2008 / 5768

2008 / 5768

Dear Friends,

Throughout the month of Elul 5768 it was our honor to post a Jewel of Elul each day in this very spot. (Read them all below.) What an incredible year. What incredible contributors. We got complaints about Obama. Don’t worry, got complaints about McCain and Katzenberg too. And in my book, this is all good! At least we know someone was reading them. Actually, over 250,000 people read the Jewels online and 30,000 books were distributed all over the world.

I want to thank the Adelipour family for their most generous support of the project. Their goal was to honor their son’s memory by providing healing and salvation for the lives of those less fortunate. Thanks to their support, we were able to make the past 29 days of Elul count in a very unique way.

Below you will find a listing of organizations that were featured in Jewels of Elul. I encourage you to read more about the incredible work these people do. If you were intrigued or inspired by even one of the Jewels, I please consider supporting their vision and dreams.

Shana Tova, to a sweet and joyous New Year

Craig Taubman


Elul 29
To Thine Own Self Be True
Rabbi Jacob Pressman
I entered the Seminary in September of 1941. On December 7, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, and we were at war. That very day, all the Seminary boys told Chancellor Louis Finkelstein that we were quitting to go fight the Nazis. He begged us to stay put because Jews had to provide hundreds of chaplains for the Armed Forces.My very first service was a graveside funeral for a month-old baby. I was driven to the cemetery by the mother, the father being overseas in the Service. I stood, my heart in my mouth, waiting for the hearse. Finally, I timidly asked, “Where is the casket?” The mother pointed to a tiny pink box lying level with the ground and promptly collapsed into my arms. I conducted the brief service, weeping, no longer pretending to be a rabbi. For in that moment, I had truly become a rabbi, and I never turned back.

Over the years, I opened myself totally to my congregation. One Kol Nidre night, I had the nerve to say to them, “I have asked myself: could I preach to you and would you listen, if I were stark naked?” I answered myself, “Yes, I could, because the robe does not the rabbi make. Besides, I have the pulpit in front of me.”

So as a rabbi, I say: In all your pursuits in life, use all your God-given talents and be yourself. Don’t pretend or you will always be fearful of having your real identity exposed. And if you are true to yourself, you will fulfill my favorite words in the Talmud: “His inner self is the same as his outer self.”

And if Talmud is not your thing, take my favorite words from Shakespeare’s Hamlet when Polonius says to Laertes, “This above all, to thine own self be true. And it must follow as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

Jacob Pressman is Rabbi Emeritus at Congregation Beth Am in L.A. www.pressmanacademy.org


Elul 28
My Daily Bread
Wafa Sultan
On December 25th, 1988, I received my visa from the American Embassy in Damascus. For the first time in my life, I would be able to express myself, as a woman and as an American citizen.Soon after arriving in Los Angeles, I wrote the first of many articles formulating my views on Islam. That article was published in a local Arabic newspaper. Despite my more tolerant surroundings, fear still prevented me from expressing my thoughts fully and freely.

After the horrendous massacre of September 11th, 2001, a new sense of determination was born inside me: I realized that I had only one life to live and that this life had to be lived as meaningfully as possible. I started to write with a weight of courage I had never previously possessed, and I have not ceased to expose intolerance and disrespect wherever I find them.

Of the many responses I have received, I share two that sustain me:

A man in Syria wrote to me:

“Wafa, your homeland is on the brink of famine, but your writings have become our daily bread.”

A Palestinian in his early twenties from the West Bank shared:

“If I had not discovered your articles, I would have ended up as a suicide bomber.”

I take up my pen once again, and I pour out my lifeblood onto the page.

Wafa Sultan is a Syrian-born American psychiatrist and an outspoken critic of radical Islam. www.wafasultan.org


Elul 27
To The Moon!
Dr. Peter H. Diamandis
My passion for space began at the age of ten in my fourth grade science class. I was a shy kid with a knack for science and math. One day, my friend Kenny was giving a report on the planets. At the same time, high above our heads, the drama of Apollo 13 was unfolding. In that moment, I felt like there was nothing more important in the world than exploring space. I littered every school book I owned with doodles of rockets and far-away planets. Personal spaceflight became my
mission. I had the desire and intention to become a NASA astronaut, but I found out how difficult that is, and how few people actually get the chance. It bothered me that space travel was limited to so few.
I read The Spirit of St. Louis, by Charles Lindbergh, about his historic flight from New York to Paris that won the $25,000 Orteig prize and helped jump-start the aviation industry in the U.S. It hit me that the right prize could drive the creation of a new generation of private spaceships.

So, in 1996, I started the X PRIZE Foundation and the Ansari X PRIZE, a $10 million reward for a privately funded team to build and launch a spacecraft capable of carrying three people 100 kilometers (62.1 miles) above the earth’s surface twice within two weeks. The Prize, awarded in 2004, was designed to spawn, stimulate and support the commercial public spaceflight industry and create an emerging market and a competitive price for the consumer.

