Sunday, December 30, 2007

Live The Dream! - Of Dreams, Reality and Fantasy!

I have recently taken on a new job. I have been contracted by Nefesh B'Nefesh (link) to create, market and run educational seminars for groups of Gap Year (Shanna BaAretz, Yeshiva, Midrasha, other) programs. It is an exciting project, as we attempt to raise awareness to the fact that Aliya is an attainable goal, that it is a realistic option for a young person's future. We feel that most of the students who have spent a year or two in Israel feel that it would be wonderful if only they could live here, but that for some reason (finance, family, language, who knows?) it is not practical. We'd like to suggest that it is more possible than people think. That their life goals can be fulfilled here, and that they can live a comfortable and happy life here. Hat is the educational goal. Wish me luck!

Nefesh B'Nefesh (NBN) have the motto: "Live the Dream!" The objective of the catchphrase is to suggest that your dream of living in Israel, of realizing an age old Jewish yearning, can become your reality, your everyday life.

I think that the motto also aims to hint that our everyday prosaic, humdrum routine lives, can be imbued in some manner by the dream – היינו כחולמים! That every day here in Israel can feel inspired and elevated, that it can resonate with a deeper and wider vision of the Jewish past, present and future.


I began thinking about this a little more after talking to one particular school in preparation for my NBN work. It is a program that integrates Israelis and Americans. The school representative spoke to me and said something like this:

"Our students really need this project. You see, in certain schools they are in a bubble. They give them shiurim about how they can walk outside and see the spark of spirituality as they walk through the streets of Jerusalem. But our students are living in Israel as Israelis, amongst Israelis. They see just how normal things are here. They hear about the problems and difficulties, the strains and regular life. You need to give them more of that spark; that dream."

And I thought to myself, Is that our choice? Are there only two possibilities: The day to day reality of Israeli living – flat, hard and frequently under strain; or a vision of dream, but possibly dislocated from the normal experience of life here?

ירושלים של מטה- ירושלים של מעלה

And at the same time, the Annapolis conference and its aftermath are in full swing and, of course, the future of Jerusalem is on the chopping board. Will Jerusalem be divided? What will be the status of the Arab neighborhoods, the Temple Mount?

We – a good, Religious Zionist home – were discussing the issues, when my 11 yr. old son (who holds moderate right wing views) commented: "I don't get it! Isn't Jerusalem already divided? We all know that there is an Arab part of Jerusalem and a Jewish part!" Sobering words!

At the same time the OU in America issue a pronouncement condemning the possible division of Jerusalem expressing their:

"deepest concern over recent statements …. that your Government is prepared to divide the holy city of Yerushalayim …Our relationship to Yerushalayim is one that transcends time, space and other physical constraints … Mr. Prime Minister, we cannot state strongly enough our belief that the Government and peopleof the State of Israel hold Yerushalayim in trust for the Jewish People no matter where they may live, for we all have a share in the holy city."

In Israel, a great number of Israelis are willing to contemplate the prospect of ceding certain parts of Arab populated Jerusalem to the PA in the hope of Peace.

And I couldn't help but be impressed by the disconnect here. The Israeli government and many Israelis are being forced to grapple with Jerusalem as a practical problem in the here and now, an issue that must be addressed for the wellbeing of the future of Medinat Yisrael. It is very much a pragmatic view of Jerusalem as the capital of a modern Jewish State. Whereas the OU has a more idealized view of a holy city, in trust for all Jews of all ages, transcending time, space and anything worldly.

Is Jerusalem the city of the dream or must Jerusalem face up to reality? Is Jerusalem the city of all Jews, or is it the Capital of Israel? Are we dealing with ירושלים של מעלה or ירושלים של מטה? Is the OU's view simply a shortsighted fantasy, a virtual reality in an already divided city? Or is the Israeli government blinded by the here and now, not facing up to a stronger meta-historic pulse of the eternity of Jewish History?


But we are, after all, the people of the dream. Even Herzl's famous line אם תרצו אין זו אגדה rests upon a 2000 year dream – the Hope התקווה שנות אלפיים – that we return to our land. We talk about this every Tefilla, every musaph, every broken glass at a wedding, every Tisha BeAv, every Mevarchim Hachodesh. Our prayers voice the dream. Dare we shatter the dream and turn it into a reality? Dare we bring the dream down from the stars and let it exist upon Earth?

There is an apocryphal story about the Talmidim of Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav. That they decided to travel to Eretz Yisrael. They spent the entire sea voyage to the Holy Land spiritually preparing themselves for their meeting with the purest the holiest of lands. They prayed and meditated in anticipation. And then one day, the boat sighted land! The ecstasy grew in intensity, the spirituality felt palpable, the Hasidim were filled with emotion.

Upon landing they could not contain their disappointment. "There are trees here just like in Poland. The earth is like the earth in Poland! There are hills just like in Poland!" They could not withstand the thought that this Land, this Holy Land, existed within the realm of the physical! How could a spiritual land be simple rocks and grass and trees?

And do you know what they did?

They turned around and sailed back home.

Sometimes we must realize that the dream is a reality. We must know that even dreams come in the guise of human decisions, in bricks and mortar, in sweat and toil, in wars and soldiers, in the clods of earth of Eretz Yisrael.


And so, how do we retain the dream while keeping our feet firmly planted? Do we give up on a pristine dream-like image when we settle for the here and now practicalities of life?

On a personal note, despite the fact that we go to work, wash the dishes, do the laundry and what have you, I believe that we do experience the dimension of the dream on a frequent basis. Personally I palpably sense the privilege of living in our Holy Land whether it is the fact that I can listen to the radio and speak to my children in Hebrew, whether it is the fact that I drive to work passing through bona fide Biblical landscape, whether it is pride in our chayalim, or simply the fact that these are MY people and this is MY land and these our OUR problems. There is a gratifying sense of belonging. When each and every place resonates with historic significance, life is suffused with a rich texture of significance. We DO "live the dream!" somehow in my life there is a balance, a fusion.

At some level in grappling with this problem – and I am aware that it fails to solve the Peace Process - I frame this problem in the language of dialectic.

Woe to the person who fails to have dreams, to reach for truth. And yet the person who will never live his dream because reality fails to match perfection, is a person who will have missed out on life, will have failed to achieve. We cannot build and grow in a world of dreams but only on this planet, in our homes, and communities even if they fall short of some theoretical ideal. But we can still dream.

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