December 7, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt so famously said, was “a date which
will live in infamy.” For it was on that date in 1941 that the Japanese air
force sneak-attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, decimating the US Pacific fleet and
shocking the world.
More than 2,400 American servicemen were killed in
the bombing and American naval power was severely crippled, allowing the
Japanese to proceed full-throttle with their conquest of Southeast
Ironically, the attack ultimately proved to be a blessing for the
world, particularly the Jewish people, as it jump-started the entry of the
United States into the war against the Axis powers. The movement for
noninterventionism, which had been extremely strong until then, disappeared into
the smoke of the burning battleships as president Roosevelt declared war the
very next day.
But there was another December 7, 46 years later, which
would live not in infamy but in glowing tribute to the power of the Jewish
people, when it stands united. On that date in 1987, more than 250,000 Jews
gathered in front of the Capitol building in Washington to demand that
then-premier Mikhail Gorbachev open the gates and allow the Jews of the Soviet
Union to emigrate.
I was part of the delegation from Dallas, 180 strong.
Dressed in our “native” uniforms of boots and cowboy hats, we could see around
us a sea of hundreds of delegations from every part of America.
come to Washington on planes, trains and thousands of buses. On a beautiful,
sunny, but bitterly cold day, we listened patiently to speeches from then-vice
president George Bush, Elie Wiesel, Israeli ambassador Moshe Arad and many
The loudest applause and cheers were reserved for former
prisoners of conscience and long-term refuseniks Natan Sharansky, Ida Nudel,
Yuli Edelstein and Vladimir and Maria Slepak.
It was, to put it mildly,
an amazing, galvanizing moment in American Jewish history.
in one voice that emanated from one immense body, that neither we nor our Soviet
co-religionists were Jews of silence any more. It was a voice that could not be
ignored and, with the help of president Ronald Reagan and the American
administration, the Iron Curtain was finally lifted and the mass transfer of
Soviet Jews to Israel and America took place. For many of us who had worked in
the movement to free Russian Jewry, this was the fulfillment of a
We had corresponded with, visited and rallied support for these
brave refuseniks, socalled both because they had been refused emigration visas
by the Kremlin but also because they had refused to abandon their struggle. In
meeting with them in Moscow and Leningrad in the years before perestroika, and
later while working with those who came to Dallas in our Jewish acculturation
program, I gained a huge amount of respect for their courage and commitment to
“AND JOSEPH remembered the dreams he had dreamed...”
are currently engrossed in the weekly Torah readings about Joseph, his descent
into Egypt and his subsequent rise to power there as viceroy. Joseph’s amazing
saga – which has fired the imaginations of literary minds from Shakespeare to
Andrew Lloyd Webber – began with a series of his own dreams and culminated in
his being vaulted to stardom by interpreting the dreams of others, most notably
”Joseph the dreamer” begins as a pejorative nickname but
ends up as a proud and distinguished title.
So it is – or should be –
with all of us. Our mission to change the world must begin with a dream, the
search for an elusive, even preposterous goal, one so outlandish that we
suppress vocalizing it, thus forcing it to come out in our subconscious state.
If we do not dream of the stars – as Joseph did – how can we ever hope to ascend
in their direction? And so, I ask each and every one of you, dear readers: What
do you dream about? What are your aims and aspirations? What will you do with
the precious little time you are granted in this universe? How will you stake
out your place in history? Or do you dream at all? For many of us who immigrated
to Israel from the West, our dream was to be a part of the revolution and
revelation that the State of Israel represents. We wanted to do our part to help
forge this country – still truly in its infancy – into a vibrant, viable, holy
place that could build us even as we built it. If that dream seemed implausible
and impractical – as so many of our fellow Jews were quick to tell us, in no
uncertain terms, while we packed our suitcases – then we would plod ahead
anyway, sure that faith and determination would see us through to success. And
if we failed? Then we could still sleep soundly, knowing that, ’twere better to
have dreamed and been disappointed than never to have dreamed at all.
doubt that this dream, this goal, still remains elusive – particularly at
election time! – but we pursue it nonetheless, confident that we are doing
something important for us, and for our future generations.
If there is
one essential lesson that shines forth from the Hanukka lights, it is that Jews
never worry about the odds. I am certain that the small band of Maccabees,
outnumbered and outgunned, were mocked even by their fellow Jews at first. They
had no chance to save the soul of the nation – which had become dangerously
Hellenized – and even less of a possibility to emerge victorious over the much
larger Syrian- Greek forces. The naysayers must have been ubiquitous and
omnipresent then, too, but that did not deter these intrepid heroes from winning
the day. The dream of a strong Israel was the beacon they followed, no less than
we do today as we defy the hateful enemies surrounding us and the UNAI (United
Nations Against Israel) which despicably supports them.
Maccabees, we know that our first challenge is to unite the Jews behind our
common cause, to rally our own people into a solidarity of purpose even as we
succeeded in doing on that chilly day in Washington a quarter-century
Because if we stand together, even the mightiest barriers will fall
and the most improbable dreams will come true.
Along with the hanukkia,
the most popular symbol of Hanukka is the dreidel. On one level, it represents
our stubborn refusal to sever our connection to the Torah, as we used the
dreidel to fool the enemy into thinking we were playing a harmless game when in
fact we were studying the holy texts. But on a deeper level, it represents the
world at large, which spins like a dreidel.
Its message is that just as
we are the ones who make the dreidel spin and control its twirl, so are we the
ones who have the ability to make this entire world spin toward its proper
We need only dare to dream the dream, and then wake to make
it real.The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of
Ra’anana; www.rabbistewartweiss.com; firstname.lastname@example.org