BJEs annual

The Talmud says a dream is part prophecy. The Book of Job says, “God speaks to us … in a dream.” And Cinderella’s fairy godmother says, “a dream is a wish your heart makes.”

Backed by such authority, it’s no wonder Judaism takes dreams and dreamers so seriously (OK, forget the Cinderella thing). From Jacob’s ladder to Chagall’s flying goats, dream visions have influenced not only the Jewish people, but propelled all of humanity forward.

Organizers of the Bureau of Jewish Education’s “Feast of Jewish Learning 2004” must have had that in mind when they came up with this year’s theme: “Dare to Dream: An Exploration of Jewish Visions and Visionaries.”

The ninth annual “Feast” kicks off 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 31, at Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills. The program includes Havdallah ceremonies, team-taught discussion groups for adults and teens (in English, Russian and Hebrew), and activities for younger children.

But the event isn’t limited to the Peninsula. The BJE serves San Francisco, Marin and Sonoma counties as well. Throughout the month of February, the BJE has lined up a host of notable guest scholars — among them rabbis Lavey Darby, Sydney Mintz, Scott Slarksky, Aliza Berk and Henry Shreibman — to lead “Lunch & Learn” discussion groups across the Bay Area, each zeroing in on some aspect of Jewish dreams and dreamers.

Rachel Brodie, a Jewish educator and one of the event’s organizers, is pumped up about this year’s theme, which she helped to dream up. “We originally planned to do something on Israel,” she recalls, “but the word ‘dreams’ kept coming up. We were talking about visions of a homeland, and at some point we hit on it: We’re talking about dreams, something we could extend to all kinds of things, from prophecy to fantasy.”

Jonathan Schwartz, for one, ran with the idea. As director of the BJE’s Jewish Community Library, he has a particular fondness for Jewish books, and this year he will talk up a good one at a “Lunch & Learn” he will lead.

“Last year I worked with an established book group,” he says. “So this year I proposed that we read together Sami Michael’s ‘A Trumpet in the Wadi.’ I chose it because it’s current, it represents a new voice from Israel, and it does have elements of dream and visions. The whole nature of fiction is about dreaming and envisioning.”

The BJE will also bring an artistic element with both a staff art display and a gallery exhibit of notable local artists on the theme of “Divine Images: Community Artists Encounter the Second Commandment.” (That would be the one about “No graven images.”)

Schwartz is one of the organizers of the art exhibit. “We traditionally do an art show,” he says, “but at first it was not obvious what to do. Through discussions with the staff, we hit on the idea of dealing with the Second Commandment, what it means to make an image and deal with the Jewish tradition of discomfort with images. It seemed like a fascinating thing for artists to deal with.”

Ruth Caprow, who teaches art at San Francisco’s Congregation Beth Sholom, is curator of the art exhibit, which opens Sunday, Feb. 8 on the campus of Jewish Community High School of the Bay, also in San Francisco. That night, Caprow moderates a panel discussion with gallery owner George Krevsky, artist Anthony Dubovsky, Natasha Perlis of the Jewish Museum San Francisco, Berkeley Chabad rabbi and mohel Chanan Feld, and poet and visual artist and Lehrhaus Judaica teacher Daniel Y. Harris.

Bringing together so many disparate elements in a monthlong, area-wide event is daunting, but “Feast” organizers have been doing it awhile.

“The underlying basis is that Jewish learning can take place anywhere, anytime,” says BJE’s Mariana Roytman. “Not just in a school or temple. We can bring Jewish education to a law firm or doctor’s office, or turn someone’s home into a beit midrash,” a house of Jewish study.

Added Rabbi Ari Cartun of Congregation Etz Chayim in Palo Alto, “It’s really great that once a year in a Torah context, Jews can see that other Jews, both rabbis and lay people, can learn together. That is its own reward.”

The “Feast of Jewish Learning 2004,” sponsored by the S.F.-based BJE, begins Saturday, Jan. 31, and features educational events and exhibits throughout the month of February. Information: (415) 751-6983 or

Related story: Jewish Who’s Who of history’s dreamers: Einstein, Freud among world’s great visionaries

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.