Finding Hope through our Youth

Insight and learning comes from all directions. In the Talmud, Rabbi Chanina said: "I have learned much from my teachers and even more from my friends, but from my students I have learned most of all.” (Taanit 7a) So it was for me two weeks ago in Kavana’s High School Program, where the discussion among the students gave me surprising new insights and, just as importantly, surprising new hope.

Insight and learning comes from all directions. In the Talmud, Rabbi Chanina said: "I have learned much from my teachers and even more from my friends, but from my students I have learned most of all.” (Taanit 7a) So it was for me two weeks ago in Kavana’s High School Program, where the discussion among the students gave me surprising new insights and, just as importantly, surprising new hope.

There is so much up in the air right now, and so many critical matters could go one way or the other. Will witnesses be called in the Senate trial of the President of the United States? What will the impact be of the President’s announcement of a new framework for addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that departs significantly from past US-sponsored proposals? Who will even be the President a year from now?! Will the US and other major carbon-emitting countries commit by year’s end to the ten-year plans required to reduce emissions by 45% by 2030, as scientists warn we must to avert the worst consequences of climate change? If all this has you feeling uncertain, unsettled, even worried, you’re not alone! If some feelings of hopelessness creep in at times, again, that would not be surprising. This high-stakes uncertainty is even echoed in our Torah portion this week, Bo, which begins with Pharoah’s heart hardened once again, with seven plagues down and three to come. Will the plagues work? Will Pharoah keep changing his mind? Will the people be freed?! There have been enough reversals of fortune by this point to make your head spin, and there are more in this portion! By the end, the people are on their way out of Egypt, but it’s not until next week’s portion that they fully escape the Egyptian empire’s grasp, as they cross the sea to complete freedom. This week, we’re still mostly in uncertainty — things could go either way.

When the Kavana high school students set out to learn about and discuss climate change in terms of both current news and Jewish perspectives, we were very much confronting an issue that is filled with uncertainty, that could go either way — an issue that can provoke a sense of hopelessness in many of us at times. After the students shared news they had gleaned about the topic and discussed it a bit, I asked them the question that was really on my mind: “Do you have hope?” The discussion that followed was more inspiring than I could have imagined. They do have hope, they said, because people of their generation are starting to vote, and their generation understands the stakes of this issue and will move it in the right direction through their voting power. Every year, they said, a new massive crop of us will be old enough to vote. We’ll turn the tide. I couldn’t have asked for a better, more hopeful, response. Because essentially they were saying that they are prepared to act, that they have hope because they recognize their own potential power. In short, they have hope because of themselves. Now I have more hope because of them, and I hope you will, too.