Hope in the Face of Horror: What is Really Stronger?

Although it has been a short time since my trip to Israel, at times it has already felt like a distant memory disconnected from the hustle and bustle of my daily life. I had a wonderful time soaking in its historical beauty, enjoying its culinary delights and laughing with families proudly celebrating the Bat Mitzvahs of their sons. But as I struggled to reenter my normal routine, these memories were now on the periphery of my consciousness, compartmentalized into something I could reflect on euphorically but which still remained largely disconnected from my own world.

Or so I thought.

When reports of a bus explosion in Jerusalem flashed on the screen on my phone, I said to myself, “We were just there.”

My thoughts immediately went to Uri Feinberg, Marianna Gol, Yoram Hazony and all the other new friends I had made during my pilgrimage. Not only was I saddened by the motivations behind this heinous attack, but for the first time, I found myself lamenting for the residents themselves. These people graciously opened up their lives, their homes and even their wounds to us to give us small glimpse into their world. People who, regardless of their religious affiliation, gender, class or skin color, were all created in the image of God. And now someone was trying to hurt them.

Before embarking on this journey, I anticipated being moved by the sacred places I had read about in the pages of Scripture. I was prepared to have my cognitive muscles stretched as we explored the rich history of the region and learned about the geopolitical complexities that have led to the conflict we see televised before us almost daily. What I was not prepared for was being deeply impacted by the personal stories of a people who have such an intense sense of hope for their nation. Despite the instability in which they live, they have an unshakeable connection with the land of their forefathers and an insatiable optimism for peace.

As a New Yorker, I get it. People laugh when I place the Big Apple in a category above all others (because I believe it is). Despite the many systemic issues we grapple with, the threat of terror or natural disaster, four generations of my family have lived in New York and is where our legacy is. This is the same passion that I saw reflected back in the faces of those I met in Israel.

Beyond the bomb shelters and terror alerts were mothers raising their children, fathers working in the marketplace to feed their families and students studying to make something of themselves.

Even more potent than the fear of suicide bombers or terrorists digging tunnels under their towns is the buoyant resilience that keeps them afloat. Above it all, normalcy is what they’ve craved. 

After the news of the bombing, I wrote to a friend I made during the trip and asked him how he and his family were doing. Considering that this was the first bombing in Jerusalem since the second intifada ended in 2005, I assumed that they would be shaken up. On the contrary, he reassured me they were fine, strong and continuing their lives as best they could. “Like anywhere else I suppose,” he added. It was then that I realized that in the same way that I had begun to compartmentalize my experiences to regain some semblance of stability, that’s how they survive.

Because in many ways, Israel is like anywhere else. At its core, the same longing that I have for the healing of my city is also deeply embedded in the heart of the average person there. They, too, yearn for a sanctuary of peace, safety and security like the one described in the Bible: 

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each of them with cane in hand because of their age. The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.” Zechariah 8:4-5 (NIV)

I’m now challenged to look this nation not as a museum that I admire from afar, not a case study in political science, but as a nation of people not unlike myself, desperately in need of the loving support of their brothers and sisters around the world. I can no longer turn away indifferently, but am challenged to become an active participant in the process of restoration.

And as leaders of faith I’m convinced, now more than ever, that we have to allow ourselves to hear their stories, feel their pain as our own, and use every opportunity we can to help bring reconciliation, one person at a time. Only then will we move closer to healing in our lifetime. Not just between the factions that exist in this troubled land, but between our own apathy and a people in a desperate struggle for survival. Why? Because when horror goes up against the undeterred hope of a community of faithful believers, hope will always win.

This article originally appeared on Philos Project, July 5, 2016, and reposted with permission.