All of this means that the rest of us will get to go to space at an affordable price. We lit the fuse. It is within all of our grasps.

Peter Diamandis is the founder of the X PRIZE Foundation and the Ansari X PRIZE. www.xprize.org


Elul 26
Light A Candle
Roz Rothstein and Esther Renzer
We have always been committed to the promise, “Never Again,” and to the dream of Israel flourishing as a successful state living in peace.  When the second Intifada broke out in 2000 and Israel was increasingly misunderstood in the media, misrepresented on campuses, and singled out at the U.N., we dreamed of educating people.  We wanted to tell them about Israel’s rich history, its extraordinary achievements, and its side of the story in this tragic, ongoing conflict.  We wanted to create understanding, not for any particular government policies, but for the Zionist dream that had become the Jewish state. Because we found kindred spirits who shared our dream, today that dream is being realized through StandWithUs.  

We began as a group of determined volunteers and grew into a professional organization with a mission to educate.  Many call StandWithUs a “phoenix” because we have grown so rapidly, having formed fourteen offices and chapters in just seven years in places as far away as Australia, the U.K., and Israel.  

If a blessing has emerged in the last eight years, it is that Jews and non-Jews want to know more about Israel’s history, geography, and strategic threats.

If there is a lesson, it is that profound commitment and hard work from a few can light a candle that will help educate the world and inspire understanding and support, and that a dream can definitely become a reality.

Roz Rothstein and Esther Renzer are co-founders of StandWithUs. www.standwithus.org


Elul 25
Adapting
Muffy Davis
We all have challenges! There will always be obstacles to fulfilling our dreams and goals. The difference between successful people, champions, and everyone else is that champions know how to take those obstacles and turn them into stepping stones for success. My obstacle came in the form of paralysis when at the age of sixteen, I flew off a downhill training course and slammed into a tree, crushing my spine and my dreams of being an Olympic ski racer. But I quickly learned that my dream didn’t have to die, that if I wanted to, I could still ski race, adaptive ski race, in the Paralympics, the Olympics for people with physical disabilities. After many grueling years re-learning to ski and with a wonderful support system behind me, eventually I was able to accomplish that lifelong dream and medal in the 1998 and 2002 Paralympics.

We all have challenges. We can let them stop us from reaching our dreams, or we can keep fighting and never give up until we are standing on top of the podium, victorious. As the late Carnegie Mellon Professor, Randy Pausch says in The Last Lecture, “Brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out; the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”

The next time adversity looks to challenge your dreams, don’t give up. Find a new way to scale that wall!

Muffy Davis is a four-time Paralympic Medalist and World Champion disabled ski racer. www.muffydavis.com


Elul 24
The Five-Point Plan
Danny Siegel
  1. If you don’t like the way things are, quit whining.
  2. Find a Dreamer who’s “The Real Thing,” bring the dream down from Dreamland, and help her or him make it real.
  3. Train yourself to know which Dreamer is honest, upright, and just “off” enough to capture your imagination.  Demagogues, tyrants, all manner of phonies, and crackpots also have dreams, but they are toxic, often lethal.  Reject them.
  4. Find a Dreamer: the right one to match your own personality, expertise, genes, background, and drive.
  5. Work tirelessly with The Dreamer.  Better to exhaust yourself for a worthy purpose than to meaninglessly pursue the evanescent.  

I have been fortunate.  I know more than a hundred Dreamers who are “The Real Thing.”

Just one is Avshalom Beni, Israel’s giant in the field of animal-assisted therapy (AAT). You may know as little about AAT-Tikkun Olam as you do about endocrinology. But know this: He is neither “alternative” nor mystic, nor fly-by-night wonder worker.

Avshalom (hama-israel@bezeqint.net) is waiting for you to discover his work, to join him and to understand that many people who suffer – inordinately dysfunctional families, children damaged by uncontrolled behavior, survivors still psychologically locked in the nightmare of the Shoah – can be at peace, and can be happy human beings.

Google Avshalom or other Dreamers, contact them, ask them what they need to realize their dreams.

Then take the best of your mind, heart, soul, and kishkas, and help them get what they need. Your dreams will be very sweet.

Danny Siegel is the founder of Ziv Tzedakah Fund. www.dannysiegel.com


Elul 23
A Place Where Tears Are Dried
Anne Heyman
At a lecture about the Rwandan genocide and its aftermath, I was stunned to learn that there were 1.2 million orphans in Rwanda. With no systemic solution, the future did not bode well for these children or the country. It occurred to me that the Jewish people had had a similar experience: Holocaust orphans dealing with trauma and rebirth. I vaguely recalled the story of Youth Villages – that was what Rwanda needed! In researching the Israeli Youth Village experience, I came across a model to emulate – Yemin Orde. With Ethiopian Israeli graduates I planned to go to Rwanda to explain the philosophy and methodology of Yemin Orde. Who better to convey our message to Africa than Ethiopians?

