On Faith: Rosh Hashanah a time to renew hope

Hope has been in short supply lately — the murder of a diplomat in Libya, the ongoing savagery in Syria, Iran's apparent march toward nuclear weaponry, Midwest drought, climate change, the pain of the unemployed — the list is long.

In the midst of my melancholy over these and other troubles, I had decided — with very mixed feelings — to remove my yellow "Support a cure" bracelet. Lance Armstrong's decision not to contest doping allegations had been a downer for a cancer survivor like me, and I'm sure for others.

But then I noticed another bracelet I'd been wearing for years but pretty much forgotten about: a purple one with the word "Hope." The word hit me like a lightening flash. There was, in fact, much to be hopeful about, for me personally and the rest of humanity.

Freedom and democracy are advancing on the globe, albeit gradually. Scourges such as AIDS and malaria are being checked. Aung San Suu Kyi sits freely in Myanmar's parliament, American students do millions of hours of volunteer work at home and abroad. Curiosity is exploring Mars.

Yes, you can either sing Louis Armstrong's "It's a Wonderful World" or "Me and my shadow, all alone and feeling blue." The glass of life will always be either half empty or half full. But hope has transformative power to make the darks and lights of life — the sol y sombre — always more lightsome.

A few years ago, after giving a lecture on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I was discussing the issue with a sensitive, idealistic student. I told her I might not live to see a peace agreement between the two peoples. Tears immediately welled up in her eyes and I was struck by the power of my momentary pessimism. I am, in fact, optimistic that peace will come, though we have miles to go before it arrives.

The Jewish community is in the midst of the "Days of Awe," the 10-day period between the Jewish New Year, or Rosh Hashanah, which began Sunday evening, and the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, beginning Tuesday at sundown. Rosh Hashanah marks "the birth of the world," a time when the Jewish community celebrates creation in all its wondrous grandeur and renews its optimism for a good and sweet year ahead. It also begins a period of introspection when Jews like myself assess how well they've lived during the past year. That examination should include asking yourself how much hope you've generated.

Hope promotes courage and perseverance, imagination and creativity, thinking the best of others and of yourself rather than the worst. It is an elixir for the natural shocks of life and the seemingly endless propensity of human beings to live in conflict.

Hope is a choice to take positive action, for example by resisting bigotry or starting a grass-roots movement for social betterment or — in this season of self-examination — by reaching out to someone you are estranged from and healing hearts.

If not today, when?

BENJAMIN J. HUBBARD is professor emeritus of comparative religion at Cal State Fullerton and a Costa Mesa resident.

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