Happy Chanukah & More
I am just going to come out and say it. I am Jewish. Now what that means to you and me could be completely different. Let me digress.
I grew up on Long Island where the majority of my friends were also Jewish. However, unlike them, I went to a very, VERY reformed Temple. A few funny things about this Temple.
1. Architecturally it was constructed with a steeple so it looked more like a Church.
2. The arch doors which are typically opened and closed by hand, were controlled by an electronic door opener. My more conservative friends say this is a big no-no because you aren’t supposed to use electricity on holy days.
To this day, I remember clearly being forced to sit through a sermon on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) or Yom Kippur (The One Where You Don’t Eat) and the Rabbi took out a poster of Bart Simpson that read, “Underachiever And Proud of It Man!”.
Keep in mind this was the early 1990s when the Simpsons first came out and Bart was a hero to all kids. The Rabbi then proceeded to rail against the message of the poster and how being an underachiever is nothing to strive for. At the time, we were all flabbergasted. Did this Rabbi just defame Bart Simpson? Yes he did!
Things like that did not strengthen my calling to the Temple. So after my Bar Mitzvah, I really never looked back to Judaism as a religion. However, knowing the prevailing stereotypes about being Jewish and how that equates to success, I always think back to that Sermon.
That brings me to my main point. The cornerstone of my Jewish identity is a strong work ethic. So while the 12 year old boy in me did not appreciate the Rabbi talking sh!t about Bart Simpson, now that I am older, I realize his sermon is how I identify as being Jewish.
An unrelenting, unstoppable work ethic. The desire to get ahead through hard work and determination. Not being an underachiever!
Another issue which I think adds to the misconceptions about being Jewish is exposure. As of this writing, there are an estimated 4.2 million Jewish people in the United States which is less than 2% of the population. So there is a chance that many people may not have met (or knowingly) interacted with a Jewish person before.
One of my favorite things about my job when I was starting up is that I had a chance to run wine sampling teams at NASCAR events in places like Bristol, Charlotte, Texas, Indianapolis, Daytona and others in which the Jewish population is very, very small. I always made it a point to treat our workers like gold. Their attitudes and work ethic were the key to a successful event so I would buy them lunch, make sure everyone had breaks and gift them with bottles of wine at the end of the event for a job well done. But my favorite thing to do is once I knew they really liked and respected me, on the last day, I would tell them I was Jewish. Many of them were shocked because they never met a Jewish person before. So hopefully I left a positive impression on them instead of them believing an old stereotype.
In closing, my apologies to all the Simpsons lovers out there, but I think the Rabbi was right. However, the sentiment of the sermon shouldn’t just be reserved for Jewish people. Getting up each and every day and working hard to live a better life should be a universal goal – not a religious one. That is why I wanted to share that story with you all.
Hopefully everyone from all religions or no religions can get on board with that.