LOS ANGELES (JTA) — Valentine’s Day is coming — as a Jew right now, are you feeling the love? Between the Madoff swindle and the invasion of Gaza, there’s not a whole lot of love toward Jews in the air.
The Jewish community could use a nice card right about now. Not one of those post-modern sarcastic ones, either.
Yes, Valentine’s Day is not a Jewish day. But a card with a “yasher koach,” a “may you have strength” from someone, would be awfully nice right now for a community rocked by affinity scams, budget meltdowns and protest demonstrations.
Sometimes you just can’t wait for that card to come from that special someone; heavy duty hints are in order, you begin to write the card in your head.
What should the card look like and say?
Jews are no strangers to paper cutting — it has been a means of Jewish expression since flourishing in the 18th and 19th centuries. So perhaps something inspired by this style is in order.
Nor are Jews any strangers to love poetry. “The Song of Songs,” Shir HaShirim, is highly charged with kisses, fragrance and a “banner of love,” and Sephardic love songs from medieval Spain such as “Avrix mi galanica,” “Let me in my love,” are filled with longings of personal passion.
Hmmm. Maybe a bit too personal for that first card.
More broadly, Irving Berlin told America in one of his songs that “falling in love is wonderful.” Maybe America needs now to hear why it’s wonderful to fall in love with Jews.
Yes, we have all seen the books and online lists of Jewish contributions, and read books like the “Gifts of the Jews,” but why should the world really love Jews?
To create an answer, I have my paper and scissors out, and quill in hand. I am going to make a Valentine, er, a papercut, and practice a little ahavat Yisrael, love of the people Israel, counting the ways I love Jews.
You need to love Jews for:
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?
(Edmon J. Rodman is a Los Angeles writer and designer.)