I’m on a mission to recalibrate myself to welcome hope and possibility, with Jewish resilience and gratitude to guide me.
It’s a sentence I’ve heard from multiple people in recent months, in one form or another: “I don’t know how to handle good news anymore.” Recently, we’ve been bombarded with bad news of almost every kind – political, social, environmental, financial. And it’s not just the United States that has been suffering from the ills of political unrest, climate change, racial injustice, and the coronavirus. The entire world has endured devastating blows. Every morning when I wake up and start reading the news, I brace myself for the grim reports that are sure to appear. In the rare moments when I encounter a piece of positive news, I am momentarily stunned. My first thought is usually that the news is too good to be true, or that if it is true, the development will probably be negated by some unfavorable news story that I’ll read tomorrow. It seems as though my brain launches into defense mode when I start reading, preventing me from hoping for anything positive. I know that this stems from a self-protective instinct, but I also recognize how important hope is for my health and wellbeing. I’m on a mission to recalibrate myself to welcome hope and possibility, with Jewish resilience and gratitude to guide me.
Luckily, hope is already on the horizon. Inauguration is nearing, and more people are getting coronavirus vaccines every day. Both the incoming presidential administration and the mass vaccination campaign are sources of hope for many Americans. But Jewish tradition teaches us that even if those major events weren’t brewing, we must look out for smaller sources of light. As Rabbi Dalia Marx explained in a recent lecture, we live in a time when we don’t necessarily experience great wonders of the sort that our ancient ancestors did (think parting of the Red Sea), but that doesn’t mean that our special connection with God no longer exists, or that we don’t experience small miracles, especially during difficult times. After a year that was marked by disappointment and loss for many, it’s essential to acknowledge important wins, such as the Supreme Court ruling that LGBTQ employees are protected by civil rights employment statutes, or the record drop in global carbon emissions in 2020.
There is a blessing for when we hear about these or other pieces of good news. The fourth benediction in the Birkat HaMazon (the Blessing After the Meal), is Hatov V'hameitiv, which expresses gratitude to God who creates wonders in our world. What makes this blessing unique is that it marks the occasion of positive news that will affect not just ourselves, but an entire community. “Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha’olam hatov v’ha’meitiv.” Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who is good and bestows good. We recite Hatov V'hameitiv when we hear good news concerning ourselves and others, articulating the joy caused by both the ordinary and the extraordinary. This coming year, I hope to use this blessing as a way to remind myself that good things happen. I vow to welcome hope and gratitude into my life freely. I also vow to be part of the driving force behind the positive changes that I hope to see this year. After all, incredible results, like the mobilization of close to 800,000 voters in Georgia during the presidential election, happen because of the determined efforts of people like Stacey Abrams and other Black women leaders.
Throughout all the uncertainty and disappointment of 2020, it became even more clear to me how crucial it is to hold onto everyday moments of joy and to pause in gratitude for the blessings I have. Part of my mental recalibration process has been taking that and other lessons with me into 2021. I have a feeling that, moving forward, we will be less likely to take for granted spending time with family and friends, feeling connection in a crowd of strangers, or pieces of good news we come across throughout the day. Let us keep our minds open to hope, to possibility, and to the frequent and intentional recitation of Hatov V'hameitiv.
Madeleine Fortney (she/her) is a Brooklyn-based rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion.