Sunday, April 27, 2008
In a global era when every waking moment is a brand new brand experience, where we are bombarded with words and logos, from products and services to branded peopleæwhat is the Brand of the Jews?
By that, I don’t simply mean the Mogen David either, (like the one Gilda Radner wore on the backside of her Jewess Jeans in the old SNL spoof.)
Rather what I mean is, that if there were a word, one word, that personifies and elicits Judaism, what would it be?
I wonder because it’s important to understand that in our overloaded, overextended, time-crunched, soundbite, info age, where our mental storage capacity has about as much room as a cramped Lower East Side apartment with five sets of extended relatives living inside it, a word is a branding device that serves as a trigger to a wider world. When we refer to “Jewish”, what word do we want people to associate with it?
What imagery? What emotion? What do we want to yield?
Recently in the world of politics, the Obama campaign looked at the country and realized we were looking for “Change”. He grabbed a hold of its gist and made it his.
Hillary on the other hand, ran on experience and when that wasn’t working tried to borrow “change” but it was too late. Obama claimed it and owned it.
So in this age of verbal singularity and of linguistic oneness where a word can hold so much power, what word comes to mind that embraces Judaism?
It should be obvious as it’s the same one we say every day, and we bind as a sign on our hearts, and on our doorposts, between our eyes and it’s in the Shema. Yes, it’s “One”.
After all we’ve gone through, ever since the Diaspora spread us out on every far flung continent and region of the world, still (and to paraphrase the words of Gertrude Stein), “A Jew is a Jew is a Jew.”
While there are branches that have grown out from the tree, we all stem from the same trunk and we all hold one thing in common, dating back to Abraham—one God.
It’s what unites us.
But because those branches have grown so far and have intertwined with other religions and cultures, sprouting unique offshoots, rather than cut them off, we need to enrich them by realizing and communicating what we all have in common.
Recently, I attended an evening of music and coffee and met some Ugandan Jews who keep the Sabbath, sing Hebrew songs and obey the laws of kashrut. I didn’t even know there were Jews in Uganda. Did you?
But while they were so different culturally, they were still Jews. They even donned embroidered kipot (how’s that for symbolism), woven with vibrant colors of their culture incorporating universal Jewish iconography.
That we were one, under the same tent (ok, it was the roof of a synagogue in Roland Park) was a pretty incredible experience. It also got me thinking about our commonality and what that was and how important it is, if Jews are to remain a relevant force, on a global scale. (Not to harp too much on the Obama phenomenon), but we better find what unites us and makes us, hm…well, one, rather than what divides us as Jews.
Why now? Two reasons. One is simply the need to encapsulate our message to an immediately understood, intuitive level that speaks across continents. Given the inordinate amount of information out there, human beings don’t have the capacity to absorb the complexities of 600+ commandments. We don’t lose ‘em, but we need to create that unique position, that niche that identifies us globally in the mind first.
The second is, the world is flat and we can now communicate with each other on a plain we never could before.
One world. One God. One people.