Wednesday, December 31, 2008


A weekly torah takeaway by Amichai Lau-Lavie

Join us for a year-long Jerusalem Journey, action by action, verb by verb. Each week I will pluck a verb from the Torah portion and set it reverberating both with its context and with my own. Let's make this a conversation, and talk our walk.

December 31, 2008

I sit down on a wooden bench, looking at the large black canvas and suddenly tears fill my eyes. For several minutes I can’t stop crying, head in hands, letting it all out. Perhaps had this been in NYC or Jerusalem somebody would have offered me a tissue (and advise), but this was London – the Tate Modern, and hundreds of people, mostly tourists like me, crowded the Mark Rothko Retrospective, politely ignoring a grown man weeping on a bench. Perfectly fine– the last thing I needed was to try and explain what was going on. Why was I weeping? A few deep breaths later I dry my eyes and scribble quick thoughts in the margins of the catalogue, trying to identify my strong emotional reaction to Rothko’s ‘Black Form Untitled No. 11’: “gradually, life dies into death, slowly, and there are no real separations, no borders, no shades, no death, no fear. I feel like I’m inside a tomb.”

The painting, from the artists’ later years, is a large square dominating the canvas – but unlike his more colorful palettes this one is all black. There is something hypnotic about it, like a vortex, or a long corridor of open doors. What first looks like a singular black surface becomes, as soon as I pause to really see it, a meditation on darkness: deep and deeper black, blurred, bottomless boundaries. A quote by Rothko greets visitors as they enter the exhibit hall:” If people want sacred experiences they will find them here. If they want profane experiences they will have them too. I take no sides.” I was surprised by my own reaction to the power of the art – it did feel sacred. And it felt good to cry, release some of the sadness I’ve been walking with all day, and to push my own boundaries of what’s ok or not ok to do. (I cry easily, truth be told, but real loud sobs, alone, in the middle of this big crowded gallery?)

I’ve been thinking about boundaries and borders all day – traveling from NYC back to Jerusalem – with a 24 hour stopover in London to visit family and indulge in ‘speed culture’ -- ‘Babylon’ exhibit at the British Museum, Rothko at the Tate, Turandot at the Royal Opera House. In between, walking alone along the freezing, familiar streets of London, I am in total transit: traveling between different homes, loved ones, obligations, languages, currencies, cell phone numbers - boundaries blur in ways both comforting and utterly confusing. And, all along my walking - newspaper stands with updated bulletin boards - other borders violently dissolving: ‘Israel vows to fight to the bitter end’ is one headline, ‘Gaza Doom’ is another. When I weep, courtesy of Rothko, it’s all of that combined: A weeping that makes no sense but helps to release the tension, if only for a moment. But is it really helpful? What comes after weeping?

After I leave the Tate and walk along the Thames River I am reminded of another moment of weeping - happening in this week’s Torah Tale ‘VaYigash’. The aftermath of THAT cry is of historical proportions – dissolving geographical and emotional borders, and opening tangible new possibilities for redemption and hope.

Joseph weeps– and though he has cried a few times in these Genesis chapters that describe his re-encounter with his siblings, the really big weeping erupts when he ‘comes out’ to them, revealing his true identity: Joseph’s cry is mythic – instantly reverberating throughout the land: “And he wept aloud; and the Egyptians heard, and the house of Pharaoh heard” (Genesis, 45: 2)

After the weeping come the stunned silence, and then - the gradual reconciliation, awkward words, embraces, kisses. Then there’s the reunion between Jacob & Joseph, as the aged Patriarch and his entire household evacuate the famine stricken homeland, leaving starvation behind for the abundance of Egypt. Joseph’s weeping opens the doors to truth and forgiveness– and also to the pantry of human survival.

The borders between Israel, Gaza and Egypt are wide open again, bleeding like open wounds – and the famine is back, and is real, as is the despair and anger and great weeping. Rockets defy borders, rage denies agreements, this ongoing pain is blurring away the dream that brothers and sisters, Abraham’s children, can co exist in peace.
But if there’s anything to learn from Joseph’s surreal saga it is the reminder that everything changes, and that dreams do come true. The man who was betrayed by his own brothers will be the one to offer them life. The grief of a bereaved parent will become but a memory, and a family torn by torment once again reunited. Joseph weeps and the world is shattered, and is changed. How much weeping, and by whom – can change the reality in the Middle East of today?

