Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio - Yom Kippur Sermon
Dare to Dream
Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio
Yom Kippur 2018
About this time last year I was approached by a group called A24 who were working to create a vision for the future of Australia. They asked me what appeared to be a very simple question: “If you woke up this morning and you were in the Australia of your dreams, what would it look like?” A great question, an exciting question and one for which I found I had no answer. I was able to list the problems I saw, I was able to point out the small annoyances and inconveniences of life, I could state many different issues which confronted us as a nation, but I could not share a vision. I was trapped in the negative of the here and now and I realized that I had no dream for the future, I could not imagine, let alone articulate what that Australia would look like.
And I believe that I am not alone. As a society we have forgotten how to dream. We do not have a vision of our future which is expansive and free, inspirational, aspirational and possibly unrealistically utopian. Instead we are trapped in a 24-hour news cycle which feeds us negativity and tragedy. Our politics often seem more concerned with problem management, fixing whatever issue is immediately before us to ensure that approval ratings remain high in the next opinion poll. There is no space for politicians to present visions for the future because they have to be problem managers rather than dreamers. The focus is not on ideas and the long term future but on careers, personalities and meeting measurable targets, such as economic growth, anything which can be represented with a chart and an excel spreadsheet, numbers, rather than goals which can’t be easily quantified like community connection, compassion, finding meaning, feeling heard. And we have fallen into the same trap. Ari Wallach describes our communities as being concerned with what he calls “short termism” we buy the wrist band for the latest cause, we allocate a month to addressing an issue, give it a catchy name, raise money or awareness, perhaps we send a tweet, ‘like’ something on Instagram and then we move on, we look to the next problem we can quickly consider and address. Another band aid with no vision for the future. And we are flooded with messages that tell us that we don’t really matter anyway, that the problems are so great that none of us can make a difference, and so instead of dreaming of a better tomorrow, of imagining what is possible, we find ourselves trapped feeling small, insignificant in the face of the problems, and we cannot see an alternative.
When young people in 30 countries between the ages of 18 and 35 were asked about the future, the most pessimistic group were the Australians. They were worried about job prospects, tense about the planet, believed they would never own their own home, were jittery about the way the country is being run. Australian parents believe that their children will be worse off than they are, they cannot imagine a future which is different. We have forgotten how to dream and we are stuck in the malaise of the present.
And it was the same for our ancestors. When the Israelites left Egypt and found themselves in the desert, they were finally free. They witnessed miracles, wonders beyond their and our imaginings but they were not happy, they were not able to see the future and instead found fault in everything. They did not like the food, God was too demanding, Moses could not give them what they needed, they were stuck in short termism, seeing immediate problems and unable to move forward. But then God gave them a task. They were to build a mishkan, a tabernacle, a holy place, a space for God to dwell. Suddenly they were presented with a goal, something to create together and that led to a dream. They began to think beyond the day to day and as they gathered and worked they imagined and slowly the other problems disappeared. They had hope, dreams, they could see a different tomorrow. We need to find our different tomorrow, to join together to imagine new and different dreams because when we do we can make them come true.
Too often though, we are constrained by the probable. We are held back by the practical, it seems too big a task. But the nature of dreams is that they are visionary and improbable. Dan Roosegoarde had a dream to remove smog from the air of cities throughout the world using an environmentally sustainable method. He imagined a giant vacuum cleaner which would suck the polluted air in, filter it and send clean air back out into the cities. Sounds like something out of a comic strip or a cartoon. But he held onto his dream and he created it. But then he realized they needed to clean out the waste material that had been sucked out of the air. It would counter their environmental goals if they just dumped all the waste. It turns out the waste was mostly carbon so they put it under pressure for 30 minutes and created diamonds which they turned into rings. They now sell the smog rings to fund the creation of the giant vacuum cleaners and he is installing them all over the world. His dream of an environmentally friendly way to create smog free cities became a reality because he dared to dream.
And Judaism can help us to dream. From the Prophet Joel: “God said I will pour my spirit on all flesh. Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams and young men shall see visions” We are called upon to dream dreams, to see visions, to be prophets and imagine all that the world can become. When God created the world it was an ambitious dream, the Torah the description of those imaginings. A world where all people are equal, where poverty is banished, abundance exists for all, the world is wrapped in a blanket of peace, people are content, valued, loved and embraced. This is God’s dream for us and the world and we are invited to become part of that dream. Just as our ancestors, our heroes, the dreamers of our people. Abraham, a single man called upon to be the founder of a nation, as numerous as the stars in the sky. Abraham and Sarah were old and childless, it seemed impossible but still they held their dream. Moses helped the people believe that they could be free, that after 400 years of slavery their lives could be different, he inspired them with the dream as they wend their way to the Promised Land, the land of milk and honey, the perfect society that they would create. In the darkest hell of the concentration camps many were sustained by dreams of a better tomorrow. They lifted themselves from the blackness of suffering to a place of hope, a vision, a dream. And Herzl had an improbable dream, a Jewish homeland, a nation state.
We are a people who dream and Yom Kippur is the pinnacle of that audacious dream. We gather together to reflect and remember our dreams. We look at the challenges, the stains and the problems but then we turn with hope to the future. We understand that despite everything that has happened the slate can be wiped clean, we can start again, we can create new visions, dream big beautiful dreams. We know that we are part of something greater than ourselves, each one of us, is important and significant, and we can change the world, if only we can believe, trust and imagine it. Judaism is not a religion of fate, our destiny is in our hands, and we can all become who we choose to be. We are taught that for each of us the world was created, each of us matter, we have the power to make the changes that we want not just for ourselves but also for the world. And one person can do so much, if only we dream.
