A Very Thin Line Indeed

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope some day you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.

I’ve spent the past three days wondering what would happen if I could have put (the late) John Lennon and Israeli President Shimon Peres in the same room. Like the recurring leitmotif in so many Hassidic folktales, I think it’s possible that the messiah would have come. Two dreamers, trying to leapfrog over the messiness of this world to see what might lie beyond…

For the past three days, I have been privileged to participate in the special, 60th anniversary conference sponsored by Shimon Peres in Jerusalem. It was, without a doubt, a most remarkable gathering of world leaders, corporate moguls, technology wizards, writers, poets, playwrights- and relatively ordinary people like myself, representing different subsets of the world-wide Jewish community.

No matter where I went these past few days, there was always someone of note to talk to, or listen to; Vaclav Havel, Henry Kissinger, of course President Bush, Nathan Englander, Amos Oz, Abby Joseph Cohen, Natan Scharansky, Elie Wiesel, Sergei Brin… so stimulating! All were charged- within their particular areas of expertise- with articulating a vision of the future, and Israel’s place in it.

But of all these incredibly noteworthy people, none were more impressive- and ultimately puzzling- than Shimon Peres himself.

Bein hazon, yiparah am, wrote Ahad Ha’am. Without a vision, a nation will come apart at the seams. Shimon Peres has taken upon himself the challenge of being contemporary Israel’s visionary, desperately trying to see beyond the seemingly unending current difficulties to a better tomorrow for his country and his region.

How can you not admire that? How can you not admire bringing together so many heads of state, Nobel laureates, internet pioneers, in Jerusalem, to celebrate Israel’s special birthday and spend a few days in deep thought? What an audacious idea! And how magnificently it was accomplished!

But at the same time, where is the line between vision and unreality?

On the very same day that we were gathered together to celebrate the special relationship between Israel and the United States, and everyone was talking about the inevitable peace that will soon be achieved between Israel and the Palestinians, a shopping mall in Ashkelon was hit by a katyusha from Gaza, and many were hurt. And this just days after an Israeli woman was killed by a kassam rocket, and another man as well.

I couldn’t help but shake my head at the incredible cognitive dissonance of the whole exercise, and wonder who was crazier: me for being mired in today’s realities with little hope for any significant improvement in the near future, or Shimon Peres for absolutely refusing to let current realities get in the way of his dream.

I wish I could share President Peres’ vision with the same unvarnished enthusiasm that he musters. And without a doubt, I’m glad that he is dreaming. Were he not, who would provide us with a vision to sustain us through the worst moments of the present? Without it, these days would be even darker. But I’m afraid there are many painful miles to go in this process before the greatness of his vision can be realized, and I suspect he knows this as well. Maybe that makes him even greater.

About the Author
Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is the Rabbi Emeritus of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens.