Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Kids be a mensch

Being Passover it seems appropriate that I your grandfather, a secular Jew, tell you kids what continues to most impress me about the believers long after personal belief has gone. Any religion that doesn't pursue converts has a lot going for it but I find most appealing is the concept of the mensch. 
"A decent, honourable person with admirable characteristics" is how the The Free Dictionary translates the Yiddish plaudit.
You cannot bestow the title on yourself; it is for others to decide. There is no precise English equivalent. "A good bloke" and whatever its female equivalent don't come close to defining a mensch.
You can be the richest, best educated, and most religious person in the land and not be a mensch. This is because the word implies action. To be a mensch you have to do the right thing at the right time.
Growing up I put my own particular spin on the word. I distanced the concept from motive. As long as you did the right thing, it didn't matter too much about what was going on in your head. The hero who is terrified is more of a mensch than the one who knows no fear.
So kids make sure you visit me regularly in the old people's home even if I don't recognise you and however unpleasant you find the malodorous, crumbling flesh. Be a mensch. 

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