In his 2004 book, Celebrating Life, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks writes, "One of the most important distinctions I have learned in the course of reflection on Jewish history is the difference between optimism and hope. Optimism is the belief that things will get better. Hope is the belief that, together, we can make things better. Optimism is a passive virtue; hope an active one. It takes no courage to be an optimist, but it takes a great deal of courage to have hope. Knowing what we do of our past, no Jew can be an optimist. But Jews have never – despite a history of sometimes awesome suffering – given up hope."
There are several examples of the persistence of hope in Jewish and world history. The U.S. Army's 45th Infantry Division's liberation of the Dachau concentration camp on April 29, 1945, provides one example. Days after the American forces entered Dachau, U.S. Army Chaplains held a prayer service. The remaining camp survivors huddled in the courtyard; cold, stunned, and barely able to stand. They prayed, cried, and they uttered the words, "Our hope is not yet lost" as they sang HaTikvah - The Hope. Despite all of the horrors, cruelty, and grief that Dachau contained, hope not only survived; it filled space where once only held pain and desperation. Hope is what drove the Jewish people to rise from the ashes of the Holocaust. We did not wait to see what the future would bring; we created a new lot for ourselves.
Today, in 2020, we have endured significant pain, observed the dismantling of norms, and experienced illness and death on a scale not seen in over a century. It has been a dark, sobering reminder of the fragility of our societal structures and human life. But it will not last forever, and when the pandemic subsides, we will build a brighter future. I have confidence because, like in Dachau, hope persists in even the most desperate of environments. But hope cannot thrive on its own; it requires that we not only believe things will get better but that we work to make sure it does.
The Jewish Community Board of Akron works every day to ensure a bright and prosperous future for our community, but we cannot do it alone. We need our community to harness our collective hope and take action to create that better future. While you are reading this and it is fresh in. your mind, think of how you can take action. Make a plan to vote. If you already voted, make sure that others do as well. Wear a mask, maintain connections with family and friends, support our Jewish institutions and agencies, and embrace the importance and impact of collective responsibility.
Jewish Community Board of Akron