These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

[Alumni Guest Post] The Word “Jew”

Posted on December 20, 2012 by The Director of Digital Media

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Originally posted on the Ayeka blog
By Aryeh Ben David (Year '80):

Sometimes I start a workshop by asking people if they know what the word “Jew” means. It is amazing how many people do not know what it means.

thkI checked a few encyclopedias, googled it, and was surprised to see how many theories exist regarding where the word came from and how it came to be used as a reference for the people of Israel.

But then I decided not to let these theories complicate my life. There’s really only one definition that I like. There’s really only one that I want to think about when I hear the word Jew.

And that comes from the name Judah, which comes from the word l’hodot, which means to be thankful. I like to think of the word Judaism as meaning – the practice of being grateful.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t still kvetch. I still grumble over why did the coffee have to spill on my favorite book, or why didn’t I stop the car just a bit before that stone. Or why did the battery of my car have to go precisely now, precisely here.

But it helps me to think that as a Jew – I am a grateful one.

How do I become “a grateful one?” Saying thank you to people is often a meaningless expression of being polite. It doesn’t flow from an authentic inner feeling.

How can I make it authentic?

A few weeks ago I tried a new practice out on myself. I looked around my room and began to say thank you for whatever I could. I had to work a bit to stifle the cynical voice inside. Maybe I’ve seen too many Far Side cartoons, and a creeping voice of the comic tried to emerge. I found that when I began to look around the room and say thank you – once I got started it was hard to stop. Electricity, windows, color, music, pens, paper, suddenly I was thankful for the birds chirping outside. I hadn’t heard them before.

I then asked this question to a group of 17 year of boys. Look around the room and find something that you’re grateful for. Find something that makes you go “wow”. Take off your cynical glasses and look again. Find something more.

After 5 minutes one of the boys said – “I’m thankful for the screw in your chair.” A bit shocked at how mundane it was, I asked him why. He said, “Do you realize how many people were involved in getting that screw into that chair? First – someone had to figure out how to mine natural minerals. Then someone had to set up a mine, a factory, and a transportation system. Someone had to figure out cars, trains, and probably boats. Someone had to figure out how to set up a market economy, how to set up stores. Someone had to design the chair, put it together, and then sell it – to you. It probably took 100,000’s of people, if not more, to get that screw from its original place into looking like a screw in your chair. I’m grateful for all of those people.”

scrWhat was the result of his “screw” episode? I’ve never been able to look at a screw in a chair the same way since. It hasn’t changed. But now my eyes are completely different. Now they’re grateful eyes, wide-open eyes, that don’t just see a screw but see its world history and all the people along the way who enabled it to become part of a chair. Now I’m grateful for all of their efforts. Now I see the chair through Jewish eyes.