Having a model to emulate and a country eager for our arrival, I turned to the Joint Distribution Committee which agreed to house the project, and the Agahozo (A Place Where Tears are Dried) Shalom Youth Village was born.

After only two years, I am awed by what we have accomplished: By the end of this year, we will have built housing, infrastructure and sufficient staff to welcome our first class of 125 high school students. We will add 125 students a year until we reach 500.

The impact this project has had on my life and that of my family cannot be put into words. My three children and my incredibly supportive husband have all spent time in Rwanda. They know, appreciate and understand that the Rwandan story is our story, and it is a place where we are compelled to act. Rwanda today is a land of optimism and promise. Together we have witnessed the horror and felt the hope that is almost palpable. And together we have learned that every one of us can change the world.

Anne Heyman is the founder of Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village. www.agahozo-shalom.org


Elul 22
Ode to Mountain Climbers
Josh Lieb
There’s nothing more boring than someone else’s dreams. I’m referring to have-them-while-you-sleep dreams, not I-want-to-do-that-someday dreams – there’s an enormous difference. It’s very boring when someone tells you, “I had a dream last night that I went to work naked.” It’s much more exciting if they say, “I want to go to work naked.”

On the face of it, other people’s dreams should be enthralling. After all, they are constantly going to work naked, flying like Superman, or taking a long train ride with their dead grandmothers. Interesting stuff. Sometimes they’re flying to work naked with their dead grandmothers. That’s a good story! Why don’t I give a damn?

Mainly because I’m doing all that stuff – and more – in my own dreams every night. Everyone has an amazing dream life. I don’t know why some people, like my freshman-year roommate, think I want to hear about theirs. I’m talking to you, Ezra.

That’s why aspirational, I-want-to-do-that dreams are so much more interesting. They reveal so much more about a person’s character. If someone tells me they dreamed they were late for a test, I know very little about that person. Everyone has that dream. But if someone tells me their fondest dream is to someday climb Mount Everest, I know right away that that person is a complete moron. I have no sympathy for mountain climbers. They deserve everything they get. I mean that.

Josh Lieb is the Emmy-winning writer and producer of The Daily Show. www.thedailyshow.com


Elul 21
My Season of Freedom
Rabbi Gershom Sizomu
Although there were many factors that pushed me, my path to the rabbinate became clear on the 11th day of April, 1979, corresponding to the 14th of Nissan 5739, just as Idi Amin‘s nine-year regime in Uganda (during which Judaism was outlawed) came to a timely end, and the season of freedom began. It is from this amazing coincidence that I acquired my inspiration and commitment to Judaism, the springboard for my rabbinic future.In 2002, I shared my dream with Dr. Gary Tobin, the president of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research, to which he replied, “We will help to make it happen.” He and his wife, Diane, arranged for me to meet the deans at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. What followed was a series of interviews, placement exams, and admission to Rabbinic Studies.

Initially, the program was a big challenge. It took a lot of mental energy to listen to lectures conducted in American-accented English. My typing was very slow, so it was very painful for me to complete my class papers in time for deadlines. As time went by, I became overwhelmed by school, work and domestic obligations. I was reinforced by the Biblical incident of the crossing of the Red Sea where God instructs the children of Israel, despite their fear, to move forward.

I made a resolution to always be forward-looking when circumstances dictated that I should give up. I learned to relax and to slow down during moments when things overlapped, realizing that tension only worsened matters. Most important, I sought encouragement and support from those with whom I shared the same dream: my classmates, teachers and friends. What propelled me to the end were my extreme desire and passion for Torah study, my determination to keep trying, and the company of people who surrounded me.

Rabbi Gershom Sizomu is the spiritual leader of the Abayudaya Jews of Uganda.


Elul 20
Imagine It
Liz Lerman
I have never been much of a dreamer. Maybe a better term for what I am is imaginer. Spinning fantasies as a way of putting myself to sleep as a child, I realized I could repeat the stories and develop the details. At first they were ridiculous odes or adventures in which the heroine saved the world, or at least married the smartest man. Much later, as I began my life as choreographer, I employed this same device to picture a dance. I tested big notions such as how to end a dance, or I repeated details in trying to conceive the clearest movement vocabulary or most vivid costume.Before anyone discounts this form of imaginative activity, let me say that fantasy thinking combines the best of letting go with the best of pushing through in the forceful pursuit of an idea, story, or cause. I can sit and wait until the image presents itself, or I can go after it like a cowboy searching for a runaway colt. And both these activities can happen in a split second.

Post-imagination interviewing is another very productive activity in my habits of work and mind. I ask myself, “I wonder why I wanted to think about that now? What is this telling me about my life, or this world, or my beloved family?”

Imagination is a formidable vehicle for creating and understanding self, spirit, and the world. It is an underused resource. It is a
wonderful partner.

