Moshe Moskowitz - Dreaming with eyes wide open

IN HIS long life, Moshko experienced and embodied the entire spectrum of Zionism.

(FROM RIGHT) Moshe ‘Moshko’ Moskowitz, the writer and the writer’s father, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein.  (photo credit: GERSHON ELINSON)
(FROM RIGHT) Moshe ‘Moshko’ Moskowitz, the writer and the writer’s father, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein.
(photo credit: GERSHON ELINSON)
Dreams fulfil a major role in Judaism, as anyone who has read Genesis is well aware. The Talmud (Berakhot 55b) states that “anyone who dwells seven days without a dream is called evil.” 
Without the ability to dream, we are restrained by our mundane existence and shackled to the constraints of pragmatic considerations. It is our dreams that allow us to soar above reality, to imagine a better reality and to express our utopian fantasies of a redeemed world. The opportunity to ignore present restrictions, to escape flawed situations and to anticipate a better life provides us with the hope without which we would succumb to despair and lose faith and the daring to attempt to conquer distant peaks or realize bold ambition. The promise of a better future and the vision of a wonderful unrestricted existence provide the emotional support and spiritual strength to cope with the present as well as the inspiration to improve it.
Alas, dreams can remain unfulfilled. They provide inspiration, but not improvement. Unless, that is, you dream with your eyes wide open: open to the pitfalls of reality and human folly, aware of the challenges and obstacles to their realization. This was the motto of a truly great dreamer who passed away this week at the age of 96.
Moshe Moskowitz z”l (Moshko, as he was known by all who knew him) would frequently quote this adage in the name of another grand dreamer, Rav Yosef Kahaneman z”l, the Ponevezher Rav, who responded to David Ben-Gurion’s claim that he was dreaming with the retort, “True, but I am doing so wide awake.” Most of us dream to escape reality and its deficiencies – when active and awake we confront the situation and accept its limitations as unavoidable – and utilize our nighttime sleep to avoid unpleasant reality. Needless to say, this is impossible and therefore our dreams remain in the realm of fantasy where reason is dormant. 
A dreamer with open eyes, though, is not escaping reality, but realism and its restrictions; by ignoring a skeptical and defeatist mindset, even if it is supported by circumstance, he is able to realize his dreams. On the contrary, since he is awake and rational, he harnesses reason and logistics to realize the dream. Paradoxically, such dreamers are men of action, practical and realistic, who fuse far-reaching vision and inspiration with attention to detail and resources. Such a person was the dreamer who I was privileged to know and to admire.
IN HIS long life, Moshko experienced and embodied the entire spectrum of Zionism. Born in Czechoslovakia, raised in Tel Aviv, trained in Mikveh Yisrael as a chalutz, a founding member of a kibbutz in pre-1948 Gush Etzion and a shaliach to the survivors detained by the British in the Cyprus detention camps, he devoted his life to building the Land of Israel, both physically and spiritually. Like Joseph, he dreamt more than one dream and his achievements were multi-striped. 
For brevity’s sake, I will not describe all his accomplishments, such as establishing Masuot Yitzchak in the South, developing the surrounding region, establishing varied educational and religious institutions or restituting Torah scrolls from Eastern Europe, but will focus upon a single dream – the vision of rebuilding Gush Etzion. 
On the day that Gush Etzion was liberated – 28 Iyar 5767 (June 7, 1967) – Moshko did not only soak in the wonderous once-in-a-lifetime experience of the redemption of Jerusalem and the liberation of the area where 240 of his companions sacrificed their lives in 1948, but jotted down in his diary a detailed and practical vision of the rebuilding of the Gush that included a blueprint for the entire region. The few concise lines that he wrote as an expression of his dream were the road map that guided the post-1967 restoration of the area for years. 
Many of the ideas written in the heat of the moment indeed came to fruition. A crucial point in his vision and in the development of Gush Etzion is that foremost in this plan was the establishment of educational institutions. Building the land and memorializing his fallen companions must include Torah and education as a primary component.
The story of his obtaining the permit to build Alon Shvut, currently a thriving suburb, superbly illustrates his mode of action as well as the vision that the spiritual and material worlds must be intertwined. After the Six Day War, he reached out to various government ministers to further these plans. Yigal Allon agreed to sponsor the proposal – which originally spoke only about the establishment of a yeshiva – in the Cabinet. 
Moshko was waiting in the corridor outside the government’s chamber on the appointed day, like an anxious husband outside the delivery room, when Allon stepped out and asked him whether he wanted to change anything in the wording of the proposal before he submitted it for approval. After perusing the proposal, which stated that “the Government of Israel authorizes the establishment of a yeshiva in Gush Etzion,” Moshko intuitively said to Allon, on the spur of the moment, “add one word – and a settlement.” Thus, Yeshivat Har Etzion, which became one of the premier Hesder yeshivot, was founded and thus Alon Shvut, which became the model for most of the settlements in Gush Etzion, was fortuitously hatched by an inspired dreamer. 
A few years later, a student walked into one of the offices at the yeshiva and asked the rabbi in the room about a batch of blueprints lying on his desk. Bemused, the rabbi responded, “Oh, Moshko has a dream to build a city in Gush Etzion.” Sure enough, within a few years Efrat was built and Moshko became its first mayor. Of course, the realization of each goal also served as the platform from which to launch the next dream. Last year, on his 95th birthday, Moshko drew up a list of five new big-ticket projects for Gush Etzion that he was busy advancing throughout the year and which remain viable projects.
All of this was accomplished without any desire to receive credit. The fact that most readers have probably never heard of him is due to his pursuing results rather than acclaim. Years ago he turned down an offer to become a member of Knesset since he thought he would be more effective if he remained outside the political sphere, and he routinely allowed others to bask in the spotlight of projects that he brought to fruition. Realization of dreams rather than receipt of recognition was his goal. Action, not accolades, motivated him and it was his actions throughout nearly 80 years of public service in establishing premier educational institutions and settling the land that created such an impressive legacy.
The secret formula to the success of Zionism was that its dreamers and visionaries were men of action and its men of action were dreamers and visionaries. Moshko, of blessed memory, was a prime example of this.
The writer is co-rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion in Alon Shvut.