In the Tate gift shop I find a postcard of ‘Untitled No. 11’ and also a pin that says ‘Peace begins with a smile’. I smile to the cashier, wish her a peaceful and happy new year and head out to the cold, and I go home.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Join us this week for the weekly RE:VERB and also a reminder to join Hadassah Gross tonight at the City Winery for MIDNIGHT MESS!


A weekly torah takeaway by Amichai Lau-Lavie

Join us for a year-long Jerusalem Journey, action by action, verb by verb. Each week I will pluck a verb from the Torah portion and set it reverberating both with its context and with my own. Let's make this a conversation, and talk our walk.

December 24, 2008

Shaving is on my mind this week. I’ve had a beard for a few years now, and though I trim it regularly, I have not exposed my chin to society in many months, since last Purim, in fact. But this week I will have to shave and bare it all. Tonight is the fourth night of Chanukah - also Christmas Eve, and I will perform as Rebbetzin Hadassah Gross, my venerable alter-ego-maniac, whose chin is prominent, mouth is big, and full length fur coat has survived many a financial crisis and worse. Read About Hadassah

Hadassah only comes out once or twice a year nowadays, and tonight’s MIDNIGHT MESS show at Michael Dorf’ new venue City Winery is a nod to the need to laugh amid dark days and make meaning of life through dark humor and shameless piety. She’s good at that, and way funnier than I.

Transforming from Amichai into Hadassah is a lengthy and complex process, which is one of the reasons that Hadassah doesn’t emerge too often into the limelight. It clearly involves full facial shaving – usually twice– my least favorite part of the proceedings.

This time, before I submit to the razor and step into heels, I want to take a few steps in the shoes of another shaver – a man whose shave was so prominent that it had to be included in the Bible. The man is Joseph – the dreamer, turned dream interpreter, turned inmate in Egypt’s prison system, serving time for a crime he did not commit. In this week’s re-run he will also become the King’s Second in Command – a spectacular transformation of mythic proportions, and shaving is included. This week’s installment of Genesis is ‘Miketz’ – and it’s packed with the drama that would one day inspire Andrew Lloyd Weber and many other artists to recreate the Joseph Saga. At this point in the saga, Joseph has been in prison for many years, forgotten by most and mourned for as dead by his family. When the King of Egypt needs a dream interpreter to analyze his nightmares, a minister recently pardoned and released from prison recalls his fellow inmate – a Hebrew boy who was skilled at interpreting the subconscious. The King is desperate for meaning and Joseph, Freud’s ancestor, is rushed out of his cell to minister to the soul of the Great Pharaoh. But first – he has to clean up:

“Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him hastily out of the dungeon. And he shaved himself, and changed his dress, and came in unto Pharaoh.” (Genesis 41:14)

I want to be a fly on the wall of this shaving moment in which Joseph is losing his past and entering a bright new future. How long has it been? How wild is his beard? Does his hand tremble? Is he confident, terrified, confused, elated, all of the above? I can’t recall any other shaving moments in the Torah other than some priestly instructions way later in Leviticus, so this is a rare peek into a regular human act that suddenly becomes a grand, mythic gesture: the moment of transformation when the past is shed, hair by hair. For some of us this is a daily act – but when do we stop to think of its deeper ‘value’?

This is the season of gestures and rituals: candles are lit, presents carefully wrapped and hastily opened, oily foods fried and consumed and New Year’s resolutions planned. It is a season that promises transformation, the magic of miracles, a new page and a clean slate. How many of us will renew our gym memberships this coming January? How many of us will shave away layers of accumulated ‘stuff’ and trim and cut and make room for less and new and improved?

I will shave today, grey beard hairs (more of them!) making room, briefly, to foundation and powder and a temporary identity that celebrates light within darkness and levity as a way to embrace the sacred. Hadassah Gross, like Joseph, spent time in prison – hers was a concentration camp. She emerged to be a court jester, the one who can tell the truth to the king – to the people through parable and story, not unlike Joseph who will enter the King’s chamber to talk dreams as strategic solutions to an impending economic crisis. But first - the shave. Moving on means letting go of some of the past, painful or joyful or both. For me this week, part of the commitment to move on and celebrate what is involves a simple, intimate, hopefully painless process of shaving. Like Joseph, the rest of the transformation will include elaborate outfit changes, a name change and a sharp tongue.

