I am writing this column on my 54th wedding anniversary. A milestone of this many years is certainly worth celebrating, yet the festivity for me is muted, as my husband is not well. Nonetheless, for all these years, we both agreed on, and still enjoy, a good cup of coffee. Now, every morning I bring him a latte with almond milk. As the famous saying goes: life is too short for a bad cup of coffee. (Note that I do not include instant “coffee” in the category of coffee.)
Indeed, life really is too short. My husband and I have both been blessed – and I can say that, even given our current circumstances – to have lived long, wonderful lives. Not all are so privileged. But, like most people, we want more. We want more years and we want them with good coffee.
I am not pining for more material goods; rather, for my husband and I, bad coffee signifies not settling for the lowest common denominator. It means that we have an obligation – politically, socially and especially educationally – to hold ourselves and those around us to high standards. If I won’t be satisfied with bad coffee, I won’t accept poor schooling, lousy textbooks, weak teaching, failing social safety nets and inadequate leadership.
Our time in school is too short. Why should we sacrifice our children’s time in school to inappropriate curricula because that’s all there is? In every aspect of life, we owe it to ourselves, and our community, to make every moment count.
There are a multitude of surrogates for bad coffee. Mediocrity overwhelms and devastates. Acceptance is the normal, polite reaction. What have we acceded to in our political lives as a community, without any fanfare? Why do we settle for less when we know what excellence is? In other words, why do we accept bad coffee?
I am not referring to our inalienable right to disagree about what constitutes good or bad coffee. We all have different tastes and opinions. In a healthy society, there is open debate about what is appropriate, what is good and what is bad. Rather, I am speaking of our common acknowledgement of bad coffee: of poor management or political representation that we simply choose to accept.
How often do we look at those who are passionate about a cause and think to ourselves, or whisper to our neighbour, “What are they so crazy about?” It is exactly those types of remarks and attitudes that often fuel the level of tolerance that refuses to repudiate bad coffee. Or worse: what happens when we allow others to take the place of our conscience and determine for us what good coffee tastes like?
For my husband especially, good coffee was analogous to a distinctive, fulsome Jewish life. We did not accept a pale imitation of Judaism, but we also understood adaptations and diversity. The motto, “Life is too short,” forced us to live fully Jewish, but also obligated us to avoid an exclusive, elitist and intolerant form of Judaism. Orthodoxy did not mean you had to do it my way. It did not mean that there is only one way. History forbids such a biased interpretation.
For us, being Jewish meant looking for the good in Jews, not unearthing the absent or missing parts. As a rabbi, my husband was always delighted to hear from his congregants how they celebrated Pesach in their countries of origin. He never said, “You did it incorrectly.” He always found the good coffee in Jewish diversity. Life is too short to avoid our rich cultural heritage. He taught me that, and that’s what I’m celebrating today.