When a Dream is Deferred

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Original story posted on: May 15, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Rabbi Evan Moffic, the son of H. Steven Moffic, MD, is a Senior Rabbi at Congregation Makom Solel Lakeside, in Highland Park, a suburb of Chicago. He is a noted and in-demand speaker and writer of books, with special attention to conveying Judaism to Christians, as well as the benefits of interfaith relationships. Currently, he is once again teaching about the Ten Commandments, as they are portrayed in the 10-hour Polish film series “The Decalogue.” Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Rabbi Moffic is using Zoom, noting that attendance for both services and educational events is higher than usual.

“What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up…like a raisin in the sun?” 

These words open the poem “Harlem.” It was written by Langston Hughes in 1951. Even though it is almost 70 years old, it somehow captures our hearts today. 

B'nei Mitzvahs postponed. Graduation ceremonies canceled. Weddings curtailed. Family gatherings put on hold. Many dreams have been deferred by COVID-19. And some have even derailed and denied. 

What, then, shall we do? What do we say to comfort our children? How do we make sense of it ourselves? 

First, we remind ourselves of King Solomon’s famous words. According to Jewish legend, a sultan asked King Solomon to pronounce one sentence of wisdom that would always be true, in good times and in bad. He responded, “this, too, shall pass.” 

So it will. Ultimately, COVID-19 will pass. We will no longer face this pandemic. 

Imagine how we will feel then. Just imagining that feeling helps make it real. It gives us the strength and vision to endure through this difficult time. 

Second, we can be honest, and not try to deflect the feelings of the moment. It’s easy to do, and I confess, I sometimes do it.

For example, I was meeting with a couple who had to postpone their wedding. I emphasized to them that their relationship was what was most important. “It’s okay,” I intoned. "Simply getting through this shows how strong your relationship can be." 

While these words are true, they are not comforting. Couples who are postponing weddings are in pain. So are our students and families delaying B'nei Mitzvah ceremonies. So are our families who have lost a loved one and can’t mourn in the traditional Jewish ways. 

We can’t just deflect the feelings and say, “it’s all about the hard work you have done” or “your community is still here with you on Zoom." Sometimes, we just have to admit, we are angry and sad, and that this is not right. 

Third, we can stop putting pressure on ourselves. Admittedly, I’ve been putting a lot of pressure on myself to come up with new programs and reach as many people as we can, virtually. This is important. 

But at the same time, at the beginning of the quarantine, I said to myself “you can do more Talmud study. You can get your Hebrew back to the same you level you had in Israel. You can spend hours every day playing with your kids. Maybe you can even write the great American novel!” 

Just saying that now seems laughable. Yes, we may have fewer distractions during this time of quarantine. And perhaps we can take more time for learning and self-growth. But over the last 75 days, we’ve realized we cannot do everything. 

None of us are at our best right now, because we do not have the freedom and community we usually have. We can’t move as much or sleep as well. The uncertainty of the future looms over us. 

Perhaps the most important thing we can do is to nurture our relationships and ourselves. Talk more with our spouse and kids. Have dinner with friends over Zoom. Pick up the phone and call. Read. Learn to meditate. Join one of our many classes and services. Be kind. Cultivate patience and gratitude. 

No one said it was easy. In the poem, Langston Hughes says a dream deferred “sags like a heavy load.” Our feelings of frustration and sadness right now weigh us down, and feel like a heavy load. 

This year – our country – is not what we dreamed it would be. But we lighten the load when we share and carry it with one another. We ensure those dreams are simply deferred, and not denied, when we dream those dreams and nurture one another, together. 

Rabbi Evan Moffic

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