by Leeza Negelev, Associate Director of Education
Hope is the language of the desolate and the down-and-out. In the face of tragedy and upheaval, when we are at the bottom, we look up for something to change. It’s part of our very human nature to survive.
In the midst of self-denial and the prayer that my repentance be accepted this Yom Kippur, I was reminded that real hope is not easily come by. But we don’t need a real life tragedy to compel us, because on this day, we Jews are the architects of hope. In our yearly ritual of communal discomfort and shared reflection, we make a place to feel the things we don’t want to. We can look at the last year and see the small and large-scale injustices that we stood by and watched. We can also remember, together, that our lives are not really in our control.
The New Machzor’s service in honor of our martyrs, quotes an inscription found on a wall in a cellar in Cologne where Jews hid from the Nazis:
“I believe in the sun even when it is not shining. I believe in love even when not feeling it. I believe in God even when God is silent.”
I doubt I am the only one who feels that it’s hard to sieze upon opportunities for prayer, acts of loving-kindness and reflection throughout the year. The human imagination is strong, but how many of us can remember to act with compassion when the world offers thoughtlessness? Or remember we are loved when we feel alone? Yom Kippur – if practiced as the awe-filled experience that I think its architects had in mind – could undo the pull towards complacency, even if we feel God is silent.
On this day, mortality stares me in the face. Our bellies empty, our feet bare and our bodies clothed in white just as we will be on the day we are buried, we evoke a sense of human fragility that I usually try not to think about. As we recount our shortcomings and then stand as the metaphorical gates of heaven shut during the closing neilah service, we are unsure of what the future will hold.
But would we do any of this if we didn’t believe there was a possibility for a new life, a new way to live on the other side?
At Mayyim Hayyim, our living waters are sourced from the rain that falls from our roof. Just as rain is transformed by its journey up into the clouds and down into the bor (pit) that collects our mikveh waters, those who immerse with us honor their own yearly cycles, their own movements of up and down. I don’t believe these waters wash away, rather, they hold us in their ever-renewing charge, reminding us that we, too, can survive change.
I’m comforted by the prophet Isaiah, who said: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.” The days of awe are often spoken of as a small window we have to speak intimately with God, but the waters of the mikveh would convince you otherwise. I know that as much as I dread the unknown difficulties I will face this year, there will be a hope that comes to greet these challenges, and this hope is really just the beginning of what is possible.
Leeza Negelev is Associate Director of Education at Mayyim Hayyim. She is inspired by the creativity and generosity of spirit that lives at Mayyim Hayyim.