Hopefully, tonight will help many of us honor the IS, laugh away the nightmares and dream big – the lean years will be here, but so will the fat ones, stay tuned. Just like Joseph said, right after he shaved off the years of prison mentality.
To Light!

PS. THANK YOU – so many who kindly responded to last week’s SIT blog – offering kind words, great advice and generous support. Onwards!

Hadassah Gross invites you to a
Lighting of the Fourth Chanukah Candle and other
Delightful Rituals at City Winery!

Christmas Eve is a busy night for NYC Jews. The mad dash between Chinese restaurants and movie theaters can be grueling. We offer Midnight Mess as an alternative. This pre-opening event is hosted by Rebetzin Hadassah Gross, the ageless widow of six Hasidic Rabbis and a personal soul trainer to the ultra-orthodox elite. She will be your guide to a night brimming with comedy, storytelling, music, and yes, you guessed it, wine. Laugh with Todd Barry and Jackie Hoffman. Stamp your feet to Leah Siegel, DJ Balagan and Anthony Coleman's Sephardic Tinge. Cap off the perfect night with Sephardic remixes, courtesy of Diwon.
Tickets Online at
December 24, 2009
Doors open at 8pm

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Maven & Becoming Israel in Delaware:
Gushing About The Power of Storahtelling

by Jake Goodman

This last weekend, Elana Bell, Michael Bradley Cohen, Emily Warshaw and I traveled down to Congregation Beth Shalom in Wilmington, DE for a jam-packed weekend. I have been on many gigs, all of which feel special in their own way. This one was particularly meaningful. Below is an email I wrote after the gig...

Hello All,

I want to write a very heartfelt mazal tov to the ENTIRE Delaware team. This weekend, Emily, Elana, Michael and I traveled to Congregation Beth Shalom (CBS) in Wilmington, DE.

First, Emily and Elana performed their first ever Maven of Parshat Vayeshev called “To Know A Veil”. Both Tehilah Eisenstadt and Naomi Less, the chevruta partner and Maven mentor, respectively, went above and beyond their required duties to support these ladies in the creation of this script. It was a job exceptionally well done by all. I wish you could have been there to see it. People’s attention was rapt, they were laughing hysterically at times, 100% engaged. During the stretch and, later, during the talkback and in informal conversations, people were so involved that they brought up other perspectives that they wished were brought to this story. We heard so many comments about how meaningful this story was, how they will never ever forget this story of Tamar and Judah, how they will never think of it the same way again. Moreover, from the clergy down, everybody at CBS wants to continue Maven at their synagogue--it is likely that Rabbi Beals will join us for Maven training at HUC this January! Emily and Elana performed brilliantly: they totally took control of the space, engaged the congregation with skill and wit, and just shocked people. It was exhilarating to see so many people so surprised that they found a Torah service so meaningful. Truly, we changed their lives.

And then there was Becoming Israel, performed by Emily, Elana and Mike—performing BI for his first time. This is a stellar cast. (We have so many stellar casts!) The relationships they created together, the poise and nuance of their performances, and the power of this script overwhelmed the audience. One person—Richard, the Christian custodian—said that he had to work very hard to control himself during the performance, and afterward he went to a different room and had to pray to God. It was soooo meaningful to him to see these characters, to hear this story. One young woman, Hana, approached me after the performance and asked how she could bring Storahtelling to Brown, where she attends college. Later, her mom told me that she literally had to drag her daughter there because she is very involved in Israel politics and current events, and is not interested in hearing a simple love-Israel-or-else play, although she does love Israel. The mom said that she now has language to speak with her daughter, who loved the show.

I could go on and on. This weekend reconfirmed for me the power of Storahtelling, across our five programs. (I also spoke with many people about Raising the Bar, and expect to hear from them—and many others.) Elana, Emily and Mike each worked sooooooo hard, and with such heart. I thank them. And I thank all of us, for helping to support them. I cannot gush enough.



