This past week I learned that two of the Israeli kipnapped victims were from the Hod Hasharon community of our Mifgash partners, Mozenson High School. Just a few days later, I felt immense gratitude and relief to learn that Sharon (52) and Noam (12) Avigdori were among those released this weekend. How can we feel gratitude for those released, while also knowing there are so many others waiting to come home? I continue to think about gratitude in a time of crisis - how we teach this idea to our teens and how we each might use gratitude as a tool while grappling with challenging times.
This last week I got to learn with Rabba Yaffa Epstein and Israeli educator, Shuki Taylor. Our topic was "The Work of Gratitude (Hakarat Hatov in Hebrew) in a Time of Crisis." It is hard work to stay grateful right now and not fall into despair. In times like these, how can we express our thankfulness to each other, to ourselves, and (if we believe) to G-d? Yaffa and Shuki shared that both Thanksgiving and Hanukkah were created by our ancestral leaders after and sometimes in the midst of war. Lincoln established the "official" holiday of Thanksgiving on the one-year anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, while the country was still in the middle of the Civil War. And the Hasmonean leaders of ancient Israel created Hanukkah after winning their war with the Greeks. What can we learn from this? What do these holidays provide? In our discussion last Tuesday, we agreed on two key ideas. One, an "official" holiday provides the community a chance to tell the story of why we are grateful - what we lost and what we gained out of the ashes of war or crisis. Two, constructing holidays that focus on gratitude or the recognition of miracles provides hope and serves as a tool for transformation. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, z'll said, "Hope is the belief that if we work hard enough together, we can make things better."
How do we apply these ideas at Midrasha? After October 7th we started a weekly practice at the end of our break to say a prayer for the safe return of the hostages. We don't usually do communal prayer on Wednesday nights at Midrasha, but we do now. It's a chance for all of us to remember that even though Israel is very far away physically, emotionally, and spiritually it sits right in our hearts. Why did Sharon and Noam's release hit me so hard? Because our partners at Mosenzon also sit right in my heart.
Maybe in a year, we will have a holiday of hope and gratitude to remember October 7th. That's not clear yet. But meanwhile, we will continue our prayer at break, continue hoping for more to be released, and continue saying thank you for the moments in which we feel gratitude.
As we all continue into the holiday season, I invite you to join me in gratitude for what we have now and the hope that our combined work will make the world better.