Liz Lerman is founding artistic director of Liz Lerman Dance Exchange. www.danceexchange.org


Elul 19
When You Wish Upon A Star
Jeffrey Katzenberg
I was incredibly fortunate. I got to learn about dreams from the master dreamer: Walt Disney. It was back in 1984. I had just come to Disney Studios and was informed that one of my responsibilities was to oversee animation, a subject about which I knew less than nothing. I hardly even watched cartoons as a kid.

That’s when I got to know Walt.

It turned out he had meticulously saved and catalogued every single thing that had gone into the making of his films. All of this was housed at the Disney Archives. For me, it was like finding bread crumbs the size of Volkswagens that led me step-by-step through Walt’s creative process, a process that resulted in such classics as Snow White, Pinocchio, Cinderella, Peter Pan … hey, everyone knows the list. Each of these extraordinary films connects so strongly with generation after generation because each is fundamentally about pursuing and realizing one’s dreams.

Dreams aren’t all fluff and pastels. Dreams can hurt. Dreams can make incredible demands on us. And, unlike in animated movies, dreams don’t always come true.

But, dreams keep us moving forward. They are beacons for achievement. They bring out the best in us. And, as those Disney movies continue to prove, the best dreams never die.

Jeffrey Katzenberg is the CEO of DreamWorks Animation SKG. www.dreamworks.com


Elul 18
The Roots of a Dream
Senator Barack Obama
Just as the courageous Zionists who established the State of Israel were energized by Theodore Herzl’s dictum, so do Americans draw inspiration from the notion that determination can turn our dreams into reality. As someone who grew up without a strong sense of roots, I have always been drawn to the belief – embedded in the long journey of the Jewish people – that you could sustain a spiritual, emotional, and cultural identity in the face of impossible odds. And I deeply understood the Zionist idea – that there is always a homeland at the center of our story.

For America’s Founders, that story was based on a set of ideals – freedom and equality, justice and opportunity. Generations of Americans have worked to build a more perfect union that lives up to those ideals. And time and again, Americans have come together to meet great challenges at home while working to repair the world abroad.

Today, we face another defining moment. We must reclaim that basic American Dream for all Americans – the idea that if you work hard, you can support a family; that if you get sick, there will be health care you can afford; that you can retire with the dignity and security you have earned; and that every American can get a world-class education. Abroad, we must advance peace in a dangerous world and achieve a clean energy future that breaks our dependence on foreign oil, while securing our planet. Americans also stand firm in our friendship with the Israeli people and our unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security.

As Israelis take stock of their remarkable achievements over the last 60 years – and as Jews everywhere reflect with reverence on this treasured past while looking to an uncertain future – Americans are united in our determination to help Israel achieve lasting peace and security. These are dreams we can achieve if we are willing to come together and work for them.

Senator Barack Obama is the 2008 Democratic Presidential nominee. www.barackobama.com


Elul 17
An Unfortunate Nose
Emma Forrest
I remember the day I realized, at age eight, that I might not be the most beautiful girl in the world. Getting out of the bath, catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I was so angry at my mother. “But all these years, you said…and I believed you. Look…I’m just a regular girl!” Fuming, I let her wrap me up in the towel she was holding. By the time I became a newspaper columnist for the London Times and a semi-public figure, I had found comfort in having my own look. I drew inspiration from Ellen Barkin and Pam Grier, Silvana Mangano and Eartha Kitt. Weirdos. Self-confident weirdos. By the time I was thirty and writing my fifth novel, I’d become used to mean girls sniping that I was published only because I was attractive.

Context is an interesting thing.

When I began a relationship with a man who is considered a sex symbol, an “Official I Hate Emma” page popped up on the Web with the primary complaint being that I was not attractive enough for him to love. 

“She has a huge nose!” or “A hooked nose!”, sometimes merely “an unfortunate nose” (which had me imagining my nose playing marbles, alone in the playground, friendless and ill-dressed). The politest response to a paparazzi shot of us was, “She looks like Dirty Dancing-era Jennifer Grey!” 

Bless that commenter because it made me realize what the real problem was: I look Jewish. They’re used to Charlize Theron, and I look like I just came off a boat from Russia, walked over to the Lower East Side of Manhattan and opened a corset shop where I guess your bosom size just from sight.

I look like a Jew. That’s it. And when I realized that’s what it was all about…I felt good about myself again.

Emma Forrest is a journalist and author whose latest book is Cherries in the Snow. www.emmaforrest.com


Elul 16
The Winter Hat
David Suissa
I was introduced to the concept of Jewish solidarity when I was eight years old, thanks to a red winter hat. Actually, many red winter hats.We had just moved from the delicious climate of Casablanca and were now ensconced in the frigid world of the long Canadian winters. As we huddled in our little apartment one night, my father announced, “School starts in a week. You will all be going to Bedford School.”

Bedford School is where I first noticed the red winter hats. You see, we were not the only Moroccan Jews in the neighborhood. Several other families who had fled Casablanca moved at about the same time. And for some reason, all the Moroccan kids in our school wore the same red winter hats.

