“Turn it over and over again.” Ecclesiastes
As I was flipping through My Farmer’s Almanac (a gift from the Boy’s Club and Boys Town, a most worthy charity I support personally), I was pleased that among the many worldwide New Year traditions was included Apples dipped in Honey. Yes, slipped in among other foods that promised prosperity in the coming secular New Year were others: India – rice, Switzerland – dollops of whipped cream, Holland – fritters called olie bollen, and last but not least below the Mason Dixon line are black eyed peas and pork, the latter one of which we have boycotted for some 3000 years.
As a student of religion and culture, I am interested in all the different ways of celebrating the New Year, be it Moslem, Persian, Thai, Hindu, or Chinese, this last culture for which we can give thanks for firecrackers. I am of course biased for our fall observances which are now more than 9 months away. Ours is a more sobering effort to ward off bad fortunes in the year to come. The citizens of Thailand who shoot off guns do so, it is argued, to ward off demons. As for me I am, knock on wood, not superstitious. I work hard to add to my knowledge of other traditions in an effort to walk a mile in their moccasins.
Still, one hurdle I on occasion fail to surmount is superstitions. I find myself in sympathy with Bill Maher, (but only on occasion) who disses religion at every turn. He never misses an opportunity to paint a wide brush noting how there are immoral excesses championed by almost every faith community; from abuse of children, to hedonistic conspicuous consumption of Lamborghini’s by one minister in the midst of poverty, from ultra-religious Jews who trafficked in body parts, oh the list goes on. In truth every endeavor of human kind can disappoint. I love science, but many a scientist is responsible for the hideous effects of napalm. Art, as Hitler proved, can be misused in degenerative ways to champion the idea of Aryanism.
Yet, religion is particularly prone to charges of hypocrisy for it does as the Hebrew national commercial celebrates “hold us to a higher standard.” In one of Chaucer’s acclaimed works, The Priory, one corrupt cleric is reprimanded by a denizen for his greed: “If gold rusts, what ought iron to do?” This of course brings me to Israel, a flawed state as is any state. Ben-Gurion once quipped somewhat crudely, “We will have state when a Jewish Judge sentences a lady of the evening (He was more descriptive) who was arrested by a Jewish policeman.” Well we certainly attained that with news of corruption, fanaticism, and more than that which comes from the Promised Land. Still, I am mindful of all that Israel is; building a thriving city by a hundred daring pioneers on a sandy beach 100 plus years ago, now called Tel Aviv where millions of Jews reside, an economic powerhouse fueled by great innovation in medicine and chemistry and more, and not to minimize a sanctuary for Jews when none existed is the 1930’s. All this while fighting some 7 existential wars in its defense.
There is a site I favor Israel 21C on the web. Get it! It balances some of the dire concerns that many rightly have. Just a week ago came this jewel of information: Israel ranks as world’s third most educated country Israel outranks US and South Korea for percentage of citizens aged 25 higher education, whether academic or vocational .64 holding a degree in Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) calculated the percentage of each country ’ and 64 who have completed a twoor fours population between the ages of 25 year degree beyond high school including both academic and vocational programs. 50.9 percent of Israelis in the target age bracket have a higher education degree.
The United States came in at No. 5, with only 46.4 percent (Ouch!). The most educated country in the world is Canada at 56.7 percent.I am buoyed by such news. It levels the negativity that mostly gets the attention of the press. (No, I am not saying such is fake news.) On the good front as well statistics reveal (Pew report) that the most educated group about religions of America are Jews, with atheists, believe it or not coming in a close second. (I guess they wish to “ know their enemy! ”) This of course leads to my closing New Year wish. Cultural Judaism is fine. But after 3,000 years of achievement and struggle I hate to think that we are best known for Bagels and Lox, and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Let ’ s make the New Year a more informed one. We have a wonderful library. Use it! Read a Jewish book from time to time!
Happy New Year!
Rabbi Yossi Liebowitz