If you are one who reads the news and is following the presidential primaries, then it is sadly easy to understand why so many people feel that we live in “the worst of all possible worlds!” Much of the collective fear is based on how rapidly almost all aspects of our lives are changing. Whether through social media, reality TV, or the fundamental changes in our economy, the disruption taking place in our society, and workplaces, makes it hard to grasp and understand the ramifications of these changes in real time. Add to that a surreal presidential campaign that is also causing disruption to the conventional political process, and the threat of terrorism by extremists – it is no wonder that there is so much uncertainty and anxiety.
And yet, is there no place for optimism? Even in the face of uncertainty, and the exponential changes that are unfolding, aren’t many of these changes opportunities as well?
Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz states: “We live in a world in which we have to accept a vast amount of evil, but evil can be conquered and I think that it is really a statement of what I would call ‘Jewish optimism.’ An optimist is one who in spite of seeing the terrible facts as they are, believes that there can be improvement. If everything were all right, then you wouldn’t have to be an optimist. So I do believe that we, as Jews, are optimists because we are a people with hope and we have a theology of hope.”
I embrace the “theology of hope.” I believe that God’s creation is good, and that we can each add to the good that exists. Many amazing opportunities await our children as they go through life – opportunities that they will be able to capitalize on with the acquired right skills, and a strong moral compass, to guide them through.
I choose to be hopeful, and help our children discover their gifts to live a meaningful life. And I choose to dedicate my energies to helping children and adults discover the power of being a part of the Jewish people to bring meaning, happiness and fulfillment into their lives.
To understand and embrace the Jew’s “theology of hope,” we need to know who we are, and where we fit. This knowledge counters the negative messages the media screams at us daily, causing many Americans to live with unwarranted constant fear that doom is just around the corner.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel beautifully writes, “The authentic individual is neither an end nor a beginning but a link between ages, both memory and expectations…. To us, recollection is a holy act; we sanctify the present by remembering the past.”
It is through memory that we can understand our present. We remember through stories, through prayer, through practicing and performing our many customs, rituals and mitzvot. We remember through Hebrew, the language of modern Israel and our ancient texts. We remember through knowledge. Without memory there is no past, and there is no future.
Each one of us is a product of our ancestors. We are the inheritors of the sacred gift they handed to us; our reason for being, our ethics and values, our traditions and idiosyncrasies. They help us formulate our attitudes, our beliefs, and what it means to be a Jewish optimist grounded in the theology of hope.
Without our sacred past we would exist in a void, trapped in the here and now, looking for meaning in the transient – coming up empty as so many people do today. And it is this emptiness that also contributes to the anxiety and fear we are seeing so much of today.
We are the story, and to write our future, the expectations of tomorrow, we have to know our past to pass it forward. Yes, we are a link, and that link must be strong at both ends.
The “authentic” individual needs authentic learning opportunities and experiences to author a future that will be sustainable. And that is what we strive to do each and every day at Hillel Day School.
We live in a time when more people seem to want less commitment but expect more. Life does not work that way. Our rich and complex tradition demands time, effort and dedication.
Your children will have a strong and rich Jewish memory to enable them to sanctify their present while creating a link to the future of our people, and to meaningfully contribute to the world they will inherit someday, making this world a little better than how they found it. That is the theology of hope!