Longing to Dream Again

Kibbutznikim joyously dancing in Israel.
Kibbutznikim joyously dancing in Israel. (Wikimedia Commons)

Tonight began in a similar way to the first night of Passover  I showered and got dressed for a glorious night. On Passover I donned the white kittel, the robe I was married in and the robe I will be buried in. Placing my arms in it, buttoning up and tying the belt, I was ready for redemption. Tonight I chose a short sleeved white button down shirt to wear with my blue jeans in honor of Israeli Independence Day/Yom Ha’Atzmaut. Every year I make these same preparations.  

And yet, this year was so obviously different. While my wife, Laura, and I would have hosted sizable Seders for our community on Passover during normal times, in the epoch of the pandemic, it was just the two of us, with only our newborn daughter on the monitor across the table.  Laura and I worked our way through the highly ordered retelling of our ancient liberation story.  It was celebratory, sure, but it was truly quite sad and strange. 

I absorbed that sadness, figuring I could handle it, as we are all shouldering new and difficult burdens during this time, and moved on.  But as our modern day to celebrate our national liberation approached, as we neared closer and closer to Yom Ha’Atzmaut, I could feel myself beginning to crack.  In the recent years, we have hosted a large barbeque and a celebratory prayer service with a song filled and soulful Hallel.  This year I knew there would be none of that.  

While the fall holds what we often call the High Holidays, our days of the Spring season are the real Holy Days for me.  Passover grants me the opportunity to be grateful for the ancient birth of our people.  And we imagine what it might be like to return to our homeland and honor that divine love of liberation with the paschal offering that the Torah describes.  

Yom Ha’Atzmaut is a day of pure joy.  We have returned to our homeland.  We no longer need to imagine what that is like.  Our dreams have come true.  Rav Shagar describes our miraculous return as something that was so utterly unexpected, that even though it is actualized and completely real, it is like living in a dream.  We pinch ourselves and ask, “is this real?!?!”  We are the lucky few of our people throughout our history that get to walk on clouds and live in our dreams. 

I have told close friends and family members this week that this day is going to be hard for me, something I was not willing to admit, even to myself, about Passover.  And it has indeed not been easy.  This afternoon, sitting on the couch with my 3-month-old daughter watching the official torch lighting of the Yom Ha’Atzmaut ceremony on Mt. Herzl in Israel, I sobbed.  Every time one of the 12 torchbearers told their story and ended with “for the Glory of the State of Israel,” tears came out.  Could it be glorious without being able to sing and dance together?  The word for glory, tiferet, also can mean beauty or splendor.  Could it really be all that beautiful without being able to grill our celebratory meal with friends huddled around as I placed the pargiyot on the grates?  And tonight, as I began to sing Hallel with Laura, it was hard to not concentrate on the tears that were welling up inside.  These two holidays are not just not meant for isolation, they are barely even possible in our current state of distance from each other.  

This year, in many ways, I have woken from my dream.  On Passover, I was no longer imagining what it would be like to eat lamb in Jerusalem, but rather just praying to eat our brisket next year with real people around the table in Chicago.  And tonight, I could not fully celebrate our national liberation while caged in my home.  

I was left this year to mourn my inability to imagine and my powerlessness to dream.  Just as the smells of the paschal offering would ideally waft through the neighborhood of my imagination, so too the joyous songs of Yom Ha’Atzmaut should be heard and danced in the streets.  

“They who sow in tears, in glad song will reap,” the Psalmist writes.  This year I have had enough tears.  I pray that next year I will live to sing again, imagine again, and dream again.  

About the Author
As part of Metro Chicago Hillel, Rav Ezra Balser and his wife Laura, and their daughter, run Base Loop out of their home in the West Loop neighborhood of Chicago. He was ordained at the Hebrew College Rabbinical School.
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