Obama's Jewish Neshama

Print by Alex Grey.
Image shared by C4Chaors via Flickr

I was struck by the Jewish spirit (neshama) and the Jewish ethos that wound its way through the words of Obama’s acceptance speech last night. The emphasis on cooperation, on tenacity in the face of adversity, on individual responsibility and personal action, while underscoring the interconnectedness of the nation all rang clearly with Jewish ideals. Perhaps what I found most satisfying was Obama's return to hope. Hope.

Remember that hope from 2008? The one he championed and the one we hungrily embraced?

Well, it’s back, but this time "The Hope" is older, wiser, a bit tougher. And as a Jew, that is something I can identify with.

“Tonight, despite all the hardship we've been through, despite all the frustrations of Washington, I've never been more hopeful about our future. I have never been more hopeful about America. And I ask you to sustain that hope. I'm not talking about blind optimism, the kind of hope that just ignores the enormity of the tasks ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. I'm not talking about the wishful idealism that allows us to just sit on the sidelines or shirk from a fight.”

We Jews are survivors. We can hold in our hearts great grief and great joy. Within the same breath, we can sing and we can sigh, and I’d argue, the hope of a Jew, the hope that sounds clearly in "Hatikvah," our anthem, is a sobering hope. But it is one that continues to burn, sustaining itself by embers of our past and the renewing belief in a better future.

“I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting.”

We Jews are warriors, fighters--from the Maccabees to the IDF--but also individually, in our own lives we “soldier on,” we are activists who keep the “fires burning.” And it’s that personal fire, that verve, that belief not just in individual responsibility but in one’s own power and impact that is the underpinning of our taking action, of our doing, in each generation, each day, undertaking tikkun olam.

“The role of citizen in our democracy does not end with your vote. America's never been about what can be done for us. It's about what can be done by us together through the hard and frustrating, but necessary work of self-government.”

Work. Done. Together. We are not a universe unto ourselves. We are a complex star system, made from the same materials, sharing the same hopes, dreams, desires as our fellow Jews and non-Jews. We are an intricate constellation, and for each “holy spark” to burn brightly we must recognize our interconnected light.

“What makes America exceptional are the bonds that hold together the most diverse nation on earth. The belief that our destiny is shared, that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations.”

Yes, and, with our eyes to the future, we still must remember our past. For many, it has been a hard four years, such a heavy, trying time, that they have “lost hope” in our current leader. I would like to infuse those suffering from a sense of resignation with a shot of hope. Like our President, I believe in a better tomorrow. I believe that much of the darkness is behind us, that over the next four years we will emerge into a place of greater light, prosperity, and growth.

Given who we are, given our shared past—as Jews, as Americans—how could we not?

“While our road has been hard, while our journey has been long, we have picked ourselves up, we have fought our way back, and we know in our hearts that for the United States of America the best is yet to come."

In honor of our President’s re-election and as a tribute to the enduring hope we share, Tony Bennett, Diana Krall, a chorus of dancers, and I agree--"the best is yet to come."

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How to cite this page

Orcha, Gabrielle. "Obama's Jewish Neshama." 7 November 2012. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on February 29, 2024) <http://jwa.org/blog/obamas-jewish-neshama>.