In Plain Language: Dreams, dreidels, demonstrations

December 7, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt so famously said, was “a date which will live in infamy.”

Pearl Harbor 311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Pearl Harbor 311
(photo credit: Reuters)
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 Asia.
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.
They had 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 others.
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.
We declared, 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 dream.
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 freedom.
“AND JOSEPH remembered the dreams he had dreamed...”
We 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 the Pharaoh.
”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.
No 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.
Like the 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 ago.
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 destination.
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;; [email protected]