In 2009, after teaching teenagers in Lod for fourteen years, Natour-Hafi dreamt of creating an Arabic High School, where students would feel proud about themselves and their respective identities. Garnering financial support from Israeli entrepreneur Yossi Vardi, she embarked on her mission. As a Muslim woman who had attended a Catholic primary school, a Jewish high school, and Bar-Ilan University, where she acquired a deeper understanding of our people's story and connection to the land, she was well equipped to pursue her dream. "You change racism by knowing someone," she said. "You change racism by education."
But her journey was not without difficulty. Natour-Hafi quickly realized that she was building not only a school, but also a sanctuary. Challenged by parents who doubted the value of an education for their children, she faced students raised in abject poverty, who were victims of violence and scarred by emotional abuse. One local imam said that anyone who comes to her school must be killed, calling her the most dangerous thing that has ever come to Lod. Her husband was shunned in the mosque during prayer. Her house was attacked and she often had to come to school with a police escort. All because of her vision. All because of her courageous dream.
But Natour-Hafi is tireless in her efforts, a hero and role model to her students, and her ultimate goals go well beyond her current accomplishments. She hopes to create a school where Arabs will understand their own history, and construct a future together with Jews, where Arabs will be unafraid to meet young Jewish people and interact with them. And she wants to educate parents too. Natour-Hafi reminded us:
There is nothing that is impossible. You have to have courage to bring about change. And when you want to make a change in society and everyone loves you, you're not changing anything. I can't save one thousand students, but I know from the Talmud that he who saves one life [it is as if he saved the entire world]...Only when I finish my dreams will I go home. This is not easy. It is a daily struggle. But I don't have a choice.
Seven years into her journey, Natour-Hafi is seeing glimpses of success. Dr. Rania Okby, the first female Bedouin doctor in the world, graduated from Ort High School. Engineers from El Al, and representatives from Hewlett-Packard, Indigo and Google come and provide free lectures to stimulate the thinking of students. And Natour-Hafi's annual curriculum includes Jewish teachers, Jewish workers, as well as a discussion of Jewish and secular ideologies, because in Natour-Hafi's words, "[My students] have to learn from these sources too in order to thrive in the world."
As our group of rabbis left the high school that afternoon, we were awestruck, and some of us were in tears. Just a few days earlier another rabbi had opened a lecture by asking us, "What is the burning message in your soul that is yearning to be spoken? What is the truth that needs to be revealed, that needs to be given voice?" And here, deep in the heart of Israel's worst neighborhood, was Shirin Natour-Hafi, who was not only answering these questions, but also busy repairing the world with passion and purpose, effort and dedication.
Where will we find our next unsung hero? Could that person be one of us, right here, right now? The High Holy Days are a time for critical self-reflection, what we call in Hebrew, cheshbon ha-nefesh, an accounting of our souls. Since last Rosh Hashanah, what have we achieved? How have our lives changed in just a short period of time? And yet last year is over. With the sound of the shofar we awaken to new possibilities. No longer dwelling upon what was, we instead begin to focus on what may yet be. What is the burning message in our souls that is yearning to be spoken this year? What are the truths that need to be revealed, that need to be given voice? And following Natour-Hafi's remarkable example, what are our courageous dreams?
It is time that we reframe our conversation as a congregation, as a sacred community. In a world and nation torn by violence and pain, cynicism and dishonesty, where families are fractured, where our loved ones are subject to illness and tragedy, where our nation remains fraught with racial divisions, where guns find their way into schools with terrible consequences, where there is a continued absence of gender equality, where children are going hungry, where the Israel that we love and admire and hope for remains deeply conflicted, where we encounter so much suffering day-in and day-out, it is too easy ask the question, "Well, what good is a dream? Who are we to reach out and help? Who are we to fix the world?" And yet each of us has power as individuals, and even greater power when we come together as a community, united in our efforts to speak out and act in support of each other, our families, our community, and our world.
A congregation is no place for going through the motions, in prayer, in learning, or in action. A congregation is a place to bring our dreams into reality, together. As Dr. Gordon Livingston has written, "I prefer to challenge people to relinquish passivity, stop waiting for answers outside themselves, mobilize their courage and determination, and try to discover what changes will bring them closer to others and to the people they want to be."
A few months ago, a video went viral on the Internet asking New Yorkers to express their biggest regrets about life, writing these thoughts and feelings on a chalkboard in the middle of a park. One word was common to each regret - "not" having done this, or "not" having done that. So instead of sharing regrets, this year, let's share and rally around our hopes and our courageous dreams. Who and what do we want to be as individuals? How do we envision ourselves as part of this sacred community? What is our courageous dream for the world that we want to work to achieve, in part, in the coming year?
Take these questions to your dinner table tonight and your lunch table tomorrow. Ask your family and your friends about those burning messages in your souls that are yearning to be spoken. Ask each other about the truths that we need to reveal together. Share your courageous dream and share your vision. Life is deeply and preciously fragile. But that's no excuse to live without trying or without dreaming. Natour-Hafi said:
I cannot be tired. I cannot be sad. I have to be optimistic. I didn't give up because I had a dream. To be a human being is to make a commentary on the act of responsibility. We can't just take from the world - we have to give back.
No one said that our journey as a congregation would ever be easy. Former President and Prime Minister of Israel Shimon Peres once said, "From my earliest youth, I have known that while one is obligated to plan with care the stages of one's journey, one is entitled to dream, and keep dreaming, of its destination." It is this journey of heart, of soul, of mind, and of community, to which we recommit ourselves, as we strive to make this next year, one of realized hopes, and fulfilled courageous dreams.
 Dr. Gordon Livingston, And Never Stop Dancing, Kindle Locations 443-44.