Our hope is still alive! – עוֹד לֹא אָבְדָה תִּקְוָתֵנוּ

Growing up, Israel was always a recurring theme in my household. My paternal grandparents met fighting in the Haganah, the underground military organization in Israel from 1920 to 1948 that later became the IDF, and I was raised in a family of fierce zionists. When I was younger, we spent summers in Israel visiting with family, and in my adult life, I am lucky to have traveled to Israel 1 to 2 times a year. I’ve staffed 12 birthright trips, studied in Israel, worked on teen tours bringing youth to the Jewish homeland, and so much more. Israel, as you can tell, plays a vital role in my life.

After weeks of seeing opportunities for clergy to travel on missions to Israel, a colleague and I felt compelled to find an opportunity for Educators to travel to Israel. We are at the forefront of this vital work, crafting young minds and helping them shape their Jewish Identity as they figure out what kinds of Jewish lives they want to lead. Israel is a critical component of one’s Jewish Identity, and we needed to travel there to experience firsthand what the country was going through. When we realized this opportunity did not yet exist, we built it for ourselves and our colleagues, who all so desperately wanted the chance to be in Israel at this time. In partnership with the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion School of Education Alumni Association and the Association for Reform Jewish Educators, with generous funding from the Jewish Education Project, we brought 30 Reform Jewish Educators to Israel to hear, hug, and help. During our time in Israel we visited various forms of education, from home-made schools for Northern residents run by principals and teachers who jumped out of retirement to help. We heard from Reform movement leaders, alongside Reform movement victims and survivors, and we learned about the continued struggles for justice being led by the Israeli Reform Action Center. We prayed at Hebrew Union College, studied with current students, and got our hands dirty sorting tomatoes and preparing them for distribution. While I could write every story of each person we met with, the schools we volunteered at, the families we hugged, I want to focus on the enduring dilemma of grief and hope that was so present in every aspect of our time in Israel.

Over our five days, we had the chance to meet with families who were displaced from Kibbutz Nahal Oz and are currently living in Mishmar Ha’emek, a community in the north. They shared that our group being here was lifesaving, not just financially, which the country desperately needs, but on the soul. This sentiment was felt everywhere we went. The gratitude for our presence was overwhelming, and the first thing every group or individual we met with asked us was how we were doing and what it’s like to be a Jew in the United States right now. October 7 is not an event that lives solely in the Arab/Israeli story; it launched a worldwide attack on Antisemitism. While I may have known this before our trip, hearing so many Israelis ask us about our experiences since October 7 clarified what this moment might mean in the future and how it is currently shaping our present.

The balance of grief and hope was present in so many moments. You can see it in the smiles and laughter of those sitting at the cafe having coffee with friends looking out at hostage square, or you can see it in the faces of those passing posters of the hostages as they walk onto the beach. Hope is felt in the joy and songs of the students in the schools we visited, but grief and pain are visible in their teachers’ faces. When I was 17, I went on March of the Living, a trip for high school students to Poland and Israel. I have a few moments from that experience that truly changed my life, some of which are why I decided to become a Jewish professional. Still, there’s one particular moment I kept returning to during my time in Israel. We had just boarded the bus leaving Majdanek. My friends and I were talking, and something funny happened, and we laughed hysterically. The person sitting in front of us on the bus turned around and screamed at us angrily. “How dare you laugh after the horrors we witnessed and learned about. You’re disrespecting our ancestors who were murdered there!” At the time, 17-year-old me felt embarrassed and ashamed by my behavior.

What I expected to see during my time in Israel was a country filled with anger, pain, despair, and anguish. While those sentiments were very present, there was also immense pride and hope. When I visited the site of the Nova music festival massacre, I was caught off guard by the beauty of nature there. The fields were green and lush and filled with kalaniyot. This place, the forest in Re’im, is filled with so much hate and devastation, but the earth does not know that and will continue to blossom. This feels like the perfect metaphor for Israeli and Jewish resilience. Just like the ground heals over, turns green, and blossoms again, the same is true for the Jewish people. We have faced horrible tragedies in our people’s history, and we have come back stronger.

The message I took from everyone I met was, “We need to laugh again, we need to dance again, and we need to continue to be strong because that is the only way we will continue to survive.” If I could go back and give a message to 17-year-old me and the person sitting in front of me on the bus that day in Poland, I would say, “Keep laughing, Rachel. Your ancestors would take pride in knowing that the Jewish people live on.” The same is true today. While we are living through a dark time in our people’s history, we must continue to bring joy and pride to the world around us and, most importantly, fill it with hope that better days will come again!

On my last day in Israel, I came across this street art that really struck me. “עוֹד לֹא אָבְדָה תִּקְוָתֵנוּ- Od lo avdah tikvateinu. Our hope is still alive!” We are a resilient people, and we will be okay!

About the Author
Rachel currently serves as Director of Education, Youth and Family for MakomNY, a progressive Religious school that offers creative pathways to fulfill the diverse and emerging desires of today's ​​​​Jewish community. Rachel is a 2023 recipient of the Jewish Education Project’s Robert M. Sherman Young Pioneer award.