It’s been a really bad couple of months for Jews—what with the Bernard Madoff investment scandal, on top of the weight of the economic collapse, and the unpopular war in Gaza. That’s exactly why Edmon J. Rodman writes that Jews could use a nice Valentine’s Day card. He’s not sure what that would look like. But he gives 10 good reasons why the world should love Jews:
1. Inventing tzedakah boxes. Low tech. High concept. Coin goes in here—tzedek, justice, comes out there. Portable, cheaply reproducible and hopefully copied by everyone, the box is a powerful communal tool. Dating from the Temple, it provides an anonymous, easy method to contribute. Lives have been rebuilt with it, forests planted, mouths fed, study supported, all from something as simple as a cardboard can.
2. Cooking kasha varnishkes. A side dish of just buckwheat groats and bowtie noodles; think of it as Jewish aromatherapy. The smell gets right up in your head. Like in an old animated cartoon, the aroma transports you to another place: your mother’s or grandmother’s kitchen The Jewish obsession with food has led us to creating food pantries and organizations such as Mazon, “food” in Hebrew,” and Sova, “to be satisfied,” in Los Angeles.
3. Writing a ketubah, a Jewish marriage contract, where everything is spelled out: the responsibilities of the groom and the rights of the bride. Long before Victoria’s Secret, this document exposed other secrets, including a wife’s conjugal rights.
4. Singing “Oyfn pripetshik,” “oh the fire burns,” a Yiddish folk tune about a rabbi in a small village teaching a classroom of young boys their ABCs. So many Jews become teachers that I wonder if this and other Jewish lullabies like “Rozhinkes mit Mandlen,” “raisins and almonds,” have helped to create a predisposition towards educating children and sweetening their futures.
5. Practicing chevruta, a form of Jewish study where two partners sit face to face sans IM, or TM. Each partner makes a contribution to the solution and comes to realize that though methods and minds differ, real learning occurs in this one-on-one exchange. The earliest study group, think of chevruta as Jewish synergy.
6. Asking questions. Beginning with Passover, Jews have many questions, and though often a pain to people in authority, the world should love us for it. The prophetic line of asking tough questions and speaking truth to power runs right through here.
7. Praying for peace. Our prayers include either the blessing of Sim Shalom b’olam, “grant universal peace,” or Shalom Rav, “grant true and lasting peace.” Yes, Israel again finds itself at war. But at the same time, with intention, care and determination, Jews worldwide each day and especially on Shabbat focus on this single peaceful blessing.
8. Giving the world Chelm. Think of it, the world’s first reality show—a place where everyone is goofier than you. As the folklore story goes, an angel is traveling to earth with a sack of simple souls to distribute around the world when the bag rips, sending them all down onto one place—the village of Chelm. What better saving metaphor to have handy on those days when your meeting is canceled or your project dissed: You have wandered into Chelm.
9. Breaking religious law. “Pikuach nefesh,” saving a human life, is a Torah principle that allows an individual to break almost any Jewish law if they are acting to save a life. Jews are allowed to break the Sabbath, or other holiday, or even donate organs if a life, anyone’s, is at stake.
10. Creating the Havdalah service. To move from Shabbat, the day of rest, to the work week, Jews devised Havdalah. Derived from the Hebrew word “l’havdil,” to separate, it’s a simple ceremony that includes a multi-wicked candle and a shaker filled with spices and a cup of wine. The songs soothe, the flame calms, the spices revive, the wine gives a little jolt; you are awakened to the possibilities of another week. If that’s not to love, then what is?
A little different tone and focus than Thomas Cahill’s “The Gifts of the Jews.” Sadly, this article was written for JTA, which leads me to believe Rodman is preaching to the choir.