I remember seeing all this new stuff appear in our apartment: dishes, furniture, clothes, food… red winter hats. So I kept asking my mother, “Where’s all this coming from?” And she would always say: “The Jias.” The Jias? What’s a Jias? I often wondered.

Well, one day, I learned what the Jias was: It was a Jewish organization (whose real name is HIAS) that helped Jewish refugees settle in new lands – taking care of things like plane tickets, apartments, furniture, food, and, when needed… winter hats. It was an organization where the givers were virtually 100% Ashkenazi Jews, helping Jewish refugees who were virtually 100% Sephardi.

It didn’t matter that we spoke Arabic, not Yiddish, or that we had dark skin. All that mattered was that we were Jews, and we needed help.

That was my first lesson in Jewish solidarity: Jews named Schwartz helping Jews named Suissa, with blind love that was clearly visible in little red winter hats.

David Suissa is founder of OLAM magazine and Ads4Israel.com. www.olam.org


Elul 15
Tikkun Olam
Lynn Schusterman
Being a philanthropist, I am constantly exposed to the dreams of dreamers. The hardest job is choosing which ones to support and build upon. For me, the dreams must not only be ambitious, they have to reflect passions close to my own: A passion for caring, for learning, for Jewish life, and for service; a passion for action and results; a passion for partnership and sharing. A great dreamer is one who visualizes opportunities that others don’t.I work with visionary dreamers – among them are people who advocate for improved children’s services in my hometown of Tulsa, or educators who bring Jewish history to life in college classrooms, or the gifted artists who enrich the lives of thousands around the world. These dreamers use their imagination as a sixth sense. Similarly, my partners in tzedakah envision a perfect world. They sense the possibility close at hand of tikkun olam, repairing the world. They are willing to follow their dreams and make them happen.

To some, the term “dreamer” has become synonymous with “unrealistic.” To me, a dreamer understands reality, projects hope and identifies ways to combine the two in pursuit of a better tomorrow. I am fortunate to be surrounded by people who believe in the future, not only for themselves but also for future generations. Otherwise, there would be no point to philanthropy. It is always about the future. It is always about the dreamers . . . and their dreams. I too am a dreamer.

Lynn Schusterman is Chair of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. www.schusterman.org


Elul 14
Fantasy Island
Sherwood Schwartz
Once upon a time I had a dream.   Like most of my dreams, it came to me in my sleep.  It was an idea that was very funny and very profound at the same time. It actually woke me up.

I thought, maybe I could share this funny/profound idea about a small group of diverse individuals who have to learn to get along with each other.  They must, because they are stuck together on a deserted island.  It is also an allegory for the diverse countries in the world.  We all have to learn to get along together.  If we don’t, one big atomic bomb could destroy all of us, including the earth itself.

I had this dream in 1962, when I was trying to create a half-hour
comedy show for a television series: broad comedy on the surface with an important meaning underneath.  On early TV, all the people were white.  If I had that dream today, I would populate that imaginary island with people more representative of the people we see every day.  They would be much more diverse in ethnicity, color, race, religion, ability, size, and shape.

And maybe I would call it Everybody’s Island, instead of Gilligan’s Island.

Sherwood Schwartz is the Emmy-winning creator, writer, and producer of Gilligan’s Island. www.sherwoodschwartz.com


Elul 13
Open Doors
Rabbi Elyse Frishman
God whispered to Moses, “Ehyeh asher ehyeh: I will become more; yet I am born from what already is.” Jewish prayer is ancient, yet it must become more. Though we daven to a cadence and melody of tradition, spiritually, we seek harmony. How often have the words of worship barred an “other” in our midst? Worship has integrity when it embraces each person present.

The vision of Mishkan T’filah began here: the language and offering of Jewish prayer should let us soar without intellectual gymnastics. Develop a siddur that would open doors rather than close them. A vision or a dream? A dream lies ahead, out of reach. Vision is what truly can be.

There was one very dark time when I questioned my intelligence, my sensitivity, my vision. Two verses from the Bratslaver spoke to me over and over again: “Every new opportunity requires that you open a new door.” “The whole world is a narrow bridge. The key? Not to be afraid.”

I already had blessings of courage and fortitude. I learned humility. Perhaps most important, I learned to listen more attentively to what I had not heard before. My “becoming” required an understanding and acceptance of those with whom I disagreed – without compromising the vision.

Mishkan T’filah was completed, and I will be ever grateful for the opportunity. I have grown because of the lessons granted me. Change can be extraordinarily difficult, particularly when we seek it not just for ourselves but for family or community or even a people. We resist for so many reasons. But my certainty in the ability to effect positive change is absolute. Each of us can become more. Im tirzu, ayn zo agada: If you will it, it is no dream. It is vision.

Rabbi Elyse Frishman is the editor of the new Reform prayer book, Mishkan T’filah. www.barnerttemple.org


Elul 12
Shine Your Light
Eli Winkelman
I’ve often found that I am more afraid of success than failure.With failure, you know what comes next: You change something and try again, or you move on. With success, you might not know what to do next. The success may have come at too high a cost. People will expect more of you, and you will expect more of you. I think what scares me the most about success is that it puts me firmly on one path: I’m good at this, I can succeed in it, and therefore, it is what I’ll do, what I’ll be.

