Hatikvah: Singin’ the Hope

Israel: Hatikvah – Singin’ the Hope
by Rabbi David Zaslow

Dedicated to the holy work of Evan J. Krame

At the Reb Zalman Shabbaton on May 4, 2014 I spoke of the PTSD that impacts most of the Jewish community around the world. From the pogroms in Eastern Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries, to the Holocaust that took one third of the Jewish population, to the ethnic cleansing of Jews from their ancient homes in places like Iraq, Iran, Syria, and throughout North Africa which occurred after World War II. These massive population movements and traumas cannot have anything but a negative impact on the soul of the second, third, and fourth generations born after these events.

This trauma impacts the way we see ourselves. Two thirds or more of the Jewish population really want very little to do with “organized” Judaism, and I have great empathy and compassion for this segment of our population. In my early 20s I was part of the post Holocaust generation that rejected the stiffness, formality, and lack of spirituality in the synagogues we grew up in. I ran as far away from Judaism is possible. I was fortunate to have found a way to back to my faith and heritage when my daughter was born in 1981. But many of my friends remained, and remain, alienated from the rich heritage of our spiritual practices and culture.

In fact, it is so sad to see a small segment of this population not just passively alienated from the traditions of their birth, but actually antagonistic to it. This, many of us believe, is a direct result of the PTSD suffered from the traumas of the twentieth-century – and this PTSD plays itself out in a number of ways. Right now I just want to deal with the issue of Israel. The United States, European nations, and Israel share a common heritage that can be called “Western democracy.” I like to call it “the best of the West.” Naturally, there are flaws, and terrible errors  made through bigotry and corruption in all Western democracies. America, for all its greatness, was born out of the yearning for religious freedom for Anglo-Europeans, but was built upon the genocide of many Native American tribes and the enslavement of millions of Africans. Yet as we reach “toward a more perfect union” we acknowledge that our “union” is not perfect. We’ve come a long way in dealing with civil rights, but as recent news events have shown we have a long way to go. And, we will go “toward” that “more perfect union.” From women suffrage, to the union movement, to the civil rights movement, to the environmental movement, to the gay-rights movement it clearly is two steps forward even when there is one step back.

Israel is no different. Would you like a laundry list of all the errors that this nation has made in its 66 years? Just ask any Israeli of any religion and they’ll gladly fill you in.  But right now let’s just say that Israel, too, struggles to better itself every day. People protest, people go to court, people form activist political groups of every sort, and have the right to redress their grievances to the government. That’s all Israel promises. Not perfection. But a process of elections and judicial access. Who are the people who are most critical of Israel? It’s Israelis themselves! That’s their civic duty. But their criticism comes as insiders; as citizens who love the nation and simply want to see it get better and better.

A word of caution to outsiders who criticize Israel. Don’t be an outsider! Love Israel first, come inside, and then your comments and critiques, lawsuits, civic activism will have an impact. And another word of caution: before your criticize, express your gratitude. Say what you like about Israel first. Sing Hatikvah with the rest of us, not because Israel is perfect, but because Israel needs your voice of hope in song, anthem, prayer, and protest alike. Now, I realize that this is challenging for those of us who are struggling with the real effects of PTSD. And I’m telling you from my own experience the best way to begin healing PTSD is to breathe, pray, sing, and express gratitude. Be part of the community you disagree with. Debate, yes, but stand up for all that is good in Israel. Be grateful for its diversity, its environmental movement, its gay-rights movement, its unbelievable religious tolerance and diversity, and its unbelievable technological genius that is helping change the world. Don’t let Israel’s flaws steal from you your sense of gratitude and love.

So long as still within our hearts the Jewish soul is true,
So long as still towards the East to Zion looks the Jew,
Two thousand years of hope not lost to be free in our land –
To be a free people in our land. The land of Zion and Jerusalem.

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