Being Jewish Today

            What is our mission as Jews in the world today?

            What does it mean to live a Jewish life?

            What should it mean?

            These questions go to the very core of what it means to be Jewish in the twenty-first century. After countless years of trial and pain, why are we Jews still around? Why does the world need Jews?

            The answer is HOPE. Yes, we Jews represent an incredible and most core value for humankind. We represent and live by hope. We are a concrete response to the Ecclesiastes statement that all of life is vanity. (1:14.)

            We read in Tanach, “A righteous man falls down seven times and gets up.” (Proverbs, 24:16.) As some have said, life is all about the ability to get up from challenge. Greatness is defined as getting up one more time than you’ve fallen down. The Torah defines someone who’s righteous not as someone who had succeeded, but as someone who has persevered. It creates a paradigm of what righteousness is – trying to do what’s right; getting up from failure; and continually moving forward.

            Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes that Western Civilization is the product of two cultures: ancient Greece and ancient Israel. The Greeks believed in fate: the future is determined by the past. The Jews believed in freedom: there is no “evil decree” that cannot be averted. The Greeks gave the world the concept of tragedy; Jews gave the world the idea of hope.

            The whole of Judaism – though it would take a book to show it – is a set of laws and narratives designed to create in people, families, communities, and a nation habits that defeat despair. Judaism is the voice of hope in the conversation of mankind.

            I believe that it is abundantly clear why the national anthem of the State of Israel is titled “Hatikvah” – the hope. For almost 1,500 years, we Jews kept alive our hope for a return to our land. The Passover Seder ends with the statement, “Next year in Jerusalem.” Jerusalem and the Land of Israel are at once a concrete hope for a better reality and a metaphor of the eternal possibility of hope being fulfilled.

            I am taken with the statement of the author Rebecca Solnit who writes, “Hope is not the belief that everything was, is or will be fine.” For her, hope instead is an embrace of the unknown, a gift you don’t have to surrender, and a power you don’t have to relinquish.

            We are a hopeful people. We are never broken.

– Rabbi Joseph