March 22, 2007
Holy oatmeal—it’s better than fiber!
"Quick, come here," Gary Marcus yelled to his wife. "Bring a camera."
Marsha Marcus came running into the kitchen of their Northridge home. She saw her husband staring into the pot of oatmeal he was cooking on the stove. As she peered inside, she saw why her husband had summoned her.
There it was, in the pot of simmering oatmeal, rising out of the foam, a perfectly formed Star of David.
"It's because of the rabbi's blessing," she immediately said, snapping three photos with her cell phone camera while the image retained its symbolic shape for several minutes.
The rabbi's blessing had arrived via e-mail three days earlier, stating "May God grant you his abundant blessings that you merit to find gainful employment to your heart's content -- very soon."
It came from Chabad of the Valley's Rabbi Joshua Gordon, whom Marsha Marcus had contacted regarding her husband's job status and who routinely extends e-mail blessings to people needing assistance.
To Marsha Marcus, the Star of David was confirmation. She believed her husband, a global purchasing and sourcing manager who had worked for the same company for 24 years, would soon be gainfully re-employed.
A friend of hers from the sisterhood at Temple Ramat Zion, where the Marcus family, including daughter, Alison, 22, and son, David, 20, are members, agreed.
"This means something," the friend said.
To Marsha Marcus, a Star of David has always held special meaning. Literally representing the shield of King David and a universal symbol of Judaism, it signifies protection to her.
In fact, soon after she and Gary were married, 34 years ago, she commissioned a jeweler to make a gold Star of David for her husband. He stopped wearing it after a while and it sat in a drawer for decades. But several weeks ago, feeling the need for its protective powers, Marsha Marcus started wearing it herself.
"I'm very spiritual," Marsha Marcus explained.
Gary Marcus, however, takes a more rational approach.
"I figure things happen because they happen, not because of someone or something," he said.
Still, the tendency to find meaningful patterns where none are intended is a common phenomenon known as pareidolia (from the Greek para meaning faulty and eidolon meaning image).
"We call it pattern-seeking behavior," said Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic Magazine and monthly columnist for Scientific American. "That's what people do so well."
Generally people see faces, according to Shermer, because we use faces to attach and imprint. Often these are faces of Jesus or other religious figures. And, in fact, a 10-year-old grilled cheese sandwich said to bear the image of the Virgin Mary sold on eBay in 2004 for $28,000.
"Religious symbols match faces in emotional intensity," Shermer said, although he was not aware of any tradition or examples of pareidolia in Judaism.
Still, Marsha Marcus believes her husband will find a new job through this experience.
"It is already a miracle," she said. "Truly."