But being afraid of my own success ensures that I never reach my potential. Author Maryanne Williamson said, “It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and famous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. When we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

I am done being frightened of my light.

To achieve a dream, you must first recognize it: What is it you want to be? What do you dream? Look it in the face. Do not be afraid of it. Own it. Will it.

Eli Winkelman founded Challah for Hunger as a student at Scripps College. www.challahforhunger.org


Elul 11
From Generation To Generation
Rabbi David Woznica
My father spent his teenage years in the Chestochowa ghetto and the Nazi concentration camps of Dora, Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen. During those years, he lost his parents, four of his five siblings and, undoubtedly, all of his dreams.  One of the clearest memories of my bar mitzvah was my father’s tears as he sat alongside my mother with my brother and sister in our synagogue. At the time I did not know why he was crying. It was not until years later that I learned he had never had the privilege of becoming a bar mitzvah.

Thirteen years ago, at the bris of my eldest child, Joshua, my father told me of a dream he was having. He dreamt of witnessing Joshua becoming a bar mitzvah. 

Last December, my parents were called to the Torah for an aliyah as their grandson, Joshua, became a bar mitzvah. It was a moment that my father could not have imagined during the darkest moments of his life. Nearly sixty-three years after he was liberated, holding the bima for support, he watched and listened to his grandson chant from the Torah.

This time, it was I who cried.

Rabbi Harold Kushner teaches that a key to dreaming is to recognize that when dreams do not come true, you should dream new dreams.

To this day, my father has not stopped dreaming new dreams. In fact, as we walked out of the synagogue the morning of Joshua’s bar mitzvah, my eighty-one-year-old father was dreaming again. This time…of Joshua’s wedding.

David Woznica is a Rabbi at Stephen S. Wise Temple in L.A. www.wisela.org


Elul 10
An Olympic Journey
Elka Graham
Subconsciously, I already knew at the age of four that I wanted to swim. When my parents took me to the pool and the coach said I could not join because I was too young, I jumped into the next lane and swam 700m.  I proved my point. I knew I had a connection with the water unlike anything I had felt before. With each year, my dream to become an Olympian grew stronger.  I researched what I wanted to achieve and found that only 3% of any nation makes a national team and only 0.8% gets up on the medal dais.  I wanted to be a part of that statistic. I wanted to be an OLYMPIAN. Only forty-six swimmers and another 504 athletes in the different sports were chosen to represent Australia. They would then be joined by more than 10,000 of the world’s best athletes in the Olympic Village. 

I never gave up, I was determined, steadfast, and strong, and I never doubted. I would train harder just to ensure no one could beat me. The dream and the discipline I had have carried into all aspects of my life today. I have now had the time to reflect on my seven-year professional swimming career that brought many medals, records and special moments. A dream has taught me that no matter who opposes your thoughts, desires or ambitions, you should never be negative. Neil Armstrong may have once told friends he wanted to walk on the moon, and I’m sure there would have been many jeers as he expressed his vision.

Never laugh at anyone’s dream. Support yourself with a “dream team” and not “dream killers.” Trust yourself, love yourself, and let God be your guiding staff.

Elka Graham is an Olympic Silver medalist swimmer. www.elkagraham.com
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Elul 9
The War At Home
Fran Richey
When my son, Ben, was in Iraq, I had a lot of vivid dreams.
In one, a child pulled a small dark winged stone from a river.
She brought it to me.  My son’s first name, John, the one
we never use, was chiseled into it.  In another, Ben was
scaling a cliff. His face was blackened.  The air around him
swirled with debris. Often, during the day, I had a waking
dream.  It was always the same.  I saw him underground
in a concrete room.  There were maps spread out on tables
and tacked to the walls.  He moved from map to map,
never left the room.  My mind held onto that dream truth
because the real truth was too horrible.  What do we do
with our dreams?  All parents have them.  Ben is back,
but I can’t stop looking into the faces of soldiers.

Fran Richey is a yoga teacher and author whose most recent book is The Warrior. www.francesrichey.com
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Elul 8
Defy Gravity
Marc Platt

“I’m through accepting limits ’cause someone says they’re so.
Some things I cannot change but ’till I try, I’ll never know.
I think I’ll try defying gravity and you can’t pull me down.”

So sings the lead character, Elphaba, in my Broadway musical Wicked.

Ever since I was a kid, I dreamed about working in the theatre. When I set out professionally, the one thing I wanted to do above all else was to produce a Broadway musical. My career opportunities took me into the film industry instead, yet despite having earned great success, I never lost that lifelong dream.

