‘NEW JEWS’ ARE WILLING TO EMBRACE ETHOS OF THE ZEROES
June 2, 2000
I PLACED a bowl of shimmering Waterford crystal on our dining table this Shabbat evening, and partly filled it with flat, blue glass pebbles before filling it almost to the brim with water.
On the surface of the water I placed three coin-like candles, which drifted and trembled from rim to rim.
The sunshine gradually faded as our meal lingered — we eat in the conservatory, a long avenue of glass jutting out towards the swimming pool and the Thames on the north side of the house.
As the daylight dimmed, the candles became a focus, until the whole table seemed to be set around them. There is no more beautiful sight than small flames against English dusk.
I chose the bowl, the pebbles and the candles in a feng shui shop near Covent Garden. The assistant explained that water favoured feminine Yin energy and fire typified masculine Yang power.
The two balanced perfectly in a sea of blue, and if I placed them at a northerly point of my home, I would help my career to flourish.
Many readers will wince at the idea of enhancing the Shabbat experience with feng shui lore. I was tempted to the idea when I read that Carole Meltzer, one of America’s gurus of Eastern tradition, had been advising Californian Jews on celebrating Passover.
‘‘Do not seat the husband opposite the wife,’’ warns Meltzer. ‘‘Positioning spouses in opposition makes people choose between male and female energy.
‘‘Passover is about joining together. Better put a guest opposite the host and the wife in the middle.’’
At my own table, I prefer to seat myself in the middle, and my wife across and to one side of me. We do not wish to dominate our meal but to share it — guests are often placed at the head of the table, since they are the most honoured of the company.
My instinct is wholly Jewish, but it finds a pleasing echo in feng shui. My instinct for the candles would also satisfy the Chinese sages. Could it be that feng shui and Judaism are two sides of the same talisman?
I find it easy to enjoy the appeal of this 4,000-year-old nature religion, which offers a kaleidoscope of rules and patterns to put your life and your decor at one with the landscape.
Feng shui provides unlimited opportunity for spending money on furniture and decorations. If it had no higher spiritual purpose, the incentive to spend on luxuries would be enough to guarantee its success.
The pleasure it brings to my spirit, and the inspiration these minor pleasures of home furnishing deliver to my soul, make feng shui a true delight.
I am not alone. In Britain and Israel, across Europe, and especially in America, the trivial purchases of life are becoming the ones which give new energy to our spirits.
If we buy a cup of coffee, we are no longer satisfied with something bitter and filtered, warm and wet. We want freshly-ground beans, and a choice of them — Indonesian, South American, Kenyan and Indian.
We want every conceivable variant of milkiness — latte, au lait, capuccino or plain americano.
If we buy a candle, it must be hand-rolled by a woman from a village co-operative in Nicaragua or Gujarat, earning a living wage and with access to decent health care and clean water.
If we buy a wicker chair, the wood must be from sustainable forests, and the seat must be woven by children who have at least good access to real education.
We are conspicuous consumers, but we are also renegades from the rat-race.
Sociology has a word for us — we are Bo-bos, Bourgeois Bohemians. The term, coined by David Brooks of the US Evening Standard, encompasses dotcom millionaires and pro bono lawyers, media consultants and soap salesmen (provided the soap is manufactured by a black South African collective and marketed via catalogues printed on recycled coconut paper).
For Bo-bos, says Brooks, ‘‘life is not about making money. It’s about doing something you love. Life should be an extended hobby. It’s all about working for a company that’s as cool as you are.’’
Or worshipping a God who is as cool as you are.
I am a Bo-bo, and I’ve been one for as long as I can remember. It is the natural state of any successful Jew — take pleasure in what you do, and do it well. Don’t let money cramp your spirit, and don’t be afraid to spend money either. Capitalism just caught up with Judaism.
Our religion has a conservative image, for all that — perhaps because we have stood by our beliefs while all humanity’s spirit was in flux during 4,000 years.
I am strongly in favour of presenting a new face to the new millennium, a face informed by the oldest wisdom on Earth.
Since we will never relinquish our spiritual certainties, why not invent a new shell, a fresh skin?
We are more than Bo-bos —we are New Jews. We appreciate the teachings of other cultures, such as Chinese laws of energy through water flow and submission to our landscape. We are open to old beliefs and new conceptions.
Let’s rebadge. Let’s regroup behind a new corporate image. Let’s embrace the ethos of the Zeroes, the fresh decade, and be a regenerated incarnation of our ancient race. A reinvented culture for a revitalised era. New Jews.
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