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All members of the tribe face a common destiny and have a personal interest in helping their fellows to survive

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Miss Rose Bodanis, pictured here in the early 1920’s with her class, originated the Hebrew Theatre at Talmud Torah School in Winnipeg. (Photo: Boroditsky Bros. archives)

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I find it totally amazing how the cultural traditions of the individual tribes making up the human continuum distinctly alter the way we live. Although the world’s communities draw closer every day to a commonality as we learn more about the lives of each of us, it is the differences between us that add so much color to our lives. We probably don’t appreciate that as much as we should.

It is particularly depressing to me when some of us consider those differences as something we should try to eliminate. And I find it particularly alarming when individual states decide their tribal norms to be of such importance that they feel they should take action within their borders to try to eliminate the expression of any of those that are different, feeling that, for some reason, those differences threaten their own. When those expressions are also wrapped up in a religious mantra, things become even more threatening, and even dangerous, for all concerned.

It would not be at all surprising to my readers that I am particularly attached to the cultural traditions which were associated with my personal upbringing in Winnipeg. It always appeared to me that their expression offered much in the way of positives for general community consideration. From ancient times our sages laid out directions as to how healthy communities were to be structured.

During many centuries of wandering, long before states were structured to respond to the needs of all individuals in the community. Jewish communities, wherever they were, built self-supported institutions designed to fill those needs, maintained by community-based taxation, following the pattern established in their ancient homeland. Inherent in the approach is a recognition that all members of the tribe face a common destiny and have a personal interest in helping their fellows to survive.

There was always a religious center, a school, a philanthropic agency, and an old-age home. Often there was a small-loan body as well. The authority rested with a Rabbi, supported by a coterie of students, financed by the more financially able who competed for the honor of being chosen to be the senior contributor in every occasion of need. It is evident from these “regulations”, that there existed an ethic regarding how people were dealt with that went far beyond pursuing mere individual self-interest. This approach had been encapsulated in the essence of the Ten Commandments which were the Jewish rules of the road.

Those with the means competed to engage the top students as potential suitors for their daughters. Excellence in studies was valued far above mere financial means in the respect parade. Jewish mothers weighed in on their sons to aspire to academic excellence. Failing that, a doctor, a lawyer, even a dentist, was given pride of place.

Is it any wonder that Jewish boys and girls, failing a dad to put them into business, head for the halls of academe and scientific study. And why, out of all proportion, Jews are represented in the list of Nobel Prize winners?

I am told that it was the tradition in the communities that vanished with the horrors of the Holocaust, that a father would bring his three-year-old son to the school teacher to begin his educational journey. The teacher would begin by teaching the child the alphabet. When the child succeeded in correctly enunciating a letter, his finger would be dipped in honey. The child was taught that knowledge was sweet.

This was a time when the people around then in the general population were, in the main, totally illiterate. The Jews they may have had to associate with from time to time would have been exposed to a complex education from the youngest age involving an historical perspective, geography, logic and even mathematics, as well as an ethical roadmap. Jews had tools to help offset their many social disadvantages.

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We have reports of events from that time relating that many rulers had their Court Jew to advise on weighty matters. And how many reports are there of the presence of a Jew in ruling circles concerned with medical matters. Deciding whether things were Kosher would have required a knowledge of how healthy bodies appeared and functioned. A body of practice would certainly have developed over the centuries providing some medical knowhow.

It may, or may not, have been incidental, but it surely was a life-saver over the centuries that Jews were required for religious reasons to wash their hands before every meal.

Things are much different today with universal education available to so many. We never know from which corner of the universe bright minds will spark to advance humankind. But individual cultures still play an important role in determining the priorities of the young in choosing their paths. There are segments of society where the tendency leads strongly to the military, or to public service in government, or in following a musical tradition or the Arts in one form or another.

For Jews the tendency remains for ventures in business and proprietorship, yielding independence from racial bias. But as strong is the flow into the social sciences and academics following so closely the cultural norms inherent in religion and history.

The power of cultural traditions is evident in the choices people make in deciding their life paths.

Max Roytenberg is an author, poet and blogger, with many published articles in Jewish periodicals in Dublin, New York, Winnipeg and Vancouver. After a career as an Economist and Executive in the Food Industry, in Canada and abroad, he writes, and lives with his Bride, in Vancouver. He has children and grandchildren in the US, Canada, China and Israel. His last book, “Hero In My Own Eyes”, is available through major booksellers and on Amazon.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

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