Not content to accept the limits that historically defined film producers, almost two decades into my career, I embarked on my dream when I endeavored to bring to life on stage a novel for which I had great passion: Gregory Maguire’s Wicked. The project was a great risk for everyone involved, but our love for the story and belief in its theatrical potential drove us. I just opened Wicked’s ninth company worldwide, and the original Broadway company celebrates its fifth anniversary this year.

But the greatest reward has been the audience’s love for our show; to hear constantly how enormously it has impacted them. A young Palestinian American Muslim woman from Brooklyn wrote about Elphaba: “Her hardships paralleled the hardships and scrutiny I have had to endure. I never thought that my life could be portrayed up on stage. I never thought that the theatre could move me as much as it has.”

Throughout all of Wicked’s blockbuster triumph, it is these moments that mark the real achievement of my dream.

Marc Platt is the producer of Wicked, the Legally Blonde films, and Empire Falls. www.wickedthemusical.com


Elul 7
Rocket Man
Barry Goldstein
I have been working at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for twenty-six years.While working on the unmanned exploration of the solar system, the two words that I hear far too often are “you can’t.”

Recently, as the project manager for the Phoenix Mars Lander, I have been told, “You can’t get that Lander safely on the surface.” “You can’t operate a surface mission based on discovery and change your plans every day.”

These words of discouragement are truly a means of increasing the determination of the truly committed. Results will always speak for themselves. If you have a passion for what you do, and if you truly believe in the people who are on the journey with you, YOU CAN accomplish anything.

Barry Goldstein is project manager for NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander. www.nasa.gov


Elul 6
Give Us Your Tired, Your Poor
Margaret Wong
With your two hands, your active mind, and a will that never accepts the word “No,” it is inexcusable not to find a way to succeed. That success is not measured in terms of dollars or material goods, but in fulfillment of your own human potential and in helping others find their way. For not everyone receives the benefits of their attempts. They only need to be led.When I arrived from Hong Kong at a small Catholic girls’ school in Iowa in 1969, I felt the freedom to do what I wanted to do. I sent out hundreds of letters in search of my first summer job. One landed on the desk of Mr. Verb Konvisar, the then-head of Grossinger’s Dining Rooms. So, I traveled to New York and began as a chambermaid, then to bus girl and to head waitress, the first woman ever to have that position. Over my seven summers, I brought my sister and our six friends along on my journey, teaching them to hold the trays (I once had a record 27 plates, with metal covers) and to keep a record of every tip. Today, my sister runs the most recognized Chinese restaurant in Cleveland.

I had no credit, but I borrowed money to buy my first car. I went to law school in Buffalo because it was the only school to offer me a scholarship. After law school, I came to Cleveland as a general lawyer. Being Chinese American, I saw the need to help others who had come here, so I left the general practice to focus on immigration law – not a glamorous field, but one with the immense rewards of helping others. There is no substitute for that.

I don’t have any great philosopher to quote or any sweeping statements, just this: You are who you want to be. Don’t just dream, dare.

Margaret Wong is an immigration lawyer and recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. www.imwong.com
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Elul 5
The Global Sculpture Garden
Kingsley
I am dreaming of six towering barbwire shapes made from mirror-polished stainless steel, placed globally, that will serve as a monument and reminder for human rights and reflect both past and present horrors and injustices. This will be called “Barbed.”I am dreaming of a ten foot mirror-polished stainless steel ball that is internally mechanized and will roll side to side in a museum in eight hour increments to commemorate this country’s anonymous workers who keep our society functioning. This will be called “Eight Hour Shift.”

I am dreaming of a twenty-six foot tall music box that actually functions that will be placed in front of a concert hall and will pay tribute to my favorite living artist and colleague, Claes Oldenburg. This will be called “Music Box.”

I am a dreamer and these are some of my dreams.

My dreams are the seedlings for my reality. My passionate belief that these dreams will materialize is the nourishment and stimulant that energizes my dreams and keeps them live. I safeguard my dreams as my Jewels. Dreams are a part of each of us: unique, individual and possible. Stay passionate about yours; receive their nourishment of spirit and guard them. Guard them as your Jewels.

Kingsley is an L.A.-based conceptual artist. www.kingsleyart.com


Elul 4
Hope In Our Hands
Senator John McCain
The Jewish month of Elul is both a time for reflection and one of hope for the future.  Jewish tradition teaches that a person is judged on Yom Kippur, but afterwards the slate is wiped clean for the coming year.  No matter how bad the past, the future is always one of hope.

Indeed, one of Judaism’s greatest contributions is the lesson of hope.  Ancient civilizations believed in fate.  A man’s future was not in his own hands but in the stars.  The Hebrew Bible refuted that.  It taught that man is created in God’s image, and that God gave man free will.  It is a lesson of hope and destiny.

It is no coincidence that the oppressors of the Jewish people, from ancient times to today, are always those who have tried to stifle hope and freedom.  The reestablishment of the State of Israel and its repeated survival against all odds represents the legacy of hope the Bible infused in its people.

