IN THE MEDIA

Holding on to hope in the eye of a hurricane

May 17, 2024 | Rabbi Ralph Genende

Eden Golan performs 'Hurricane' at Eurovision 2024 (image: screenshot)
Eden Golan performs 'Hurricane' at Eurovision 2024 (image: screenshot)

The Jewish Independent – 15 May 2024

 

Over the weekend, I stepped into a hurricane. Not a hurricane of fear, alarm, chaos or catastrophe – but a storm of exhilaration and defiance, pride and poignancy. I’m referring to Eden Golan presenting her song “Hurricane” at the Eurovision Song Contest in Malmö, Sweden.

This bold and captivating song, which gained the most popular votes in the second semi-final, and Australia’s twelve maximum of public votes, made it to fifth place in the finals on Sunday.

I was moved by the song and its lyrics, its lovely tune, the energetic presentation, but mostly by the significance and resonance of its timing – even though it does not mention October 7, and some of the original lyrics were removed as “too political”.

The song was originally titled “October Rain” and included lines like, “There’s no air left to breathe” and “They were all good children”, an apparent allusion to those hiding in shelters or at the Nova music festival. Despite this, the more arresting replacement title is also more apt – as the Talmud asserts, ‘a hint is enough for a wise person’ and certainly as good as a wink!

The title is more trenchant as are the telling words: “I’m still broken from this hurricane”. We, the Jewish people, are still broken and wounded by the ongoing war, the terrible plight of the hostages and the rampant, raging antisemitism. We too feel like “someone stole the moon tonight” and “took my light. Everything is black and white”.

We are, after all, a moon people with a lunar calendar. The moon shapes the Jewish psyche which is bruised, if not shattered. We are suffering from the binary black and white reading and presentation of the war, and of the reality of antisemitism. From the virulent and often surprisingly ignorant intellectuals on university campuses, to the social media warriors, not to mention the many well-meaning but too often mindless protesters: the conflict is simply one-sided with Israel being the bad and ugly. The honoured responsibility of journalists to present an unbiased view has been replaced by a reckless advocacy of their personal biases.

Eden sings in a personal way, but again with words that have a wider relevance that “Life is no game, but it’s ours. While the time goes wild. Every day, I’m losin’ my mind. Holdin’ on in this mysterious ride”. This 20-year-old displayed a remarkable resilience and composure in the face of the wildly aggressive threats and the orgy of righteous protests in Malmö.

Many Jewish people are feeling overwhelmed by the tsunami of senseless hatred that keeps on coming our way – the antisemitic comments and images sprung out of the Nazi-era handbook, the sense that the world has gone wild and mad. Is it really happening, we ask, that we can’t walk unafraid across our own cities and university campuses? That if you wear a kippah or Star of David in public you are commended for being brave? That you have to explain to your 6-year-old why there’s a security guard outside her school, but not at the state school you just walked past?

How do you hold onto hope and loving your neighbour when you are in the eye of the hurricane?

Eden offers one suggestion – “Dancin’ in the storm, I got nothin’ to hide. Take it all and leave the world behind. Baby, promise me you’ll hold me again”. For some, withdrawal and retreating into a space where you leave the world behind is the answer, so they switch off from all media and watch Netflix.

While understandable, it doesn’t work for me. I do find some tuning out beneficial and Shabbat is my retreat day as I move into the Sabbath island of time free from screens and audio onslaughts, but my wife needs to know as much as possible and she avidly follows live Israeli news programs, podcasts and reads voraciously. That helps soothe her and steals her against surprises in our chaotic world.

Some draw strength from prayer and the power of the psalms to speak directly to their hearts. Psalms with phrases like, ‘I called to you God from the pain of my narrow places and you answered opening up endless expanses and the promise that the angst and anxiety will pass’. Others are emboldened by acts of political advocacy.

For many it’s increasing their acts of kindness to others. I start off each day by wondering who I can reach out to, hold onto and be helpful towards – it doesn’t take much to say a caring word, make a phone call, or send an empathic text.

I also try and be more noble than I actually am by using time in my prayers to imagine the acute pain and despair of those families in Israel who have lost their sons and daughters; who are fighting in a civilian army to protect their homes and families; of the tens of thousand displaced from their homes in the north and south of Israel. It’s a little harder, but I let my heart feel the piercing pain and agony of the Gazan Palestinians who have lost so much and live in fear in a war brought about by their so-called compatriots of Hamas.

I try to dig into the deep compassionate wells that have fed my people for centuries and act lovingly towards my neighbours, especially those I don’t particularly like – and to simultaneously exercise my right to feel furious at those enemies who would destroy me and my people if we weren’t strong and defiant enough to protect ourselves.

But now I can turn to Eden Golan and reflect on her wise words: “Livin’ in a fantasy… Everything is meant to be. We shall pass, but love will never die”. Jewish tradition is anchored in love – the love of God, your neighbour, and the stranger. Love, says the Biblical lyricist in the Song of Songs, is stronger than death. And this war too shall pass.

At the end of her song, Golan sings a few Hebrew sentences that make my heart sing: “You don’t need big words, just prayers. Even if it’s hard to see, you will always be for me a small singular ray of light”.

In dark and dangerous times we need to reach out and grasp every bit of light we can find, and spread it wide and far.

Rabbi Ralph Genende is the Interfaith and Community Liaison at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council. He is also Senior Rabbi to Jewish Care Victoria.

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