Sign In Forgot Password

Somewhere Over The Rainbow:  The Jewish Dream #811

01/12/2024 06:24:00 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashat Vaera

Somewhere Over the Rainbow: The Jewish Dream    

About 25 years ago, many music lovers and critics began pondering an interesting question as the 20th Century drew to a close.

They asked, “What was the greatest song of the past 100 years?”

The list was endless. It is estimated that, during a lifetime, we will either consciously or unknowingly listen to more 1.3 million songs.

But which one is the best?

After months of reflection, discussion, voting and tabulation judges announced their decision. It was a recording from a 1939 movie, a song which barely survived the film’s final cut.

The words were written by Yip Harburg, born Isidore Hochberg, who was the youngest of four children of Russian-Jewish immigrants.

And the melody was composed by Harold Arlen, born Hyman Arluck. His father was a Cantor who, with Arlen’s mother, emigrated from Lithuania just before the Holocaust.

Together they penned a song for the age, one which resonated with all humanity. They wrote of a land they had dreamed of. It wasn’t Oz. But rather, many believe and never denied by its co-writers, the Land of Israel.

Every year around this time, the Wizard of Oz airs on national television. Families continue to be inspired by the sweetness of the movie’s characters, and the enduring quality of Dorothy’s quest.

But there exists a story within the story.

In composing Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Harburg and Arlen reached deep into their immigrant tradition, and gave voice to the eternal story of Jewish survival, “there’s a land that I heard of once in a lullaby.”

Between the notes, their composition, gave voice to a dream of a Jewish homeland, a place of peace and pride, a sanctuary from antisemitism and persecution—forever embedded in who we are.

We proclaim, “Next year in Jerusalem,” at the close of our Passover Seder.

A BBC recording from April 20, 1945, captured a chaplain proclaiming "Am Yisrael Chai!” (The Nation of Israel Lives) following the first Friday night service at the liberated Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Every day, we pray for the welfare of the entire Jewish people, under the banner “Kol Yisrael” (All of Israel.)

Recently, others have laid claim to Israel. Indeed, they are welcome to dwell there in peace. But as history reveals, there has been no other nation that has passionately and consistently longed for this small strip of land along the Mediterranean.

Israel has remained at the core of every prayer and Bible story since our inception. This story, this historical and spiritual connection rests at the heart of this week’s Torah portion. As the parashah opens, we are enslaved in Egypt.

As Moses and Aaron approach Pharaoh, they ask not only for their freedom, but for permission to engage in a long, insecure trek toward the Promised Land.

For the Jewish people, our existence always has been—and will always be, centered on Israel. It is a place of democracy, innovation and religious pluralism. That is the dream.

Undeniably, the four main characters in the Wizard of Oz, touch every Jewish heart.

The Scarecrow quests for knowledge. The Tin Man craves a strong but sensitive heart. The Lion seeks courage.

And Dorothy just wants to go home.

But, as the movie ends, we come to realize that each of these qualities have always existed within our individual and collective souls. During these past few months, we have all experienced many unsettling feelings and emotions.

No matter where we stand on a variety of religious, legal and political issues affecting Israel, we are drawn to that same longing for freedom that Moses and Aaron expressed more than 3,000 years ago.

We just want to dwell in peace in our own land.

The Torah tells us that Pharaoh believed that we had grown too numerous. Perhaps we had plans to unite with Egypt’s enemies and cause turmoil or overthrow the government.

It is eerie how the current masters of propaganda have built a similar narrative. And this obscene commandeering of antisemitism has led us to hearings this week accused by South Africa of genocide in the International Court of Justice.

These are troubling times for Israel and the Jewish people.

Indeed, as the Torah predicts, our journey toward the Promised Land will not be easy. But, as our faith is challenged almost daily, we must never waver in our quest for that place over the rainbow.

One of my rabbinical schoolteachers, Rabbi David Ingber, once wrote:

“Like the phoenix who rises from the ashes, we are a people of the rainbow. We are a people of hope. Our strength is to forever long for that particular risk that is involved in birthing hope. Believing in and taking those risks for the sake of our souls.”

As Moses begins that journey this week in the Torah, he is  tongue tied and paralyzed—the way we were on October 7. But in time, he finds his voice and so must we.

I am a person of faith who believes that before we ascend, we must descend. I also believe that however painful it is to be involved in this horrible war we never asked for, the Pharaohs of our time must be confronted.

With peace so close before October 7 we must, as Hatikva, the Israeli national anthem proclaims, never lose hope. Since the time of Pharaoh, through countless wars and persecutions, we have never wavered from our connection to Israel.

Once it was a dream, but now it is a fragile reality. In the words of Joshua, Moses’ successor, we must live by the motto, “chazak v’ematz” (be strong and courageous.)

That dream is worth fighting for. It is painful, but ultimately necessary if we are to stand like other nations in freedom and self-determination.

Or, as Dorothy sang, in the longing words of Harburg and Arlen,

“If happy little bluebirds fly

Beyond the rainbow

Who oh why, can’t I.”

Shabbat Shalom, v'kol tuv

Rabbi Irwin Huberman.

Wed, February 21 2024 12 Adar I 5784