A voice of hope?

August 4th, 2014

By Rabbi Alison Abrams, Midwest Regional Director

I’ve been a rabbi for six years. I have counseled people who have lost children to cancer and addiction, men who are facing life in prison, or a fatal diagnosis. The question a rabbi faces most often in pastoral situations is “Where is God?” The implication is that the existence of God is incompatible with such traumas. My own theology and rabbinate brought me to a place where I could suggest that God is in our ability to continue living. God is in our ability to do what we can on this earth in the context in which we find ourselves. 

I now serve in a very different position--a more political than pastoral role. I organize and develop leaders to push for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Theoretically, I engage individuals and communities in a conversation and relationship that pushes them to use their power to affect US government policy. I may even talk a little “Jewish” with them depending on the person. But I said “theoretically” because in reality, I find myself a pastor once again. How else do you sit with a person who has invested immense amounts of resources--time and money, perhaps in years and thousands of dollars--into pursuing a peaceful solution to the conflict and give them hope?

I began my work at J Street the day the bodies of the three murdered Israeli teenagers were discovered. Since then, the news coming out of Israel has been bleak. A revenge murder of a Palestinian boy by Jews, Hamas rockets raining down on Tel Aviv, Israeli ground forces called up, and immense carnage of Palestinian civilians. Into this picture, I stepped with the purpose of providing leadership to our supporters and staff in the Midwest, in the pursuit of a two-state solution. In doing so, I stepped into a community filled with despair, anger, sadness and frustration. If ever I have served in a pastoral capacity, this is it.

The challenge is how to respond. I am back in the difficult position of answering--in some ways--an unanswerable question. How do I convince people to have hope? The answer: I don’t. I let people vent, cry, scream, withdraw… and then I remind them that I, and J Street, will continue pursuing the necessary dream of a sustainable peace because despair is a luxury we cannot afford. My service to Israel is to contribute to this work because so many are not in an emotional place to do so… My service to Israel is to ensure that there is a space in the middle, the center, that place in which most of us stand. The space that allows for a love of Israel and a love of peace. Because if that space is lost, then we will truly be without hope.