Let’s Build a Room for Hope

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Shabbat shalom.

Today I want to revisit some words I shared with you all on Yom Kippur. At the time I was talking about climate despair. Today, of course, all I can think of is Israel/Palestine. I think of the Israelis and Jews in mourning, including some of my beloved friends who are grieving and traumatized. I think of the hostages who are praying for their lives and whose families are bereft watching all this horror. I think of the children and families and people of Gaza, who have no access to food or water. Where hospitals are failing. Where there is no escape and nowhere to hide as Israel’s bombs rain down. I think of the horror of 1.1 million people told to evacuate within 24 hours notice. When there is nowhere to go and no way to get there safely. I think of the unspeakable death toll of hundreds of Palestinian children. A number that is only rising and rising. 

I think of what we as Americans and as Jews are called to do with our grief, our sadness and our power for a just, lasting peace. 

On Yom Kippur, I said:

“There is no point when we can give up. And what’s more––we cannot wait until we are no longer grieving or numb. We cannot wait until we feel less broken, until we have no more doubt, or shame or fear. Perhaps there is some power, some lesson, in the arc of this holy season and the prescribed order of ancient rituals that take us through it. We begin with Tisha B’av, the holiday where we mark the destruction of the Temple. Traditionally people sit in the dark, read the devastating book of Eicha/Lamentations, rent our clothing, and weep. We open our hearts to feel the destruction, the grief, the vulnerability. But then, collectively, we get up off the ground. We don’t wait until we feel hopeful. We don’t wait until we are actually convinced it will be ok. We get up. We don’t deny or judge what we feel. But regardless of what we feel, we get up off the ground together and Tisha B’av ends. And we keep moving into the Days of Awe and towards this night, when we commit to how we want to live the rest of the year. 

“And if, during the year, we start to feel stuck, if we cannot recognize the remnants that can still be lifted up and remade in our own hands, then instead of turning to shame and instead of giving up, may we turn again and again to the teachers. Like the one in the midrash we discussed,* who picked up a piece of a destroyed chuppah and turned it into a flute and made it sing. May we turn to the people who have shown us before that none of us are alone and there is still so much that can be done. In time, may we each also access that capacity within ourselves as well. May we witness it within one another. In our personal lives and collectively.

“I want to leave you with this: do not give up.”

Those were my words on Kol Nidre. Today I need this lesson from our tradition even more.

Because I don’t have hope today.

Fine. I don’t have hope today. But maybe I don’t need hope today.

I make a space for hope to come. I am going to prepare her a beautiful room. I am going to lure her towards me. I set the table for her arrival through action, through not turning away.

Because today all I need to do is to call Congress for de-escalation and a ceasefire. I don’t need hope today because today all I need is to stop fighting with family and worrying about friends with whom I disagree slightly and focus instead on shared collective action to fight the cycle of death and to move people in mass together. Today I need to call for a prisoner exchange for the release of all Israeli hostages to return home immediately. Today I need to keep checking in on Palestinian friends and Israeli friends. Today I need to say apartheid and occupation ultimately does not keep anyone safe. Today I need to say war crimes do not justify war crimes. Today I need to keep my humanity. And today I need to keep going even without hope. Because hope will come one day.

I make a space for hope to come. I am going to prepare her a beautiful room. I am going to lure her towards me. I set the table for her arrival through action, through not turning away. Through joining with others en masse to make change, by taking care of myself and others, by grieving and witnessing others’ grief. I set the table for hope to come and sit by living with radical compassion. I make her a place at my table. And she will come and sit there and be with me again one day. Maybe it’s just not her time now.

In this week’s parsha, God makes life. God makes human life in God’s image b’tzelem elokim. God imbues this planet with beauty and holiness that, today, we must cherish and fight for.

I used to love a midrash that tells us many worlds were created and destroyed before this one finally stuck. It made me feel like starting over was sacred. That still works for me as a metaphor for the creative process. For spiritual healing. For many things. But today I can only acknowledge that this is our one world. Our one shared human history. What choice do we have but to fight for the sanctity of life–all life? What choice do we have except to fight for it, even when hope is out of reach? To fight for it and in doing so draw hope down to us from the heavens.

Rabbi Miriam Grossman is the former rabbi of congregation Kolot Chayeinu in Brooklyn, NY.

*Eicha Rabbah 4:14