How to feel better in a sometimes thankless world

Wednesday, November 27, 2019 | 29th Cheshvan 5780

Dear Hazon,

This year at our JOFEE Network Gathering we learned about Joanna Macy, and her concept of “active hope.” She’s an 80-something eco-philosopher, Christian I think by background; a world apart, on the face of it, from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who is English and Jewish and a generation younger. And yet what she teaches about active hope jibed for me with what Rabbi Sacks has taught about hope in Jewish tradition.

Each of them, in different ways, argues that hope is a choice, not a feeling.
Optimism is the presumption that things will be better.
Hope is the determination, the leaning in, to help make things better.

So: this has been a hard year in many ways.

I have lived my adult life in three countries – the UK, Israel, and the US – and this year it has too frequently felt like a mad and bizarre competition amidst the three of them as to which could melt down the most:

“Our Prime Minister is having to give up the four different ministries he holds (!) because he’s just been indicted for corruption (!!).

“You were lucky!! Of all things, the Financial Times (!) had an op-ed titled ‘Boris Johnson’s Lies Are Plunging Britain Into A Dark Morass’. And meanwhile, the Guardian points out that the leader of the opposition is an anti-semite!

“Oh, yeah? You were lucky!! – Our president tried to blackmail another country, is now on trial for impeachment and Peggy Noonan (!!) in the WSJ, pointed out that ‘on impeachment, Trump’s defenders have no defense…’

(And if you didn’t grow up with Monty Python – here indeed is the original Four Yorkshiremen Sketch, which offers its own light relief in this upside down world we’re in.)

But I digress. This is where active hope comes in.
We will feel better when instead of giving in to despair we lean in to change. 

So I give thanks for Hazon’s staff, who work tirelessly to touch people’s lives, to strengthen Jewish life, and to make a better world for everyone. Teva educators, staff on the ground around the country, rabbis, farmers, fundraisers, our maintenance staff at Isabella Freedman and our kitchen staff and our housekeepers. We’re weaving a better world, and it is hard work, it is sometimes thankless work – people just take it for granted – and yet the esprits de corps amongst our staff is amazing.

I give thanks to our funders, both institutional and individual. Funding us is itself a form of active hope, a determination to use money to accomplish good in the world. We don’t in any way take this support for granted. With news like this, it is ever more critical that we animate and mobilize the Jewish community to integrate a commitment to sustainability into the fabric of all that we do.

And I give thanks for our board. They have stewarded this organization thoughtfully and well, and we would not be here without them.

And all of you: if you are reading this, people who have donated to us, attended a retreat or a ride, worked for us – thank you for being part of this. Even if it is only one of many emails you get today, even if we are just one of several organizations you support – I and we thank you very greatly. Hazon’s work has never been more impactful, never been more necessary, and never been in more in need of your support, and that of your friends and family.

So I thank you for the support you have given to help us get to this point in time.

And I truly believe that in giving more in the future – giving time, money, energy, ideas; raising issues, speaking up for change – we will start to turn things around. Kein yehi ratzon – may it be so…

Hodu sameach – happy thanksgiving…