The first I heard about the results of Israel’s elections was an email from the Freddie Krivine Initiative which brings children together from every background: We shall not give up on our work! That was enough to tell me all the rest.
That vote, and other world events besides, made me turn urgently to Emily Dickenson’s poem
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
We need hope; we need it to land like a familiar robin on our outstretched hand and hop down into our heart.
The stirring Psalm recited through the Hebrew month of Elul and the High Holydays concludes with the repeated instruction
Hope in God; be brave, make your heart strong, and hope in God (Ps. 27)
The rabbis taught that every repetition in the Bible has a purpose. The point here is that to have true hope we need to work at strengthening our heart with everything which inspires us.
So these are some of the things which motivate me. The first is people. Three secondary school boys came to my home for lessons yesterday. The first two said ‘COP 27 is going to be a disappointment, like COP 26.’ ‘Only partly,’ I replied, wishing I disagreed more. But the third said something different: ‘I’m in a local group which plants trees, clears weeds and improves paths. I go once a month with my father. The sustainability committee at my school has got rid of plastic bottles.’
So the first message I tell myself when I feel low is ‘Stick with people who’re doing good. Find them, follow them, keep them in sight.’ That’s how I felt at Parliament for a launch of the Walking Inquiry into Immigration Detention. Here were people, some who’d been detained themselves, who listen to asylum seekers, walk together, act together, and who’re determined to keep going until they right the wrongs of the system.
That’s why, regarding Israel, we must speak out for the dignity of all people, condemn racism clearly and specifically from wherever it originates and support everyone working for a respectful, pluralist society.
Fortunately, across the world there’s no shortage of people from every faith and walk of life whose purpose is to do what’s good, and who’re passionate about it. I try to go where I can learn from them. They strengthen my heart.
My second source of hope is the world’s beauty. This isn’t about aesthetics; it’s about love. My wife and I saw a deer trapped in a fence. She’d misjudged the height of the top wires and caught her hoof between the strands. She hung upside down, her head on the turf. I tried to speak gently as I wedged the wires apart and watched her limp off, her leg sprained but not broken. ‘She’ll rest in the woods. There’s food there, and water,’ Nicky said.
How can one not love our fellow creatures, our companions on this earth, especially when they don’t harm us? That’s my second source of hope: the sheer preciousness, the vulnerability and wonder of human life and all life, inspiring us to work for people, also animals, trees, nature itself which needs our urgent engagement.
‘Od lo avdah tikavetnu, Our hope has never ceased…’ runs Israel’s national anthem, expressing the secret of Jewish, of all human, resilience.
Our hope may never have ceased, but few of us can honestly say that it’s never even faltered. That’s when we need to nourish that hope and, fortunately, as Emily Dickenson concludes in her final verse
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –