Ha'Tikvah: a Jewish gift for hard times

September 2019
Miriam Sager

You may be aware of the intense discussion that is taking place among climate scientists and activists about whether we can still stop the global climate breakdown from getting out of control. Many are finding it hard to hold onto a hopeful perspective that will allow them to continue to fight for the science to be recognized and acted upon by governments, corporations, and fellow citizens.  

Regardless of where you stand on the question of global warming, it is clear that the Jewish people know a thing or two about hope, even hope against all odds.

Jews have survived and held onto their unique identity and culture despite millennia of persecution and pressures to disappear. Faith in the coming of the Messiah, “even though he may delay,” is one of Maimonides’ 13 principles of the Jewish faith. We do not wait passively: the religious pray and practise mitzvot; others work to repair the world in a myriad of other ways; and one Jewish dreamer inspired a broad movement that turned his dream of a national home for the Jewish people into reality: “If you will it, it is no dream.”  The monumental task of Zionism was driven at least in part by hope, with desperation making up for what was lacking in the way of actually believing it could be done.  

The brilliant young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg speaks about hope in response to adults who turn to her for inspiration: “Hope is not something you have. Hope is something you create with your actions. Hope is something you manifest into the world. And once one person has hope, it can be contagious. Other people start acting in a way that has more hope ... Act. Do something.”

Young people who act hopefully are often belittled by adults who have given up. We call them naive. Indeed, there are many serious dangers again today, from white nationalism and anti-Semitism to the twin environmental crises - the climate crisis and the massive loss of biodiversity. We don’t know if we will succeed. But the future hasn’t happened yet, and in times of uncertainty there is no reason to choose doom as the only certain outcome. We are always free to think and choose our perspective, if nothing else, so why not choose one that will challenge any feelings of discouragement and powerlessness?  Isn’t it better to choose the one that will allow us to fight hard and will lead to the more interesting, more positive outcomes? 

Now is the time to offer our ability to act powerfully on hopeful dreams to humanity’s biggest challenge yet, one that has been described  as the most important moral issue of our time. The ability to choose hope, and other gifts of the Jewish people such as our heritage of integrity and seeking justice are needed now, to help pull off another seemingly impossible feat. If we do not fight with everything we’ve got to protect our life support systems on Earth, we will never know what we might have accomplished. 

May the year and its curses come to an end. May the New Year and its blessings begin! And let us roll up our sleeves and help make it happen. 

Miriam Sager works at the Hamilton Sexual Assault Centre and leads support groups.