Natan Sharansky exemplifies the tradition of hope.  He spent nine years in the Soviet Gulag – 400 days were in punishment cells, and more than 200 days were on hunger strikes.  He never backed down or made a deal.  He knew his future was not predetermined; it was in his hands.

That lesson of hope is one that has helped me throughout my life.  And as we look to the future, it is helpful to remind ourselves that there is no problem or challenge we cannot overcome together. 

Senator John McCain is the 2008 Republican Presidential nominee. www.johnmccain.com


Elul 3
From Berlin to Bunks
Elisa Spungen Bildner
Erev Shabbat, July 18, 2008.  Berlin’s Pestalozzistrasse Synagogue. One of the few non-native parishioners in a packed pre-World War II sanctuary, I daven, mesmerized by the cantor’s mellifluous tenor.  I think: What seemed improbable, impossible, is not.  Six decades after the Nazis obliterated 200,000 German Jews, Berlin is the world’s fastest growing Jewish community.My thoughts flit from macro and global to micro and communal, considering another unlikely scenario.  Ten years ago, my husband Rob and I started the Foundation for Jewish Camp, which advocates for and supports non-profit Jewish overnight camps.  We struggled to convince the Jewish world to financially bolster and embrace the power of these institutions, as the community had so admirably done for Israel trips and day schools.  As Jonah Geller of Detroit’s Camp Tamarack once explained: “If you want to give children a Jewish background, give them a Jewish playground.”  I remember cajoling potential funders to visit a camp.  Two men arrived, shvitzing in button-down shirts.  We walked past a bunk of kids listening intently to the camp director describe his experience as an Israeli army medic, and past another group of campers learning Israeli dancing.  “This isn’t Jewish learning,” one funder huffed, promptly ending the visit – and any assistance.

Flash forward ten years later.  Rob and I sit in another packed venue, a Foundation for Jewish Camp reception for Atlanta Jewish leaders, awed as FJC CEO Jerry Silverman and Chair Skip Vichness outline what this year’s $20 million budget has wrought.  Scholarships aplenty. Staff training programs. Assistance to build new camps.

From Berlin to bunks: Nothing, or as they say in Berlin, nichts, is impossible.

Elisa Spungen Bildner is the Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Foundation for Jewish Camp. www.jewishcamp.org


Elul 2
The Road To “Yes”
Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson
As someone who fell in love with God and Torah as a collegian, I dreamed I would have a child with whom I would share my newfound passion. At my rabbinical school, I would see professors and their
children swaying together in prayer or over a text, and I would imagine the thrill of sharing that piety with my (as yet unborn) child.
When my wife, Elana, and I were told she was expecting twins, my heart and my fantasies soared. Yet, my beloved daughter, Shira, is not drawn to religious services. My son, Jacob, diagnosed with autism at age three, has difficulty speaking or turning the pages of a book. I had dreamed of a child who would love the Torah as I do, and who could share that love with me. God, it seemed, had denied my dream.

As Jacob prepared for his bar mitzvah, he mastered Facilitated Communication, an assisted typing technique that proved he had taught himself to read! Able to hear through walls, Jacob had achieved remarkable sophistication and depth by ruminating on the conversations of others.

Jacob and I began to learn together. We studied the weekly Torah portion and the prophetic readings. We studied the prayer book, and Jacob composed a soulful commentary. After his bar mitzvah, I committed to learn how to facilitate Jacob’s typing, which meant we could embark on further learning and have real conversations, too. Every Sabbath, Jacob and I sit in my study, and we discuss, and we learn – Torah, Heschel, Jewish history or philosophy. His comments continually lure me, and with the purity I see sparkling in his eyes, he reminds me to love God and Torah.

It turns out that it was not God who said “no” to my dreams. It was my rigid sense of what “yes” was supposed to look like that blinded me to God’s great, big, wonderful “YES” and almost blinded me to the miracle that is my son.

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson is the Dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University. www.bradartson.com


Elul 1
Restless Sleep
Alan Dershowitz
I almost never dream.On that rare occasion when I do, it’s the typical dream that Freud would be proud of. I fly through the air. I can’t find the room in which an important test is being held. I’m driving too fast. I see almost no relationship between my dreams and my accomplishments.

I do have hopes, wishes, aspirations, goals – but they are rooted in reality. Dreaming is fantasy and fantasies rarely produce accomplishments.

The concept of “dreamers and their dreams” may be intended in a metaphoric way – as a euphemism for aspirations. I’ve always had aspirations. Coming from a relatively poor family, I wanted to strike a balance between doing good for the world and doing well for my family. My goal was to be able to make a living out of doing good without compromising my principles. I have strived to achieve those dual goals throughout my life.

The path I chose was one of challenge – to challenge authority, challenge conventional wisdom, challenge government and most important, challenge myself. It is not a path to popularity. Nor is it a road to a restful existence. To get back to the metaphoric dreams, mine do not result in restful sleep. Instead, they produce restlessness, even occasional nightmares. But as I turn seventy and look back on my life, I have very little to complain about – at least so far.

Alan Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard University.