Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg: ‘Refusing to Give up Hope Is a Choice We Can All Make’

Voice Notes of Hope is a series of encouraging words from rabbis, just when we need them the most.

It’s a scary time. Many of us are feeling despaired. Many of us are feeling hopeless. And we could all use a boost. So, we asked our favorite rabbis to send us voice notes of hope, reminders that as bad as things feel now, we must not give up. Here’s Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, rabbi, author, and scholar in residence at National Council of Jewish Women.

“Gevalt!!! Never give up hope! There is no despair.” This is what Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught.

In Yiddish, gevalt has connotations of a cry, or a scream.

He had 8 children, 4 of whom died within a year and a half of their births. Then his wife died, his house burned…  He lived in a time when pogroms and anti-Jewish massacres were not uncommon.

Rebbe Nahman wasn’t sheltered or naive.

“Gevalt!!! Never give up hope! There is no despair.”

Those are words  of someone who has experienced real suffering, real pain, who knows what it is for the bottom to drop out.

I picture that gevalt as almost a primal scream, holding so much darkness and pain — Gevalt!! And yet, after that scream, is the refusal to let that darkness win.

I picture the hope like a rope in his hands, the lifeline to the light, to the vision of what can be, the resilient cord that he holds, and that holds him. And the refusal to allow the despair to exist, like telling the monster you don’t believe in him, he can’t be real.

Refusing to give up hope is a choice we can all make. Refusing to be defeatist, to let cynicism win, is a choice we can all make.

We can choose to hold fast to our vision of what can be, of a society built on love and care, and we can and must continually pull ourselves up out of cynicism, to hold fast to that cord of hope.  Some days it’s hard, it’s exhausting, holding on to the rope. Other days that rope is the only thing keeping us going.

But we can’t let go.

And we have to make sure our actions match our vision — little by little, that rope, all of our ropes, will lift us up.

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