Charity Wayua was born in Kenya and she went to study biochemistry in the USA determined to return to Kenya to help reduce the deaths from malaria. But when she returned she found there were many bigger problems and she saw what she called “band aid” solutions being applied to them. Charity was then approached by the government to help move Kenya up in the World Bank Rankings. At that time it was 136 out of 189 countries. Charity believed that helping businesses would have a flow on effect and assist Kenya not only to move forward in the rankings but also to address many of the other problems in the country so she agreed. She and a team gathered together and began to explore what the issues were and what they found surprised them. There were huge inefficiencies and problems but most of them stemmed from people not feeling valued, feeling helpless and stuck. They realized that if they could address that then change would flow. So they met with everyone in the government departments they could, from the person who puts staples in documents to the highest ranking officials and they invited them to dream. They shared their vision of what the future could be, they ensured that every person realized their importance and significance, what they uniquely contributed to the achievement of their goals. Charity says: “Guess what we saw? A coalition of government employees who are excited and ready to drive change began to grow and together we started to implement changes that impacted… our country” And in two years Kenya moved from 136 to 92 in the world rankings, and were named one of the top three global reformers. And all because they dared to dream and to see the value and importance in every person.
In 2000 a group of countries came together to create the Millennium Development Goals. Developed countries agreed to try to halve extreme poverty, hunger and deaths from disease by 2015. So how did they do? They halved deaths by malaria so that 2 million fewer children are dying every year . In 1990 36% of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty, the millennium goal was for it to be reduced to 18% but by 2015 it was down to 12% they exceeded their goals. They dreamed, imagined what they wanted for the world and the inspiration led to action and to change. And the countries have come together with a new set of goals and a deadline of 2030.
There are 17 Global Goals with 169 targets and hundreds of indicators. But what is interesting is the nature of the dream, the goals to which the world now aspires. The Millennium Goals were concerned very much with economics but the new goals are brave in a different way. The dream has changed and is now focused on well being, realizing that economic prosperity is not necessarily an indicator of a better society. The goals still dream of a society where basic needs are met: food, shelter, health, education but then it expands to also consider well being, happiness, self worth and determination. In her talk “The New American Dream,” Courtney Martin challenges us to reconsider what we long and hope for. She said the American Dream was always to own a home, have a steady income and the more money the better. But time has proven that achieving those goals is not enough, she suggests that perhaps the dream needs to be changed, expanded, revived and we should instead dream of living life well, dream of balance, connection. Instead of owning our own home, perhaps the dream should be sharing, being in communities. She mentions Co-Abode a site where single mums can connect with other single mums and share a home so far 50,000 people have found others with whom to share. Sometimes we need to challenge our long held dreams, to allow them to shift and change and to be brave enough to imagine a new and exciting future for ourselves and our world.
Judaism paints a utopian vision of economic dreams being met, all having food, shelter, education and health. But it does not stop there. It continues to inspire us to create a world where all people are valued, we can see the holiness and beauty in one another, we care for the environment and our planet, we treasure and appreciate one another’s differences and our similarities. A world where we live in harmony, fulfilled, meaningful lives, that is our Jewish dream.
So if we now return to the question asked by A24, I would like you to take a moment to consider it for yourself. What would you answer if you were asked: “if you woke up tomorrow in the Australia of your dreams, what would it look like?”
A24 asked that question 100s of people and said they were surprised to find a remarkable consensus about our dreams and hopes. So what are they? What are the dreams for Australia? There are nine pillars to the vision which they describe as “both idealistic and ordinary, utopian and commonsense.” And it is incredibly aligned with our own Jewish vision for the world, I wonder if it resonates with yours. The nine pillars are:
1. An Australia where our first peoples and culture are celebrated at the very heart of what it means to be Australian
2. We know that we are part of and connected to the natural world and we act to protect it
3. Australia’s economy serves our people and the planet, we put people first, lift people out of poverty and share our country’s wealth
4. In our society all contributions count and every job has dignity, whatever our contribution is, it is valued and is recognized
5. There is a diversity of people living side by side and we see that diversity in our leaders, on our screens, the food we eat and the cultures we celebrate
6. We are compassionate and connected and have flourishing communities with time for each other
7. Women are visible, valued and celebrated with power in parliament, business, community and home
8. Our government exists for the people and we are a thriving democracy
9. We are a proud contributor to a just world
The visionary document then expands on each of the topics and I want to share a portion of one of those with you. This is number 6 a country of flourishing communities.
“Our communities are places of music, fun and playfulness, kindness and generosity. The air is clean, the shade is plentiful. Neighbours talk to each other and children play in the streets. Good infrastructure like public transport, public parks and collective tool sheds help us get out of our houses and into each others company… We connect with each other in our communities over sports, books, creative arts, gardening, clubs and more…our education system equips us to live meaningful lives. Not only are we taught how to read and write but also how to think critically, build relationships, nurture creativity and listen to different perspectives. We learn about our own worth and learn the art of belonging. Families, neighbours, communities look after one another. Everyone is included…we make sure regardless of age, old, young or in the middle, we all have a place. And we have time… Time to care and be cared for. Time to enjoy our families and each other, to savour this beautiful earth, to be creative and to rest.”
What a beautiful vision, an amazing dream that we can make true as we imagine it. There was a debate once amongst the rabbis who were trying to determine if when we pray we should look up to the heavens or down to the earth. One suggested that we need to look upwards direct our prayers to God, another suggested downwards, our prayer should lead us towards each other. Eventually they agreed that we must do both. We need to look to the heavens to be inspired by the vision, to help us see and create our dreams and then we must turn towards the earth and make them a reality.
So this Yom Kippur, this time for dreaming, I invite you all to imagine waking up in the Australia of your dreams and then join together as a community of dreamers to make them come true.
NOTE: For more on the nine pillars go to the website for “Australia ReMade” and look for the document “Creating the best Version of Us”