This afternoon, I called a friend from my days as an 18-year old hippie living in the Oregon countryside. Back then, her name was Sue. Now she is Rabbi Me’Irah. Every time I have what seems to be a casual conversation with Me’irah, I come away with more meaning in my life. “Today is a special day,” she announced (I already knew this because every day is special for Me’irah). It is the time between Passover and Shavuout, she said. Passover is a celebration of liberation — the Jews’ exodus from enslavement. And today is a day of constraints to acknowledge the Jews’ harrowing journey from Egypt to Mt. Sinai, where they would receive the Torah. Me’irah says we survive this time of constraint and our isolation by celebrating the bounty and blessings in our lives. And that celebration, I thought, gives us hope.
Hope has always defined us as humans, motivating change, giving us strength, moving us forward as individuals and communities. The refugees I worked with in Greece and Mexico taught me that when people have hope, they can tolerate a lot of trauma and hardship. My refugee friends needed feelings of hope even more than they needed food.
Unexpectedly, more of us are hoping more. We are hoping for relief that could be provided by technologies, behaviors, and science. We are hoping for a return to stability. There are signs that we are also hoping for something bigger and deeper in our global community and in our own lives. In some places, there is a new feeling of solidarity that could make our world more just, more caring, more attuned to what is most important.
But hope requires us to make a choice. Hope is not the same as optimism. Optimism is a perspective that things will work out. Hope requires engagement. It requires action. With optimism, my refugee friends would have stayed in war zones believing that god or politicians would end their misery. With hope, my refugee friends risked their lives to get to Europe and have been willing to do almost anything to remain there.
We each have special gifts that our hope inspires, and the world will need all of them. As Me’irah says, this is a time to reflect on what we have learned in our lives that is most true “as we walk through this wilderness, just as the Israelites did, one step at a time, until we reach Mt. Sinai.”