Bill Berk

Hoping for hope

It would appear that half of America is stricken with a bad case of “losing hope.” Despite the fact that I was devastated by the results of the election I want to put in a good word on behalf of hope.

Hope is something you create and insist upon. It’s a way of saying no to the present world and making a claim on a different future. Nurturing hope aligns us with the Bible’s prophets who were absolutely clear that the future will be better. They claim directly or hint that someday there will be a world without slavery, a world without war, a world where the dignity of every human being will be honored. Says Hosea 2:20, ‘And [in that day] I will break the bow and the sword and [eliminate] war from the land and I will have [the people] lie down in safety.’

Our Judaism conditions us towards hope — hope as a belief, hope as a stance in the world. But there’s more to hope than attitude. Hope connects us to a bigger picture that otherwise we might just miss altogether. There is more to America than Trump, even though at the moment he seems to fill the whole lens. He’s all we see. Yet we know there’s an astounding resilience to America. When on the surface bad things are happening — under the surface something new is cooking which at some point will be ready to go above ground. America overcame slavery, the murder of thousands of Native Americans, the abuse of African Americans — who could have guessed that this same America would one day inspire the world with its pluralism and the empowerment of minority after minority?

Now that resilience seems suspect as we contemplate stepping backwards and not forwards. We need to remember that life is messy. There are bad guys. We all have inclinations that are not noble. There is occasional chaos. To nurture hope in such conditions one does not need to hide from the truth. One of the key things to know about hope is that it doesn’t matter that there is “bad stuff” — there is always room for hope. On the door of a secret synagogue in the Warsaw Ghetto they carved the words, in Yiddish, “Gevalt Jews — do not despair!” If anyone in history had a right to despair it was the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto.

We have a long tradition of not letting painful reality get in the way of us as generators and carriers of hope. I love the line from Proverbs 3:25 that is also in our prayer book, ‘Don’t be afraid of sudden fear or the destruction that evil people [will bring] because it will happen.’ We have power over our fear and we must not let the fact that the world is messy get in the way of us building hopeful lives.

About the Author
Bill Berk was born in California and graduated college from the University of California, Berkeley. He attended rabbinical school (HUC) and served congregations in Palo Alto and Phoenix. Bill made aliyah in 2006, and worked at the Hartman Institute running their educational programs for rabbis. He has worked at Keshet and Makor in the field of educational travel.