I was thinking the other day, always a dangerous thing to do. Even though I look pretty Jewish (the big yamulka on my head is a big clue) I’ve still been told a few times when I do something nice that it’s very Christian of me. Of course the people who told me that immediately turned red and started flustering “I mean, eh, um, nice, not that Jews aren’t nice, um, I love Jews, some of my best friends are Jewish, I’ve seen every Seinfeld episode….” But isn’t it nice that Christians define a religious person as someone who is charitable? Being kind is what gets you called “Christian”. For some reason that warmed my heart. Why can’t we value kindness like they do?
But danger be damned, I kept thinking. Is there some word we Jews would use to describe such a person? Of course! “Mensch” Someone who acts uprightly and kindly is called a “Mensch” or if he is exceptional, “A Real Mensch”. Mensch, of course, is Yiddish for “human being”. So while Christians identify kindness as a function of their religion we Jews see it as a defining characteristic of humanity. It seems to be an even more basic aspect of existence.
You don’t act kindly and decently? You’re not just irreligious, you aren’t even human.