12 April 2018
By Avi West, Senior Education Officer & Master Teacher, Department of Jewish Life & Learning
On April 20, corresponding to the 5th of the Hebrew month of Iyar, the modern State of Israel will celebrate its 70th birthday. This benchmark is no longer considered “old” for humans, and it certainly is not considered old for a country. One may make the case that the Jewish State is just now reaching its adolescence – with all it implies. This milestone year is an appropriate time for Jews around the world to celebrate, but what connects American Jews to this foreign homeland? Perhaps one of the most important connecting factors is one of Israel’s most emblematic symbols and the message of its national anthem: Hatikvah, The Hope.
Looking for inspiration for this column, I came across the Center for Israel Education’s “This Date in Israeli History” database. There, I found an article from March 25, 1950, entitled, “Saudi Minister Tells US State Department It Will Never Recognize Israel.” In it, Shaikh Yusaf Yassin, Saudi Arabia’s former Deputy Foreign Minister, declared that, “Arab states would never agree to any working relationship with Israel.” While reading this disheartening article, I received a notification from my Jerusalem Post app that Reuters had published a piece on April 3, 2018, reporting that the Saudi crown prince believes that, “Israelis have a right to their own land.”
Some would call this a coincidence. I call it another reminder that the spirit of Hatikvah – a “carry on and have hope” ethic – is one of Israel’s best exports. History reminds us time after time to have hope and remember that anything is possible. Alliances change, economies shift, back-door and third-party initiatives work behind the scenes and the middle-eastern saying that, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” makes for new realities. The experience of the global Jewish journey, and a key to creative survival and resilience, has made hope a shared value between Jews in Israel and the Diaspora.
Rabbi Tsvi Blanchard from The Center for Leadership and Learning (CLAL) proposes that, “as Jews try to create new Jewish identities that are exciting and interesting enough to invite their allegiance, we now need to create a model that expands our sense of what being Jewish can mean.” Judaism is more than a religion; it is a common thread that connects Jews from across the globe. At the heart of this is the hope that has carried us through our tumultuous past and will continue to give us strength and resilience in the future.
Vanessa L. Ochs attempts to broaden the discussion about Jewish identity by describing an “unarticulated code” that many Jewish Americans try to follow – and even judge themselves by – that overlaps but is not synonymous with the requirements of Jewish law or traditional practice. She calls that code “The Ten Jewish Sensibilities,” and defines them as, “particularly Jewish ways of thinking about what it means to be human, ways that guide and orient a person’s actions and choices.” One key sensibility is Maintaining Hope: Yesh Tikvah. Ochs claims that Jews throughout the ages, “try to hang on to hope and resist despair.”
Having hope, preparing for the future by taking an active role in shaping it, finding inspiration in our ancient roots while at the same time giving our youth wings and permission to fly in freedom, can all be heard between the lines of the Hatikvah anthem. As we prepare to celebrate Israel’s independence, learn to sing the Hatikvah, so that you in DC can honor this common bond that connects you to your Israeli family.