As I write this, I'm watching the Super Bowl. I don't really care about football, and I certainly don't have a preference in this match up. I do like watching the ads, just like everyone else. I try to make note of when the Super Bowl is, ever since I cluelessly booked a gig back in my singer/songwriter days on Super Bowl Sunday and didn't know why only four people showed up to the concert.
So why watch? More than touchdowns, I believe in touchstones. Cultural touchstones. Those moments or topics or names that actually dissolve differences and bring people together for even one brief shining minute. Before being able to record TV shows, we had to plan to watch a show, and we knew that others were sitting down just like we were, to watch the Beatles, the lift-offs, the premieres. "Where were you when….?" Or, whistling the theme from Andy Griffith. Or watching someone deftly jump around an ottoman, ala Dick Van Dyke. Or saying, "My name is Ishmael." Cultural touchstones are getting harder and harder to identify or share; we're not all experiencing something at similar moments in time, because we are far more in control of our time than we ever were.
There are Jewish-culture touchstones, those words or references to which the other person immediately connects, or at least we assume they should, causing a bond within a mutually identified community. If I say "gribenes," I know there's a segment of the Jewish world, of a certain age, that will know exactly what I mean, and (if they're being honest) their mouths will start to water. But my Mizrahi friends will have no idea what I'm talking about.
So what are the truly communal cultural touchstones? There are some, I think….things like "Sinai" or "Egypt" or perhaps making the motion of putting ten drops of wine from a glass onto a plate. Perhaps someone saying "tekiyah" when a train whistle has a certain tone to it, and everyone smiles. Or beating one's chest in a certain way, reminiscent of Yom Kippur's confessions.
However, these references only make sense to those members of the Jewish community who have a synagogue/liturgy context to draw upon. They mean nothing to anyone else.
If there are different Jewish-culture touchstones for different generations, different ethnic origins, different practices, then how do we ever find the ones that truly cross these divides? Is it Israel? Is it Passover? Is it Shabbat (or is it even called "Shabbat" as opposed to "Shabbes" or "Sabbath")? What really binds us anymore?
By the time you read this, the post-game friendly bets and less-than-friendly critics will have run their course, and the ones who didn't watch the game will feel just a little less left out. Some may not feel left out at all. It's one thing to feel left out about a football game, though, and quite another to feel left out of an entire faith-tradition. We have to find those Jewish touchstones, find those moments that transcend distinctions of practice, gender, geography, and more….find those moments that bring us together, nodding, understanding each other's shorthand, solidifying our communal identity.