A Tricky Word

Amidst the bombardment of words by the media on the current Gaza War, one tricky word stands apart: Hope.

“Hamas is ‘grotesque’ but there’s hope for truce,” Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, recently stated. In another proclamation, John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, exclaimed that “suffice it to say, it is my hope and belief that these talks will lead to results.”

But what does hope really mean? Is it a realistic thought or a mere fantasy? Is it a practical idea or a wishful illusion?

The Two Sides Of Hope

Hope is a double-edge sword. On the one hand, hope can redeem. For example, a cancer patient with hope has a better chance to recover than someone who has none. On the other hand, hope alone does not secure any results.

These two facets of hope have also found expression in Jewish history. During some of the Jewish nation’s most difficult moments, hope played a vital role in its survival. But hope has also led it to many of its disastrous times.

During the infamous “Oslo accords” of 1993 – a handshake followed by the many “peace process” negotiations – many of Israel’s leaders succumbed to baseless emotions. They hoped to reach fair deals and bring lasting peace to the region. Over the two decades that have followed, they have shown so-called ‘restraint’ while facing its enemies’ ongoing ruthless attacks as they hoped the world would rally around Israel, and they hoped its enemies would miraculously change their ways.

Choosing A Bride Out Of A Catalogue

And here lies the key to understanding hope: when hope is unaccompanied by realism – by facts on the ground – it is doomed to fail. Actions that are based on a hope that is detached from the world can never work or last. It is like choosing a bride out of a mail order catalogue, hoping she possesses all the finest virtues – and is beautiful, too. How can one expect to lead a life of meaning and success with hope alone?

This stands true for Israel’s politics: Negotiations from a position of weakness and fear rather than strength and conviction have proved disastrous in all arenas. Such an approach will only strengthen our enemies and weaken us. Terrorists love to terrorize. And terrorists thrive when their intended victims radiate ambiguity.

A Vision Well Articulated

This is the lesson we ought to learn from the current Gaza War: Hope must accompany a pragmatic vision rather than replace it. And the pragmatic vision for our state of Israel was well articulated clearly by its founders who vowed, in the words of the country’s declaration of independence, to “create an independent Jewish state…based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel.”

That vision includes a pronounced commitment on the part of the state to fully protect its people – which means, among other things, renouncing any negotiations with terrorists, and their complete disarmament and eradication. The only ceasefire that Israel needs is the cessation of delusory hope.

Your Individual Contribution Is Crucial

My mentor, world-scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, was recently asked how we can we best help our brethren in Israel during these difficult times. What can we possibly do to make a difference?

His reply was poignant: “The first is to try to influence public opinion by explaining the purpose and the merit of what is being done. For instance: what the Israeli army is doing – by warning people of Gaza ahead of time to evacuate in order to escape the harm of shelling – possibly has no precedent anywhere in the world.”

“The other way is internal: to strengthen everyone’s connection with our people, especially for the younger generation. We should be strengthening our feelings of unity and the connection with the State of Israel.”

So let us pray more, and contribute generously to those who are supporting Israeli residents under fire and especially to the families of the victims of terror.

But let us not forget to also do our very best to influence public opinion – joining AIPAC is a great start – and strengthen our personal connection with our people, our country, our traditions, and our heritage, as Rabbi Steinsaltz suggests.

Our many hopes for better days will then undoubtedly come true.