I remember my first visit to Israel in 1994. The Oslo Accords had just been signed. Hope reigned. My group was greeted warmly in the Arab market in Jerusalem.
The opposite feelings prevail today. We witness bombings, indiscriminate hatred, vitriol. Dozens of my friends who are there now share words of sadness and despair.
Can we find any basis for hope? We must. Not because it’s easy. But because the alternatives are devastating.
The first alternative is giving up. We simply let violence continue until enough lives are lost that we can’t take it anymore.
The second alternative is to let hate multiply. I support Israel’s right to defend itself, but it is not hard to find grievances on both sides. The longer the conflict continues, the more grievances both sides will have. It is not hard to imagine.
The third and perhaps most tempting alternative is cynicism. We can say this conflict will never end. It may stop temporarily but will resume soon enough. I admit to feeling this way sometimes.
What my tradition calls upon, however, is hope. David Ben Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel, said that Judaism asks to each of us to “be an optimist against all better judgment.”
What gives me that hope, that optimism, is a God who cares about every human being. God gave us a world to cherish and protect, and more often not, we fail in doing so. But like us, God never gives up hope.
Join me in the prayer written by Rabbi Tamar Elad-Appelbaum
…God, Grant me the strength not to despair so that I can proclaim:
Behold, I take upon myself the yoke of the kingdom of life
A language of compassion and peace and love of humanity.
Grant me the strength that my soul not die but live,
And perceive the eternal light as it gradually bursts forth.