Monday, December 22, 2008

Two Loves Within/My First Storahtelling

Oded Mazor
Storathelling at HUC Jerusalem /December 2008

I met Storahtelling the same day I met Amichai Lau-Lavie; Just over a year ago. When Amichai came to Kehilat Kol-HaNeshama in Jerusalem in December 2007, something happened in the sanctuary, and in my heart. When I was in high-school I took theater classes, but my Torah studying was done somewhere else; during my BA studies I joined a small theater group, but it was very much separated from my Jewish-Philosophy classes. Joining the Israeli rabbinic-program at the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem I chose a different kind of stage to stand on, leading services, giving a sermon or teaching, but the acting passion was put aside. Storahtelling by Amichai at Kol-HaNeshama showed me a new path to combine these two loves of mine.

Together, we found and built the way to have a Storahtelling-seminar in Jerusalem this year, a joint project of Storahtelling and Kol-HaNeshama, with 23 participants. I'm privileged to study with these good women and men, with Amichai as our teacher.

I'm also very privileged that Amichai supported me in doing my first Storatelling myself – just two weeks ago. It was done on a Monday morning, when I was supposed to give the Dvar-Torah during the morning prayers at the HUC. The week's Torah-portion was "Toldot", and our chosen theme was God's answer to Rivka – "Two nations are with-in you" – the notion of duality. Except for last year's Kol-Nidrei's sermon, I have never spent so much time and effort on writing a Torah related ‘presentation’ before… What ‘hat’ am I wearing here? Which of the Biblical characters will be chosen as ‘speakers’? What did he/she have to say to us today? What did our sages try to tell us through this character and her/his story?

This became a great experience for me, and I'm glad to say that the reactions of my fellow rabbinic students and faculty were inspiring. Like I felt almost a year ago, my friends and teachers at the program saw and felt the difference in approach, the strength of the method. I learned a lot about what I need to learn and practice, but that was the point for me – I wanted to try the Storahtelling Maven method by myself, to know how it felt for me and what I need to do next.

The big questions remain un-answered: what is the meaning of translating from (biblical-) Hebrew to (modern-Israeli-) Hebrew? What is the right balance between the traditional act and the renewed method? How does one prepare and present a strong and successful Storahtelling program that fits the different crowds in ones’ congregation?

But one answer I did find – there is a way to have these two nations within me live in peace, not in constant struggle in-which one of them must lose. The two forces, attractions, within me – Torah and theater – have found at least one method of working together, giving both their right place – within the synagogue, on the Bimah.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


A weekly torah takeaway by Amichai Lau-Lavie

Join us for a year-long Jerusalem Journey, action by action, verb by verb. Each week I will pluck a verb from the Torah portion and set it reverberating both with its context and with my own. Let's make this a conversation, and talk our walk.

December 17, 2008

‘Are you sitting down’?

Actually, I was – sitting at my desk looking out the window at the morning rain finally feeding a parched Jerusalem, with a cup of tea in my left hand and the phone in the other. N., across the Atlantic, was the bearer of bad news, the kind one sits down for. Madoff’s scheme trickled down to our immediate reality –a few of Storahtelling’s important funders badly hit and will be unable to support us this year. Also, a major foundation with a significant investment in our programs slated for later this year – simply erased off the map. The implications are severe. I remained sitting for a long time after the phone call ended, cheeks wet like rain, throat parched like earth. Just sitting.

There are different kinds of ‘sitting’. There is the casual sit down at a cafĂ©, with a newspaper or a book, or a rigid 9-5 at your computer or sewing machine or at the wheel. There is meditation, often done sitting down – (in Hebrew one doesn’t say ‘did you mediate today? But rather – ‘have you sat today?’) There’s the sitting down for Shiva – mourning for a loved one – a required ritualized act of sitting low for a week. There are seating charts for dinner parties, and the toilet seat that often follows, there’s finding your assigned seat in the theater or choosing one in the movies, there’s the nervous sitting at job interviews (‘please take your seat’), or hospital waiting rooms. Then there’s the race for a seat of an elected official, or the jumping out of one’s seat to cheer a sports event. We do a lot of sitting as means to a greater end. And yet, sometimes it is the act itself that matters, just pausing to bend the knees, and find as comfortable a place as possible to let the butt rest and the feet rest and all the rest, rest: ‘are you sitting down??’

