Investing in Hope

7 December 2018
By: Hannah Bender

Just a few months ago, I began my time as an Elissa Froman Fellow. I’ve been living in Jerusalem at a time when it feels like democracy is under assault across the globe. As an American, watching intolerable policies being put into place in my home country is devastating, as is living in Israel and watching discriminatory legislation like the Nation-State Law being passed in my name. I often feel powerless in these unsettling times.

As we come to the end of the festival of lights we arrive at Parashat Vayigash, the continuation of the Joseph drama. Joseph’s brothers are in Egypt to bring food back to Canaan and Joseph reveals himself to them after framing Benjamin for theft. The family is reunited, however the area is still in the middle of a devastating drought.

In the parasha, I tried to put myself in the brothers’ shoes as they arrive in Egypt. At this point in the story they are still in year two of a seven-year drought. They have years of hardship ahead of them. I can imagine their suffering felt unending. How did they continue in the middle of what seemed like an endless crisis?

Living in Jerusalem I often need to ask myself, when the state of the world constantly seems to be moving in the wrong direction, who do I support and look to for hope? I think we can find an answer in the parasha. Joseph and his brothers invested their energy in forgiveness and reconciliation. They put their energy toward people and light.

This year on the Elissa Froman Fellowship, I have met several of NIF’s incredible grantees who are meeting the challenges to Israeli democracy and equality head on. I had the incredible opportunity to go on a geopolitical tour of Jerusalem with Ir Amim, an NIF grantee focused on drawing attention to the disparities between Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and the rest of the city. I had the honor of hearing from Dr. Yaakov Maoz from the Tikun Movement for Social and Cultural Change in Israel who works with the Mizrahi community and towards a shared society. I shared an evening with folks from the U.S. who continue to invest in the New Israel Fund because they see it creating the Israel that represents their values and our tradition.

While it feels like we are in the midst of an exhausting and draining drought, I am grateful for those organizations and individuals in Israel who push forward, those who like Joseph and his brothers continue to invest in hope and in light.