As the Hebraic year 5782 comes to a close, I have been looking back over our year. It has not been “my” year, it is our year, the year that our Tribe, our community has experienced, the way we have both moved and then halted together. “Whenever the cloud moved from its place …they moved, and wherever the cloud stopped, they camped. Sometimes the cloud stayed over the tent for a long time, but they obeyed the Lord and did not move. Sometimes the cloud was over it only a few days. Sometimes the cloud stayed only from dusk until dawn, when the cloud lifted the next morning, the people moved. The cloud might stay for two days, a month or a year. At the Lord’s command the people camped and at his command they moved.” Numbers 9. It has been a year where we carefully watched the cloud, which since Building Hope, is parked right now. It has been a year marked by joy as well as the hope by which we live.
“Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Wherever I look within Our Tribe I see joy. Wherever I look outside, in the camp, in the larger Yezidi and Syrian communities I see anger, bitterness, pain, lack of hope, lack of a goal. I look in the computer room, I find joy. I look at our English classes online and in person, brimming with joy. Art is a joyful riot of color and expression. Our Music Academy students prepare breakfast for us already humming away. We have horses who dance for joy. Ducks that quack for joy. Fruit and veg that were grown with love, singing and laughter. Whatever direction I look, whatever door I open, whether morning or late afternoon, joy is breaking out to the right and the left.
I believe that a great part of this year has been hosting a space where joy could break through the obvious barriers and find a dwelling place. In reading one of the late Rabbi Sack’s commentaries on a recent Torah portion, he quotes J.D.Salinger who said, “Happiness is a solid, joy is a liquid.” That liquid is as the Torah states, that liquid is tribal, that liquid belongs to the community not the individual, just as the feasts that will soon be upon us are times of collective communal joy. The liquid of joy has been poured out liberally upon our community, it has trickled from the few to the many. It began with a single drop, then increased and became contagious. We were marked by joy. We have not denied suffering but have found our identity in joy and in hope.
“If you do a good job for others, you heal yourself at the same time, because a dose of joy is a spiritual cure. Pain is a holy angel who shows us treasures that would otherwise remain forever hidden. The pain of suffering and of longing, which can often be felt even physically, must be there and we can not, and need not talk it away. But it needs to be overcome every time, and thus there is an even holier angel than the one of pain, that is the one of joy in God.” D. Bonhoeffer.
I close this year quoting Rabbi Sacks, “Kierkegaard once wrote: “It takes moral courage to grieve; it takes religious courage to rejoice." It is one of the most poignant facts…that our history has been shot through with tragedy, yet we never lost the capacity to rejoice, to celebrate in the heart of darkness, to sing the Lord’s song, even in a strange land. “
From that same strange land, from ancient Mesopotamia, we all thank you for being a part of our camping and our moving, for travelling with us this year. We could not have reached thus far without your presence in our lives. We value each one of you. I recently met a lady whose name I know not, who told me that she had been praying for us daily since 2014. Her and your prayers have brought that which we have accomplished into being.
There will undoubtedly be crises and catastrophes this coming year, this is the nature of the age in which we live. We ask you not to give up on us, not to give up on this key region, the region where human history began and where much will culminate. As we move into a new year, whatever that may hold in our turbulent region, we pray that we will be forever marked by joy, singing an anthem of joy, clothed in joy, keeping our eyes on the cloud by day and night. May we be defined as the tribe that lives in the joyful anticipation of good, the tribe that cultivates an atmosphere of hope, where faith and future can grow.