"Imagine all the people living life in peace." -- John Lennon
"Many foolish beliefs that people once held, such as forms of idol-worship that demanded child sacrifice, etc., have disappeared. But, as of yet, the foolish belief in the pursuit of war has not disappeared." -- Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav
"A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality." -- Yoko Ono Lennon
I was born to dream of peace.
Exactly seven years before I was born, on Dec. 8, 1980, John Lennon -- who taught us to imagine peace throughout the world, who asked everyone, with Yoko, to give peace a chance -- was murdered in New York City.
Seven years later, on Dec. 8, 1987, two things happened: I was born, and the First Intifada began.
Of course, I don't remember either of these events. My earliest awareness of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which entered a new chapter yesterday with Operation Pillar of Defense, came while attending Jewish elementary school in Florida. I vaguely remember a feeling of hope; something about some Oslo Thing. My next memory is of gathering together as a class, when they told us that Israel's prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, had been assassinated -- by a religious Jew. The hope then vanished.
A couple years later, at the same Jewish day school, my class waited outside of the chapel for our turn to pray together. We sat along a wall in a hallway lined with alternating, artfully designed memorial plaques, each one for a different month of the Hebrew calendar. Behind one of these memorials, my friend found a metal cylinder wrapped in tape. We began rolling it back and forth. Before long, our teacher admonished us to stop whatever it was we were doing and wait quietly to enter the chapel. So we placed the cylinder back behind the memorial and forgot about it.
Days later, during a large communal celebration at the synagogue, another group of kids found and played with the cylinder until an astute adult confiscated it and called the police. The cylinder was a pipe bomb planted by a local Orthodox Jew who hoped its discovery would disrupt a talk at the synagogue by Shimon Peres, another former prime minister of Israel. Turns out, he did not agree with Peres' politics.
These are my earliest memories of a conflict that proceeds with abandon to this day. Since then, I have visited Israel several times. The most recent time I went -- to live and study in Jerusalem for half a year in 2009 -- I landed in Israel just a couple days before the end of Operation Cast Lead, the country's last campaign into Gaza.
Then, I dreamed of peace.
Now, on the first day of the Jewish month of Kislev, the second day of an Israeli incursion into Gaza that began with the killing of Hamas' military leader, I still dream of peace.
Kislev is known as the month of dreams. On the yearly cycle of reading the Torah, all but one of the 10 dreams from the Five Books of Moses are recounted during this month.
I was born in the month of Kislev, during the week that Jews traditionally read about Joseph and his first dreams -- the ones that lead his brothers to sell him into slavery. The day before I was born, my mother had a dream. She was stressed. Very stressed. She didn't know what to name me. In the dream, a messenger or a voice or a vision told her to name me Joshua. I was born the next day. She named me Joshua.
In the Bible, Joshua takes over for Moses, leading the Israelites into the Land of Milk and Honey. Of course, the Israelites don't just waltz into Jerusalem with a ticker tape parade. They conquer the place. It's bloody. It's war. This is Joshua's legacy.
Now, I watch another chapter in this tear-filled history play out online. Friends in America and Israel follow the violence in fear, posting links and prayers in support of one side or the other. Some in my Facebook feed are appalled by Israel's incursion into Gaza. They pray for the safety of innocent Palestinians caught in the crossfire. Others in my social network stand staunchly with the communities in Israel who rarely have respite from rockets fired indiscriminately into their neighborhoods. They pray for the safety of the Jews now cowering in bomb shelters.
I pray for everyone. Yesterday, I posted a short message on Facebook:
"Praying for an end to all kinds of rocket fire, all over the world. Praying for safety. Praying for understanding. Praying for Israel. Praying for Palestine. Praying for peace. Who's with me?"
It's the most popular thing I've ever posted. Most came out in favor. Others were disgusted that I would pray for the enemy. I should be praying for their destruction, they implied.
Thankfully, one friend posted a story from the Talmud that holds a (nonviolent) answer:
There were certain hooligans who resided in the neighborhood of Rabbi Meir, and they caused him much misery and anguish. Once, Rabbi Meir prayed for mercy regarding them, so that they would die. His wife Beruriah said to him, "What makes you think that such a prayer is permitted? Is it because the verse states 'Let sinners [chataim] cease from the earth'? But is it written 'chotim' -- sinners? Rather it is written 'chataim' -- that which causes one to sin, namely the evil inclination. Furthermore, the end of the verse continues, 'and let the wicked be no more.' Since the sins will cease, there will be no more wicked men!
"Rather," she concluded, "pray for them that they should repent, and there will be no more wicked people."
He did pray for them, and they repented.
When we pray, we try to connect with God -- we try to embody God's unity.
When we talk about peace -- even a flimsy glimmer of it -- we are trying to connect with a vision of Divine Unity that has become reality.
Prayer and peace have nothing to do with critical thinking or moral equivalents, historical narratives or violent legacies. Not the prayer or the peace that I'm talking about.
In dreams, we can transcend our earthly limitations. In prayers, we do this, too.
So who is dreaming -- and praying -- with me?