Strange, the things that arise from the subconscious as we awaken. Recently, a memory surfaced of a high school classmate who, “had a joke for me.” I was instantly on alert.
“Why do Jews have big noses?” he had asked, all jazzed to get to his punchline. I stayed mute, trapped, knowing what was coming wouldn’t be funny.
“Because air is free!” he crowed. Bada bing bada boom. If I coulda punched him, I woulda. Instead I stayed mute and left for my next class.
Some fifty years later, an answer to this pernicious slur came to me: “To make good use of all that free air that surrounds us all.” Air is the very breath of life. Air is the Divine gift; it’s absence is the great leveler. Breathless we are all the same.
Ever since the God of the Jews pronounced, “I put before you life and death, therefore choose life” we have internalized this command, using this free air to give thanks for life by living, by prevailing, against all odds. We have breathed that free air into every creative discipline; every sphere of science and business, every aspect of philanthropy, politics, and yes, regretably and thankfully less pervasive, crime.
Air is free. Some Jews have remarkable noses. What we do with our breath is what distinguishes not only the Jew, but each and every one of us fortunate enough to be given breath.