Dear Friends at Kehillat Israel,
A long and painful election season has come to a close. I know there are many in our congregation who have put extraordinary effort into the campaign, and many who may be bitterly disappointed at the outcomes. After actively participating in the “No On 2” campaign and voting my conscience on the candidates, I share that disappointment. My optimism may have diminished, but my hope is as strong as ever.
There are few outcomes this year, on either the local or national level, that reflect the views and the values of the large majority of Jewish voters. Religious agenda contrary to our own have swept increasingly into the political agenda, and fear and hatred of those who are different has been written into our state’s constitution. The separation of church and state, the great principle of American democracy that has protected generations of Jews seeking freedom, prosperity, and security, is under siege. And, personally, I share the view recently expressed by Alan Dershowitz that current American foreign policies have both weakened the position of the United States on a global level and threatened the security of the State of Israel.
While we may lose our optimism at a time like this, we do not need to lose our hope. Throughout recorded history, Am Yisrael chai (the Jewish people live). We have weathered the best and the worst political climates, not to mention the most extreme forms of persecution. Throughout the 20th century, we proudly and audaciously sang Hatikva (“The Hope”); even in the most unimaginably dark days of the Shoah when our physical survival seemed doomed, this hopeful vision of a new Jewish future never escaped our lips.
What exactly is the difference between optimism and hope? Optimism, though much better for our physical and spiritual health than pessimism, is nonetheless a naive faith that somehow things will be better tomorrow than they are today. Hope is a confident mental posture, based in fact and reason combined with moral courage and trust in God, that we can join forces with one another and act in partnership with the Divine to participate in creating a positive future. For religious sceptics, God need not be part of this equation; yet a faith in the God that Michael Lerner defines as “the voice of what could and ought to be, calling us from the future and moving us toward the fulfillment of our possibilities” makes the process a lot easier.
Hope is more enduring than optimism; it can sustain us to do the work we have been called upon to do. What have we been called upon to do? “Let justice well up like water, righteousness like an unfailing stream!” (Amos 5:24) “To unlock fetters of wickedness, and untie the cords of the yoke. To let the oppressed go free; to break off every yoke.” (Isaiah 58:6)
We have been warned that the Temple was destroyed because of Israel’s idolatry. Idolatry is not statue worship; it is the worship of money, power, and the idols of material culture. More fundamentally, idolatry is bowing down to the false gods of greed, hatred, and fear. If we as Jews are out of the step with the direction our society is going, that is no reason to give up who we are and what we stand for.
This year I have been proud to be part of KI as our congregants have built houses with Habitat, fed the hungry, recycled their printer cartridges, supported overseas Jewish communities, rallied against global warming, and struggled against unjust legislation. We plan to intensify our commitment to Tikkun Olam in the course of the year to come. The more injustice we discover in the world around us, the more opportunity we have to raise up the holy sparks from out of the ashes.
Rabbi Michael Zimmerman