Jacob sits down this week, and the Torah portion ‘VaYeshev’ is named for this much awaited rest;. ‘Jacob sat in the land of his father's dwelling, in the land of Canaan’ (Genesis 36:1). Jacob hopes to settle down – physically and emotionally - recovering from the recent ‘Dina Disaster’, and more recently – the death of his beloved wife Rachel. He is hoping to find a peaceful place among his neighbors, to prosper, to take a deep breath. But the peace is temporary… The commentaries sigh ‘he wanted to sit quietly and then came the saga of Joseph....’

But not yet.

At this point in the story, this weekly re-run, he is just ‘sitting’. Yes, his has been a difficult life, full of challenges and hardships, but now he is home, and to ‘sit’ in Hebrew also means to ‘dwell’. He is re-grounding himself in reality. Sitting down, Jacob shows us, has to do with re-charging one’s batteries, with tapping into a greater resource of inspiration and hope – especially at times of heartbreak and crisis and fear. It is no coincidence that the Hebrew word ‘Yeshiva’ comes from the same root of “Shev’ – sitting down. The Jewish art of study is done at yeshivas – the places where we sit down to connect to our roots and stretch our minds and hearts like branches, further out into the world. Sitting matters. It is also no coincidence that the word ‘Shabbat’ comes from the same root as ‘sit’ or ‘stop’ – Shabbat is the wise weekly invitation to breath deep, sit down, ground one’s self as the storms rage. “Are you sitting down?”

Jacob’s been hit hard, and more is to come, but at this point in the story, he, the protagonist, doesn’t know it yet – and neither do we, the ‘readers’. Yes, terrible news will shatter his life, but years later, great consolation will mend his heart and family. For now, he, and we, are just quietly sitting, taking it in, sitting with it, looking outside the window at the rain quenching the thirst of this parched land.

21F: My seat on a flight from Tel Aviv to New York City, as I write this blog entry, on my way to a series of important meetings and vital decisions to be made. I cherish this quiet in between time zones, no emails, no phones. Outside my window the pitch black of somewhere and nowhere at all and in the horizon the pale strip of light – dawn over North America. I sit there, seatbelt and on - I try not to worry about everything, be here and now - breathe deeply, and simply sit down, gathering hope and strength for the rising of the dawn and for what comes next.

PS. In his commentary on Jacob’s dwelling in Canaan, Rashi, the French Torah Commentator quotes an odd parable, eerily appropriate of current events: ‘A merchant of flax enters the market with a caravan of camels, all laden with flax. ‘Where will all this flax be stored’? a local metal-smith asked. ‘Just one spark from your furnace and there will be no flax left…’ answered another merchant. Is this parable painfully obvious enough for right now? One man’s action has caused millions of damaged lives worldwide. Conversely – one person’s love can help heal this painful crisis – and that person can be you. Can you help me help Storathelling enter Chanukah with our lights turned on? Each and every gift matters a lot at this time and is much appreciated. You can do it online and make a huge difference – even just as a vote of confidence. GIFT TO STORAHTELLING

Thank you.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


A weekly torah takeaway by Amichai Lau-Lavie

Join us for a year-long Jerusalem Journey, action by action, verb by verb. Each week I will pluck a verb from the Torah portion and set it reverberating both with its context and with my own. Let's make this a conversation, and talk our walk.

December 11, 2008

I started coughing, suddenly, on Thursday night and by Friday morning, raising a white flag made of crumpled tissues, I surrendered to the onslaught of a nasty cold. The problem was that I was supposed to present a Storahtelling version of the weekly Torah portion at a big conference in a hotel in Ashkelon on Saturday morning – and by Friday afternoon my voice was down to a whisper. The conference organizers were very nice about it - a regime of tea with honey and assorted medicines was prescribed as well as a ban on speech. I spent Friday evening and night under solitary confinement in my hotel room. It worked. Saturday morning went fine – somehow I managed to raise my voice (there were about 300 people and there was no sound system, out of respect to the Orthodox among the group) beyond a whisper and took the audience on a hero’s journey in the footsteps of Jacob. They loved it. Later on that day, just after I finished teaching a class on the art of Storahtelling and its application to Israel – a siren was heard. It wasn’t a drill – actual missiles were fired on Ashkelon from nearby Gaza. Everyone huddled in the lobby, more annoyed than scared, and within minutes we were told to disperse. The missiles hit a few miles away, at an empty construction site. Business went back to usual, but when I tried to say something to someone, I realized that this time my voice had really gone: the day’s efforts had taken their toll. I was completely speechless.

