In my community, Rosh Hashanah services are a foot-stomping, hand-clapping affair. The melodies are upbeat. The mood is outright joyful. Some might find this atmosphere to be incongruous with the seriousness of the holiday. But I see it as a fundamental expression of hope: confidence in the power of human and divine forgiveness; trust in our ability to do better next year.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the UK, highlighted the centrality of hope in Jewish tradition: “To be a Jew is to be an agent of hope in a world serially threatened by despair … Judaism is a sustained struggle, the greatest ever known, against the world that is, in the name of the world that could be, should be, but is not yet.”
As we reflect on the previous year and enter a new one, it’s easy to see the magnitude of global crises and fall into despair. But I prefer to draw inspiration from the biblical Book of Lamentations, which confronts destruction and declares, “But this do I call to mind; therefore, I have hope.” That’s why I’ve chosen to focus on ten things – one for each of the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – that give me hope.
- Unprecedented collaboration. OLAM’s network has stepped up in remarkable ways to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and the region. At one point, 16 of OLAM’s 65 partners were on the ground, providing crucial support. I am inspired by the spirit of collaboration that has characterized this response, and I’m heartened by those continuing to meet the long-term needs of this ongoing crisis, such as Early Starters International, HIAS, IsraAID, JDC, JIAS, NATAN, World Jewish Relief, and others.
- A commitment to learning. This year, OLAM welcomed the largest number of new partners since our first year of operation: Afrikan, ARDC, Beit Issie Shapiro, El Halev, HalevAfrica, International School of Agricultural Sciences, OKO, The Tamar Golan African Center, United Hatzalah of Israel, Volcani International Partnerships, World ORT, and Yozmot Atid. We also onboarded 29 new individual members (Jews working in international development outside of a Jewish context). It takes a special kind of person and organization to see the value in joining a learning community, such as ours. I am grateful for the willingness of our partners and members to openly share their successes and failures and, thus, raise each other up.
- The power of ancient texts to illuminate contemporary questions. What might the eighteenth-century Reb Nachman of Breslov teach us about the ethics of superimposing one’s values on another society? How might the Bible and the Talmud differ in their approaches towards radical transformation versus incremental change? Between November and June, I had the privilege of asking these questions and others with a multidisciplinary team of scholars at the Shalom Hartman Institute. It was refreshing to explore texts beyond the usual suspects and to engage in deep and authentic conversations about our responsibility, as Jews, to the wider world.
- Human resilience. The number of forcibly displaced people in the world is 89.3 million, the highest in recorded history. On a fundamental level, these are people who cannot go home nor properly establish a new one. This summer, I had the privilege of bringing several Jewish leadership groups to visit OLAM partner ARDC. I discovered that many of ARDC’s board members are asylum seekers, who have chosen to give back to their communities and to society at large. This is resilience at its best.
- An increase in Israeli global giving. In 2013, Hebrew University’s Center for the Study of Philanthropy reported that less than 1% of Israelis donate to causes abroad. A mere 0.1% of charitable dollars raised in Israel were allocated to disaster relief, compared with 5% in the United States, 9% in Britain, and a whopping 48% in Belgium. At the time, the researchers surmised: “It seems the Israeli public still isn’t ripe for donating internationally. It probably considers itself a beneficiary, not a donor or a volunteer… At this stage, we expect to receive from the world more than we give back.” I’m hopeful we may be seeing an inflection point with Ukraine. Donations for this crisis, particularly in the Israeli private sector, have been unparalleled, with one of OLAM’s key Israeli partners reporting that it raised more for Ukraine than for all crises in its 20 years of existence combined.
- The fortitude of global Jewish service. While many of OLAM’s partners faced Covid-related challenges early in the pandemic, our global service organizations fared the worst, experiencing the largest percentage loss of their budgets and the largest decrease in salaried staff. Two and a half years ago, it wasn’t at all clear they’d survive. Not only have they resumed operations, but they have launched new sites and programs.
- Vibrant multi-cultural communities. In recent years, there has been a proliferation of Israeli academic programs devoted to international development. These programs attract people from around the world: Israelis, Palestinians, Americans, Ghanaians, Brits, Filipinos, Ugandans, and more. I love attending the annual graduation ceremony of the Glocal MA in International Development and witnessing the deep friendships that have emerged among their diverse student body. In July, OLAM partnered with 6 of our academic partners on the first-ever gathering to bring together these students across different universities. The energy and camaraderie in the room were palpable.
- Creative ways to engage young Jews with global issues. Pandemic-induced travel restrictions and a heightened awareness of climate change have spawned new models of engaging young Jews with global issues without having them get on a plane, such as JDC Entwine’s Down the Block program or the newest iteration of Ben Azzai, run by Tzedek and the Office of the Chief Rabbi. These programs retain the power of immersive experiences, while broadening horizons to the wider world, and serve as great examples for other Jewish communities looking to inculcate a sense of global responsibility among their members.
- Steps to uphold human dignity. In modern Hebrew, the words for photograph (tzilum) and camera (matzlema) share the same root as the biblical phrase that asserts that all human beings are infinitely valuable, equal, and deserving of respect (tzelem Elohim). Aided by OLAM’s Aspire ethical best practice program, several of our partners have taken concrete steps this year to ensure their written and visual communications uphold human dignity. A special shout-out to Agahozo Shalom Youth Village on the creation of an ethical communications policy, and to Agrifriend for their website audit that is currently underway.
- Remembering the forgotten crises. One of the core components of the Rosh Hashana service is Zichronot, in which we contrast divine memory with human forgetfulness. It’s human nature that, when an issue or crisis is no longer in the headlines, most people move on. In contrast, many of our partners are in it for the long haul, serving communities long after public attention has waned, and responding to crises that have never garnered the public attention they deserve. Like the psalmist’s description of God, these organizations “do not forget the cry of the afflicted” and work tirelessly to ensure we don’t either.
Wishing you a Shana Tova,