RB EYES FRIDAYS: Can you believe it’s not butter?!

Articles, RB Eyes Fridays — By on January 18, 2013 2:12 pm
Join us this week at 4:30 in the Pottruck Family Atrium to welcome shabbat and the beginning of a long weekend!

89187775_543962c887 (2)In Memory of Neil Armstrong (August 5, 1930 to August 25, 2012)

True story: Summer 1978. Eagle River, Wisconsin.  Two children born and raised in New York City step out of a cabin and look up at a cloudless night sky.  The younger one, a boy, nine years old, mesmerized by the density of the stars, is the first to speak: “Wow!” (Very long pause.) “It’s just like the planetarium!”

This anecdote told about my brother, usually elicits a knowing laugh. But I’m still not sure why it’s funny. Put aside the fact that I’m the other New Yorker in the story and the fact that inversion is a standard trope in humor, and let’s just focus on the premise: Pity the child who has been raised so far removed from the “natural world” that his only frame of reference for a night sky is an artificially constructed replica of a night sky!

But fifteen years later, almost to the day, I had a mirrored experience: I was living in Sofia, Bulgaria just after “the changes” (the end of Communist rule) and I saw a big advertisement for a “ground-breaking” Van Gogh exhibit on the other side of town. Eager for a cultural experience from the realm of the familiar (I had been spending a lot of time with Eastern Orthodox icons, Byzantine frescoes and non-English speakers) I made my way to the gallery only to discover that the exhibit amounted to a few posters from Van Gogh shows in assorted Western European countries.   “Wow!” I thought. “It’s just like a museum gift shop!” The premise: Pity the people who have been raised so far removed from the “world” of Western culture that a display of posters qualifies as a major cultural event.

Scoffing comes from a place of privilege but also from an assumption that “real” is always better than “artificial” (margarine, anyone? Pink Floyd laser light show?). Sure, I believe that there is intrinsic and unreplicable value in our communion with the “natural world.” The experience of staring at a real night sky is not the same as an experience in a planetarium but is it inherently better? Standing in front of a reproduction of a painting is not the same as standing in front of the original but that doesn’t mean I can’t feed my soul and expand my mind in both circumstances.

They are not the same. But why is one better than another? Maybe it depends on what you’re hoping for from the experience.  If I want to gauge the texture of Starry Night, looking at the original is preferable by far, but if I want to see Mars as more than a tiny red-orange spot in the sky (without hitching a ride from NASA) I’ll get more from going to the planetarium. It really depends on what you’re looking for.

Our perceptions of the “real” and the “artificial” are as blurry as the values we place in them. The master of discernment, Sherlock Holmes didn’t make those distinctions. He was clear about his agenda and minimized assumptions.  Open to finding value in any person, place or thing, Holmes could filter his perceptions with great clarity. To wit, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are camping. They pitch their tent under the stars and go to sleep.   Sometime in the middle of the night Holmes wakes Watson and says: “Watson, look up at the sky.  What does it tell you?” Watson ponders the sky for a few minutes and then says: “Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets.  Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three in the morning. Theologically, I can see that God is omnipotent and that we are insignificant. Meteorologically, I suspect that we need not be concerned about rain. What does it tell you?” Holmes: “That somebody stole our tent.”

And with that I offer the hope that the coming Shabbat is REALLY full of shalom,



photo: Bluedharma~Creative Commons



  1. Batshir Torchio says:

    Hysterical! Loved this piece. There is a split in our home between those who insist on the higher grade (much higher priced) maple syrups and those who want only lower cost corn syrup based “imposters.”

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