I decided to make the best of it. Got home, turned off my cell phone, informed my parents and close friends via email and text messages that I am out of commission, canceled my meetings for Sunday and Monday and got into bed – determined to observe a strict silence until recovery. Had it not been for the coughing and headache I would almost have considered this a vacation.

And there, flipping through Genesis to find this week’s verb I found Jacob, speechless as well, but for very different reasons – and reading about it made me think about the different hues of silences in our lives.

Chapter 34 in Genesis starts innocently enough. Dinah, Jacob’s daughter, goes out to visit the local Canaanite girls, her neighbors. But violence follows: she is raped by a local prince who then claims her as a wife. Dina’s opinion on this is not mentioned – possibly silenced – as is so often the case with victims of violence, domestic abuse or rape. And, loudly, her father is, at first, also silent: “Now Jacob heard that he had defiled Dinah his daughter; and his sons were with his cattle in the field; and Jacob held his peace until they came.” (Genesis 34:5)

“Held his peace” is the King James Bible’s translation of ‘Ve’hechrish Yaakov.’ Other translations include ‘kept silent’ or ‘was quiet’ (very poetic translation – ‘held his peace’ – kept it inside, held it together…).

I listen, in silence, to his deep silence at this moment in his life and I know that it is the silence of speechless pain. And maybe it is also the silence of the quiet hunter, waiting for the right moment to react, and, also the tense silence of fear.

But I wish he’d say something. One can argue that Jacob waited till his sons came home to deal with the situation, and that his silence is wise strategy. Maybe, but maybe not. If he would have spoken early on in protest or rage he may have been able to prevent the terrible massacre that his sons unleash on their neighbors in the following verses. And couldn’t he have said something to Dinah – a word of comfort? Is ‘speechless’ the best that Jacob can do at this moment? Guess so. I think of all the times outrage happens: so many of us are speechless when it comes to protest or condemnation or comfort. We may be ‘holding our peace’ – but by doing so – are we withholding peace from the world?

There are times to shout and times to hush, and I pray that I and all of us will know how to speak up when the need is real and the hurt needs comforting and the protest is required. Even if our throat hurts – or when the words are uncomfortable yet have to be said… I sit here as I write this, still semi-silent, though feeling a little better and hoping to learn something from my own particular hue of silence– maybe how to listen more carefully to what is or isn’t being said, written or shouted about, quietly. And, then, when it’s time – really speak up.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

A weekly torah takeaway by Amichai Lau-Lavie

Join us for a year-long Jerusalem Journey, action by action, verb by verb. Each week I will pluck a verb from the Torah portion and set it reverberating both with its context and with my own. Let's make this a conversation, and talk our walk.

December 3, 2008

I woke up chuckling this morning, with a single image snatched from a dream: one of my aunts, a formidable rabbi’s wife, dancing – wearing an Israeli soldier’s uniform. Huh? I’ve been dreaming a lot since coming to Jerusalem. Some of the dreams, and most often just fragments, enter my morning journal. I don’t really spend much time trying to decipher them - in various ways they affect my moods, my thoughts – and sometimes inform my decisions and actions. I’ve wanted to do more with dreams – close friends and mentors have generously shared their dream-work techniques. Somehow, it hasn’t been a priority – maybe because there’s more than enough data for reflection generated, pressing, during waking hours… But this week, reading Genesis to find a weekly verb that resonates with my here & now - I was drawn to ‘dreaming’ - an action that seems to define this week’s tale and its super-hero – Jacob – the one who listens to his dreams and, more importantly, actively manifests their interpretations into reality.

