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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


December 15, 2017  RSS feed
Rabbinically Speaking

Text: T T T

How do we allow this to happen?

By RABBI ED ROSENTHAL Executive Director, Hillels of the Florida Suncoast

As a product of the television generation, I admit it... I love Game of Thrones, Ray Donovan, and This Is Us. To see them usually entails binge watching over vacation, but that just adds to the fun. So when ABC launched a new series this fall entitled Kevin Probably Saves the World, I was intrigued. It’s a fairly mediocre “dramedy” starring Jason Ritter as Kevin Finn. ABC describes Kevin as “not a good person. He’s not terrible, but he’s selfish, and clueless, and values material wealth and status over all else. And he’s beginning to realize that those things aren’t making him happy—in fact, he’s fairly miserable. Just when things seem to be at their worst, he finds himself tasked with an unbelievable mission… saving the world.” And how is Kevin going to save the world? Well, he is visited by an angel who tells him that he is the last of 36 righteous people whose goodness saves the world. Kevin is tasked with finding the other 35.

If this story line sounds familiar to you, then you are familiar with the ancient Jewish legend of the Lamed- Vav Tzadikim, the 36 righteous people whose goodness ensures the continuation of the world. The basis of the legend comes from the Talmud Tractate Sanhedrin 97b: “Abaye said: The world has no fewer than 36 righteous people in each generation who greet the Divine Presence, as it is stated ‘Happy are all they who wait for Him (Lo)’ Isaiah 30:18.” The legend teaches that these 36 righteous people live their lives in quiet anonymity, but without them the world would be destroyed. The Lamed-Vavniks do not reveal themselves, but through their righteousness and goodness, allow us all to live our lives.

When I saw the first episode of Kevin Probably Saves the World I waited for some reference to the ancient legend of the Lamed-Vavniks. It did not come. When I saw the first episode, I thought the main character would be so good, that everyone would love him. He was not. When I watched the first episode, I thought there would be some mention of Jews, Judaism or a Jewish story. There was none. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement. Anyone who has read Andre Schwarz-Bart’s Last of the Just would be offended at the equivalency of Ernie Levy, walking to his death at Auschwitz among the multitude of innocent martyr of our people crying tears of blood, to the selfish, materialistic, buffoonish Kevin Flinn.

The bigger issue however, is not that this is yet another example of the appropriation of our Jewish tradition, but that our own people don’t know their own heritage. At a time when Harvey Weinstein dominates the news, and Roy Moore is “Mr. Ten Commandments,” our children need to be learning about the Lamed- Vavniks. They need to know of this beautiful teaching that tells us to treat every stranger with kindness, because that person just might be a Tzadik Nistar, a hidden Tzadik (one of the Lamed-Vavniks). They need to know that the Ten Commandments were not written in a courthouse in Alabama, but on Mt. Sinai and given to the Jewish People... and we shared them with the rest of the world. How much of our rich tradition has been lost, whether by appropriation or by our own ignorance? How do we allow this to happen?

As someone who works with college students, I hear the same line all the time: “I’m not religious. I’m spiritual.” Our young people are looking for spirituality. They crave it, but we continue teaching them the same old things; Bible Stories (although we rarely get past the Red Sea) and Holidays. We teach them a language they can’t speak, and tell them they have to know how to read it so they can have a party when they’re 13. Their knowledge of Israel is inadequate, and their commitment to Israel is limited to the thought that, thanks to Birthright, they’ll get a free trip there once they turn 18. Some of the staunchest supporters of Israel today are Christians, not Jews.

As a community, we need to do better. We need to start asking them what they want, not just continuing to teach them what we think they need. The simple fact is this; if we give them what they want, they will eventually want what they need to continue the rich, beautiful heritage of our ancestors. This is how we will ensure the Jewish future….. theirs and ours.

Rabbinically Speaking is published as a public service by the Jewish Press in cooperation with the Tampa Rabbinical Association which assigns the column on a rotating basis.

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