A Dream of a Place – Tu Bishvat, Israel and the Sandman

January 22, 2013 at 10:41 pm, by

Warning: contains minor spoilers for The Doll’s House, The Sandman Vol 2

Sandman_Dolls_House  “I was not a person, I was a place.”
    -Gilbert, in ‘The Doll’s House’, The Sandman Vol 2

Can a place be a dream?

Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman that ran from 1989-1996, and which I strongly believe is one of the greatest works of fiction ever written, features a character who calls himself Gilbert, who is really a dream of a place called Fiddler’s Green.

When Lord Morpheus, otherwise known as Dream, was captured in the waking world, several dreams went missing from the Dreaming. In Vol 2 of The Sandman, entitled ‘The Doll’s House’, Dream enters the mortal world to find them and bring them back. As the story unfolds, the last of the dreams to be tracked down is Fiddler’s Green, who had become human to see what it was like.
Fiddler’s Green – the sailor’s dream of a paradisiacal garden, where nothing is wanting – took on the persona of Gilbert to experience “the little victories and the tiny defeats” of being human. Being human is an experience that the dream longed to have.

But there are other places too that are also dreams, places whose myth looms larger than the reality. Hollywood, Las Vegas. But none more so, perhaps, than Israel.

When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion, we were like those that dreamed.
      -Psalm 126

For thousands of years the Jewish people were exiled from the land, and dreamt of returning and rebuilding. The dream of the return from galut, from exile, to the promised redemption was very strong.

Even within the Bible, Israel is half a dream. A land flowing with milk and honey, full of giants and enormous grapes, a place that devours its inhabitants. Israel is described as a land uniquely in tune with God’s will, punishing those who disobey the divine laws.

And once the second temple was destroyed in 70 CE by the Romans, the dream of Israel, and the holy city of Jerusalem, just became larger and larger.

And yet today Israel is no longer a dream but a reality, an actual state, with real politicians and citizens, struggling with the little victories and tiny defeats of normal lives, as well as the big questions of identity, security and democracy.

I generally avoid talking politics, yet it seems to me that for progress to be made we need to separate the mythology from the history, the dream from the reality. The state of Israel is not the kingdom of David and Solomon, nor is it a land of milk and honey, but it is a state that we should be proud of, and a state that, as a Zionist, I am very glad exists.

    But Mythology is simple, where reality is complex.

Mythology presents us with compelling stories of good and evil, right and wrong, black and white – but the reality of the human condition comes in shades of grey. We can look to our dreams to guide us but not to decide particular questions.

Mythologising politics can make compromise impossible.

This Saturday night and Sunday is the festival of Tu Bishvat, the new year for trees. Originally a kind of tax year, by the 20th century it had become a festival of Zionism and ecology, making the desert bloom.

The Jerusalem Talmud states that before Tu Bishvat, the plants “live from the waters of the year that has passed. From then on they live from the waters of the year to come.” (Yerushalmi Rosh Hashana 6b).

The festival of Tu Bishvat marks the moment in the calendar at which the source of life for the trees switches, drawing water from the coming year rather than the year that has gone.

Netanyahu may have won the election, but his victory was narrower than many had predicted, and he may have to build a rather broader coalition as a result.

I don’t know if this is good news for Israelis, for the Palestinians, for peace, but I hope that at this time of Tu Bishvat as a people we can begin to draw on new waters, sustain ourselves through the rains of the coming year, instead of constantly replaying the years that have come before.

“And then she woke up.” I suppose there are worse endings.
    -Rose Walker, in ‘The Doll’s House’, The Sandman Vol 2

Fiddler’s Green was a dream of a place that longed to experience what it was like to be human. For centuries, Israel was a dream of a place that we longed to see realised, but the dream is not the reality. At this time of political and seasonal change, may we all find fresh water to draw on and create a lasting peace.

Roni Tabick is a rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. You can read more of his work here: www.mythicwriting.blogspot.com. Or follow him on twitter: @rtabick


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