The entire crowd on the University of Pennsylvania’s campus turned to the east and, in unison, chanted the Israeli national anthem, “Hatikvah,” or “The Hope.” Not even the construction noises pierced the connection that cocooned the 200-person vigil.
As a despondent voice listed the names of fallen soldiers, the university’s chaplain draped his arm around the Orthodox rabbi. The men stood in silence, their heads bowed, as tears ran down their cheeks. Two 20-year-old girls stood to my left with an Israeli flag draped around their shoulders. A man stood by himself crying.
Amid today’s situation in Israel and Gaza, I find myself asking about “hatikvah” and what we think about when we say “hope.”
The first time the word “hope” appears in the Western Canon occurs in the Book of Joshua when Rahab, a woman from Jericho, protects two Israelite spies. In exchange for their protection, Rahab asks the spies to allow her and her family to live after Jericho is conquered. The spies respond and tell Rahab that they would if she “tie [a] cord of scarlet thread [tikvah] in the window through which you let us down” (Joshua 2:17-18). This story seems to suggest that hope requires an expectation of collaboration.
The Hebrews’ notion of hope born in reciprocal action contrasts with English, where we typically use the word in desire-based contexts like, “I hope I find a job next year.” Compared to an English “hope” that carries inherent ambiguity and uncertainty, the Hebrews’ notion of “hope” emphasizes the importance of trusted collaboration over time.
Biblically, we are told to place our trust and collaboration in God to improve our circumstances. Those who believe in and derive meaning from God have an answer for where to turn. But where does that leave others who don’t share those viewpoints? Where can and should we place our hope and trust?
Rahab, the Biblical woman from Jericho, provides a possible answer. She relied on the Israeli spies to follow through on their promise to protect her family, the spies relied on Rahab to protect them, and Joshua — the leader of the Israelites — relied on the spies to provide important information. Rahab, our protagonist, needed to cling to tikvah — meaning both cord and hope — with the expectation that other people grasped the other side.
I now reflect on the recent gathering where the 200-person crowd chanted the lyrics, “Our hope is not yet lost,” from “Hativkah,” with a belief seemingly centered on trust. While some people likely looked to God to support them, others, like me, looked to the friends, family and strangers that surrounded them. Hope only needs to feel amorphous and lonely if we forget to both support and lean on other people.
Like the interactions between the chaplain and the rabbi, Rahab and the spies, and maybe even today’s nations, we can find hope in each others’ tikvahs. Perhaps if one side in any situation can extend the cord, the other can extend the hope.
Daniel Gurevitch is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania and a freelance writer. He can be reached at [email protected].