In this digital fast pace time, writing about dreams feels a little like frivolous ‘psycho-babble.’ This ‘age of reason’ has almost succeeded in downplaying all that is primitive, sacred and lacking in proven credibility. But for so many of us dreams do matter, especially when reality is harsh and life demands great creativity and resourcefulness. When Martin Luther King Jr. declared, “I have a dream,” he didn’t mean the kind of dream that comes in the night – and not a daydream, either. His dream was a vision of a possible reality, a reality demanded by conscience, no matter how much social convention opposed it. He dared to dream – inspiring real change. In our sacred stories, we meet ancestors who also dared to imagine and to manifest their wildest dreams into an even wilder reality.

Rebecca and Isaac’s youngest son has two big dreams in this week’s epic Torah episode ‘Vayetze’ – ‘He Exits.’ Both dreams are fantastic – and the Biblical author/s spared no detail in describing them, to the delight of every psychoanalyst, poet and entrepreneur among us. Jacob’s first dream is on his first night away from home, alone on a hill, a young runaway boy exiting onto his hero’s journey. He dreams of a ladder, and angels, and God, and the promise that he will one day return to his ancestral homeland - and own it. The second dream comes many years later and it involves copulating sheep, a great recipe for great wealth, and the command to finally return home. (More about the sheep later.)

The first dream is famous – interpreted, analyzed and understood in numerous ways, for over two thousand years, by scholars, mystics, artists and therapists. The practical bottom line of that dream is real estate – God promised his ownership over the land of Canaan. (This is a dream that was interpreted literally and is responsible for plenty of historical and contemporary political problems – including the situation on the ground right now in Hebron – where hundreds of extremist Jewish settlers are gathered today to resist the IDF’s evacuation of ‘the House of Conflict’ – a contested Jewish stronghold in the midst of the Palestinian city.)

When Jacob woke up on that hill with that dream he was filled with awe –built an altar, and then sat down to business: making a deal with God. “If you protect me,” he says to the Almighty, “and if you bring me back home safe and sound – I’ll worship you, upgrade this altar into a full size temple, and give You 10% of my earnings” (Gen.28:21-22). Inspired by the powerful dream, Jacob thinks strategically - he aims high, sets tangible goals for his next challenges, and makes the deal. He uses dream language to make meaning of his life, connect to the greater reality, and chart the next part of his journey. Where I am in life now – and where many of us are now – with the economic crisis re-shaping many of our lives and choices – this level of vision, clarity and strategy is inspiring. What can we learn here about aiming high, dreaming big and working wisely and strategically, like Jacob, to benchmark our goals and success?

His second dream, two chapters later is another great role model of “dream into action”: 20 years later, already married with four wives and many children and sheep, Jacob wants to return home to Canaan. He’s been working for his father in law this whole time – it’s not working out. Jacob invites Leah and Rachel into the field, persuading them to leave their father’s house and join him on the journey to his homeland. Halfway through the speech, for emphasis, he reveals the secret of their recent riches – instructed in a dream: “Once, at the mating time of the flocks, I had a dream in which I saw that the he-goats mating with the sheep were streaked, speckled, and mottled...” (Gen. 30:9).

In the previous chapter, Jacob came up with a ‘genetic manipulation patent’ – a genius system to breed a specific and sizable flock – with distinct colorations and patterns. Did he really receive that information in a dream, or was he just using it to convince his wives? Either way, the story tells us that dreams matter and are helpful to our daily lives and important choices. (Even really weird dreams in which sheep copulate –you GOTTA hand it to Jacob’s vivid imagination and to the biblical author/s for this image from our patriarch’s unconscious. It’s hilarious.)

Like ancient texts, dreams require imaginative interpretation in order for us to receive what they disclose. And big dreams – Genesis suggests – can yield big results - if we pause to listen and translate them into inspired action.

I have a hunch that my dream of a dancing aunt in IDF uniform has something to do with my spending much more time recently with family – including three of my nephews who are now serving in the army. It’s astounding to see them grown up and in uniform. It may also be the fault of the drag show I saw a few nights ago in a Jerusalem Night Club – a benefit to the Jerusalem Open House’s free AIDS clinic. Dancing aunts aside, I hope to make room for and invite other dreams that will inspire and guide and open a portal into great imagining clarity – and action.