Former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom Jonathan Sacks has written that there is no Hebrew word for “optimism.” But we do have a word for “hope.”
He explains that optimism is passive. It is merely the belief that “things will get better.” But “hope” is active. It is the belief that together, we can make the world better.
I thought of this distinction recently as the 20th anniversary of the establishment of Sivitz Jewish Hospice approaches. Our community built the hospice in November 1996 to help families have — and never give up — hope. Even when the medical conditions and diagnoses are not promising, there is always hope.
We see this in the uplifting stories of Abraham and Sarah and other patriarchs and matriarchs. They faced circumstances that were daunting but kept their faith and hope. They knew that ultimately, those situations would be remedied in some way. What they did was roll up their sleeves and work in partnership with the Holy One Above to make this world better.
Rabbi Moshe Shimon Sivitz was born Nov. 10, 1855, and came to Pittsburgh as a young man in 1888. He served as Shaare Torah’s spiritual leader until his death in 1936. Rabbi Sivitz realized that Western Pennsylvania was not like Kovno, Lithuania, where he was born and raised. He worked hard to teach Judaism, encourage spirituality and to inspire religious observance of the Jewish men and women who lived here.
For the past 20 years, the hospice that was created in honor of the Sivitz family name has worked with thousands of people to foster hope even in the face of a terminal illness. We have worked with people of all faiths and beliefs to encourage family and community support. We have prayed with patients and families. We have grieved with them, and walked with them through their bereavement.
The community of volunteers who support our Sivitz Jewish Hospice are outstanding individuals. Hospice volunteers provide a supportive presence to both patients and families. A companion volunteer can read to a patient, play soft music, carry on discussions and conversations or just hold their hand. Through the hospice’s new memory keepsake program, volunteers assist a patient in creating a memory keepsake page with pictures and journaling a particular story, memory, or experience that the patient wants to leave their loved ones. Hospice also has a new aromatherapy program, and No One Dies Alone volunteers sit by a patient’s bedside while they are actively dying if their family is not able to be there.
We celebrate the achievements of the last 20 years and look forward to fostering hope for the next 20 and more. Rabbi Sivitz’s legacy is one of a meaningful life well lived, with faith and hope in Hashem and His Torah.
Rabbi Eli Seidman is director of Pastoral Care of the Jewish Association on Aging. November is National Hospice Month.