Israeli Values Religious Voices

Letter 35 - Rabbi Rani Jaeger

To the State of Israel and all its inhabitants,

The scholar Jean Améry, who was a Holocaust survivor and a fighter in the Jewish underground, finished a wonderful article with the question - “How many homelands does a person need?”  For a man that was torn from his family, lost his place, and experienced the war firsthand, Améry had no illusions about fears of nationalism. Yet again, he answered his own question with a clear cut answer - A lot! A person needs a big dose of homeland.

Israel, for me and many others, is a homeland and a home. Simply. Without a need to justify it. But I am fully aware that its establishment and existence were not easy. It grew out of a lot of pain, but also out of hope. Our anthem touches on a very fundamental matter that explains one of the biggest successes of the twentieth century. Ours is a success filled with many problems, challenges and injustices, and yet - an extraordinary success.

A lot was written about the messianic idea in general, and also specifically about the Zionist conversion of the future messiahship in human and earthly action in the present. This is a broad matter, but I will still say that hope and messianism seem like close relatives at first look. But, actually there is a huge difference between them, maybe even a contrast. Both of them are looking into the future, and both describe something that does not exist yet.

While messianism marks fantastic goals out of our reach, people filled with hope share three things - they have practical goals, they suggest ways to reach them and act accordingly. Hope is anchored by a realistic view of reality that asks to navigate intelligently between the various opportunities, while assessing their price and benefits. All this, while looking forward and wanting to build a better future. Hope is an approach that can create reality. 

It is better not to confuse hope with optimism, which is generally looking at life with an approach of “it will be ok”. It’s a known fact that many hopeful expressions actually express the luck of hope, the situations when hope is gone. 

As David Feldman and Benjamin Koren wrote: “Hope is not about seeing the cup half full. There is a place for hope, even when the cup is only a third full or when it's completely empty. True hope does not mean living a life of fantasy. It is connected to real life in this world and seeing things as they are, including pain and suffering”.

I want to wish Israel to seek hope - a realistic hope for a good society which has cohesion and belonging, based on positivity and not negativity. A hope that for all its citizens, Israel is a place where each can fulfill their hopes and dreams. A hope that is based on personal security which is not only physical, but healthy educational, financial, and social. 

I want to wish us that Israel will be a hopeful place. A place that has room for hope, and in that hopeful space, many people will hold the blessing that was given to Abraham: “You will be a blessing” (Genesis 12, 2) and will succeed not only to hope but to be hope themselves.


Rabbi Rani Jaeger

Rabbi Dr. Rani Jaeger, born in Tel Aviv, currently lives with his wife and four children in Jerusalem. 

He is a research fellow, faculty member and head of the Tanakh Initiative at the Shalom Hartman Institute. He was one of the founders of the Institute’s Be’eri Program for Pluralistic Jewish-Israeli Identity Education.

Rani received his doctorate from Bar-Ilan University on Jewish-Israeli culture as perceived by the poet Avraham Shlonsky. He was ordained as a Rabbi at the first cohort of the Beit Midrash for Israeli Rabbis from the Shalom Hartman Institute and HaMidrasha at Oranim.

Rani is one of the founders of Beit Tefilah Israeli, a secular synagogue in the heart of Tel Aviv.

He spent a year at Paideia, the European Institute of Jewish Studies in Stockholm, as scholar in residence, and is currently teaching in various programs in Israel.

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