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How do we create hope out of hopelessness?

by Amy Simon

How do we create hope out of hopelessness? That is one of my lines in the Rosh Hashanah service that I have been asked to participate in. Such an honor. And as I read over the text my Cantor sent me, this line jumped right out at me. These are really tough times for so many of us. It is so easy to slide into and wallow around in that hopeless hell.

I am not very religious – never have been. My parents were “holiday Jews” – we celebrated the holidays but did not go to Temple. I took being Jewish for granted.

Until recently.

My appreciation of my heritage and my spiritualism really kicked in when icky things happened to me and to my family (divorce, job loss, illness). And there they were. My temple. An entire community of caring people – right there. When my mother died, Rabbi Klein came to my house to lead a service. I can still hear her sweet comforting voice ringing in my living room.

I so love my “Repair The World” temple. So when they asked me to “act” in the Rosh Hashanah service – me on that Bema – me who cannot read or understand Hebrew – I was intimidated and nervous but beyond honored.

Here is the first paragraph:

Once upon a time in Ramatayim, there was a man with two wives, Hannah, and Peninah. Peninah had children, many of them, running around making mischief. But Hannah could have none. Peninah would torture Peninah constantly, until she cried so much she couldn’t even eat. Her husband Elkanah loved her dearly, and tried to cheer her up, but there was nothing he could do. For her life had no meaning. For her, all she could feel was her own barrenness.

Uh oh. Her life had no meaning because she could not have children? I have a problem with sexism in religion. I am, after all, a Cultural Herstorian – and I could write and talk for hours about how as my heroine Elizabeth Cady Stanton said in her alienating and shocking 1895 The Woman’s Bible: A Classic Feminist Perspective, “religion holds women down.” Yes it certainly did back then. Of course it is waaaay better now – but I was worried about my daughters’ religious education, which is filled with sexist (and oh so gory) stories. And when I first went to Rabbi Klein to discuss my feelings about this, she said immediately – “yes, question everything. That is what we Jews do,” and proceeded to explain and interpret and generally set me straight. I knew then and know now that my daughters were in terrific non-sexist spiritually guiding community oriented beautiful hands.

And then I read the rest of the text. (I am Reader 1.)

READER 2: Once upon a time in a city very close by to where we sit today, there was a man with a blackberry, a pager, and a bluetooth. David worked seven days a week, pursuing his job with fury and passion. He also had a family, who saw him at meals, a soccer game here and there, and the occasional family vacation. But no matter what he did, he could not conquer time. There was never enough time. So he ate with the bluetooth stuck on his ear, and he sat at soccer games frantically typing on those tiny blackberry keys. And he slept with the pager by his side. Nothing else mattered. But meanwhile, he was unhappy, and he couldn’t figure out why.

READER 1: How do we create hope out of hopelessness?

READER 2: How do we learn faith when things seem meaningless?

READER 1: So Hannah prayed.

READER 2: Out of her deep pain, she silently swayed. Her lips moving, as if she were drunk, Hannah asked: God on high, if you will just see the pain I am in, if you remember me, if you grant me a son, I will dedicate him to You for life.

READER 1: And in that moment, she forever altered the meaning of prayer. Her faith opened her to the possibilities of life, and so the story ends well. God granted her a son.

READER 1: And David knew Hannah’s story, and he decided to give it a try. God, we haven’t talked much. But … my life is out of control. If you just help me … If you just help me … give me more time. Help me find meaning in these things I do. Help me find my way back to my family.

READER 2: And so in that moment, he altered forever the meaning of his life. His faith opened him to the possibilities of life, and so the story ends well. He found that he could put the blackberry down and still get the work he needed done. He could take off the bluetooth and somehow his world did not fall apart. His life did not change radically, but he discovered something new that day, all because he dared to ask for it.

Ok. So my feminist perspective kicked right in when I read … if you grant me a son. And then … God granted her a son.

Hmmm. So I called the Cantor and said “can I change it to a child instead of a son?” And he said “sure.” And that is why I love my temple.

A zillion years ago – or yesterday – “my people” or “all people” struggled with the same issues. When I thumb through the Torah during services, which I have come to love, I find these passages that so speak to me. I find understanding and inspiration and comfort – and the biggie – hope. How do we create hope out of hopelessness?  Well, I guess everyone finds it – if they are lucky – their own way. For me – I have started to pray. What could it hurt?

Amy Simon

About Amy Simon

Amy Simon is a writer/performer, mother, humanist, questioner, and new empty nester who loves to read, dance, cook, talk on the phone, play on the beach and see theater, in that order. Find her at sheshistory.com and on Twitter @ShesHistoryAmy

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