. He, together with the US Holocaust Museum and American Jewish World Service was one of the leaders of the Save Darfur campaign and a massive rally in Washington DC, in 2006.
That’s forward thinking. That’s hope.
American Jewish World Service is at the vanguard of pushing for protections for the Rohinga. As one of their recent travel study tours participants, Carol Weitz “We, as Jews, have a sacred responsibility to the larger world and if we truly strive for a better world, then we cannot turn our backs on others who are denied their human rights.”
That’s forward thinking. That’s hope.
Judaism is a religion of hope. We sing—and we will sing HaTikvah, the hope, later this morning. We pray for a time when the world will be at peace—and yet for more than 2000 years the world has not been at peace. We continue to teach the vision of the prophets where the lion will lie down with the lamb, where everyone will sit under their vine and fig tree and none shall make them afraid.
It is forward thinking. It is hope.
Last night, at this liminal time, I told two stories. I told The Terrible Things, an allegory of the Holocaust, by Eve Bunting. In a forest setting, she retells the quote of Martin Niemoller. First they came for the Jews and I didn’t speak up. This week we learned that Americans don’t know about the Holocaust,
41% of Americans don’t know about Auschwitz. Two-thirds of millennials. Now I did surveying for a living before I was a rabbi, but these numbers were so compelling I felt I had to act. So I told the story and asked. And every single one of the kids who had come as part of their confirmation program at First Congregational Church knew the Niemoller quote. That provides me with hope.
Then I turned to Israel and I read most of the story, The Secret Grove, by Barbara Cohen. It tells the story of a 10 year old boy in Kfar Saba. His father lost an arm in the War of Independence but he is normal boy, going to school and playing soccer, hoping that he won’t be chosen last for the team. He is and he runs away with his ball, down a dirt road and runs into another boy…He’s scared but in a combination of Hebrew, English and little Arabic the two have a conversation. They become friends. They plant some orange seeds. The book doesn’t sugar coat it. At the end the boy, now a grown up, returns to the dirt road and the tree that grew from the seeds. He has now fought Arabs in three wars. He wonders what the boy has done.
Somehow this book gives me hope.
The Hope, HaTikvah is the name of the Israeli National Anthem. What do we know about it?
It was originally written in 1878 by Naphtali Herz Imber from Zolochiv, a city that was nicknamed “The City of Poets. When he immigrated to Palestine in 1882 he read his nine stanza poem to some of the early pioneers. It originally expressed his pride following the establishment of Pitah Tikvah and published in Barkai. It then became the anthem of first Hovevei Zion and then the Zionist movement at the First Zionist Congress in 1897. It wasn’t without controversy. The British Mandate government banned it briefly in 1919 due to Arab anti-zionist protest. And some Orthodox rabbis protested its selection as Israel’s national anthem because it doesn’t mention G-d. Instead, Rav Kook penned a different set of lyrics, Ha-Emunah, the Faith.
Both are forward thinking. They give me hope.
Jews, despite all the odds, have always found a way to hope. In exile. Words like, “If I forget, thee, O Jerusalem.” And “By the waters of Babylon,” gave our people hope. Proclaiming every year, “Next year in Jerusalem,” at the Passover seder, gave our people hope. Welcoming Elijah, the herald of the Messianic era to a seder, Havdalah the birth of a child, gives us hope. Working for Tikkun Olam, the repair of the world, bringing the shards of our world’s brokenness back together, is forward thinking and gives us hope.
In 1925 Edmund Flegg, a French Jew penned an article that appears in our prayerbook.
I am a Jew because the faith of Israel demands no
abdication of my mind.
I am a Jew because the faith of Israel asks every
possible sacrifice of my soul.
I am a Jew because in all places where there are tears
and suffering the Jew weeps.
I am a Jew because in every age when the cry of despair
is heard the Jew hopes.
I am a Jew because the message of Israel is the most
ancient and the most modern.
I am a Jew because Israel’s promise is a universal
I am a Jew because for Israel the world is not finished;
men will complete it.
I am a Jew because for Israel man is not yet fully
created; men are creating him.
I am a Jew because Israel places man and his unity
above nations and above Israel itself.
I am a Jew because above man, image of the divine
unity, Israel places the unity which is divine.
— Edmond Flegg, “Why I Am a Jew”
It is a reading with forward thinking. It fills me with hope.
Even during the Holocaust, Jews found a way to hope. Even at the gates of Auschwitz, they would sing.
Ani Maamin, ani maamin, ani maamin.
Beviat hamashiach, ani manamin.
I believe with complete faith
In the coming of the Messiah. I believe.
And even though he may tarry, I will wait for him.
While based on Rambam’s 13 Articles of Faith, I am not sure I could have sung that standing there.
Perhaps, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi Emeritus of Great Britain says it best.
“Judaism is a religion of details, but we miss the point if we do not sometimes step back and see the larger picture. To be a Jew is to be an agent of hope in a world serially threatened by despair. Every ritual, every mitzvah, every syllable of the Jewish story, every element of Jewish law, is a protest against escapism, resignation or the blind acceptance of fate. Judaism is a sustained struggle, the greatest ever known, against the world that is, in the name of the world that could be, should be, but is not yet. There is no more challenging vocation. Throughout history, when human beings have sought hope they have found it in the Jewish story. Judaism is the religion, and Israel the home, of hope.”
To underscore what Sacks himself has said, “Judaism is humanity’s faith in the future tense; the Jewish voice is the voice of an inextinguishable hope.”
It is a powerful statement. It also carries with it great responsibility. Hope is not the same as optimism, which is “passive and accepting.” Hope requires us to work together to make things better.”
Elie Wiesel ended his interview with the magazine with these words:
So despite your disappointment and bouts of pessimism, you remain hopeful.
Yes. One must wager on the future. I believe it is possible, in spite of everything, to believe in friendship in a world without friendship, and even to believe in God in a world where there has been an eclipse of God’s face. Above all, we must not give in to cynicism. To save the life of a single child, no effort is too much. To make a tired old man smile is to perform an essential task. To defeat injustice and misfortune, if only for one instant, for a single victim, is to invent a new reason to hope.
Just as despair can be given to me only by another human being, hope too can be given to me only by another human being. Mankind must remember too that, like hope, peace is not God’s gift to his creatures. Peace is a very special gift–it is our gift to each other. For the sake of our children and theirs, I pray that we are worthy of that hope, of that redemption, and some measure of peace.
Come work with me for a better world, a vision of what the world can be. Come find hope.