Of One Thing You Can Be Certain

You may have seen this story:

In the mid-nineties, a Jewish advertising executive wondered: what if the New York Times – the “Paper of Record” – printed the Shabbos candle lighting time each week? Imagine the Jewish awareness and pride that might result from such a prominent mention of Shabbos each week. He contacted a Jewish philanthropist and sold him on the idea. It cost nearly two thousand dollars a week but he agreed to fund it. For the next five years, every Friday, Jews around the world would see ‘Jewish Women: Shabbat candle lighting time this Friday is _____”

Eventually the philanthropist had to reduce the number of projects he had been funding. And, so, in June 1999, the little Shabbos candle lighting notice made its last appearance in the New York Times. At least that’s what people thought.

On January 1, 2000, the NY Times ran a Millennium edition commemorating the paper’s 100th anniversary. It was a special issue that featured three front pages. One contained the news from January 1, 1900. The second contained the actual news of the day, January 1, 2000. And the third front page, featured projected headlines of January 1, 2100. It included such stories as a welcome to the fifty-first state: Cuba and a debate over the issue of whether robots should be allowed to vote. And so on. And, in addition to the creative articles, there was one extra piece. Down on the bottom of the Year 2100 front page, was the candle lighting time in New York for January 1, 2100. Nobody asked for it. Nobody paid for it. It was just put in by the Times. The production manager of the New York Times – an Irish Catholic – was asked about this curious entry. His answer speaks to the eternity of our people and to the power of Jewish ritual.”We don’t know what will happen in the year 2100. It is impossible to predict the future. But of one thing you can be certain. That in the year 2100 Jewish women will be lighting Shabbos candles.”

What lessons can be learned from such a story?

19 comments on “Of One Thing You Can Be Certain

  1. I’m 53, I was born in 1956, and like many Baby Boomers I grew up in the shadow of the Cold War. We were told that the Soviets had enough thermonuclear warheads to destroy the world 300 or so times over, and that the Americans had enough to destroy the world 3000 or so times over. Everyone talked about Mutual Assured Destruction.

    During elementary school we had air raid drills, kids would crouch under their desks to be safe from flying glass from the windows, or we would line up class by class and walk downstairs with our teachers into the basement, which displayed the three triangle Fallout Shelter sign.

    Even popular songs echoed imminent doom, as those from that era recall the tune, “Eve of Destruction” which hit the charts in the mid-sixties. Movies and science fiction over and over played on the theme of an upcoming apocalypse and survival by a few in a horrifying post-apocalypse world. Khrushchev of the USSR said, “The living will envy the dead.”

    The current President of Harvard University, Drew Gilpin Faust, discovered in the Widener Library archives a letter written by the 1950’s President of Harvard University to whomever would be President of Harvard University in the 21st Century (it was somehow not discovered by Larry Summers). This letter to the future expressed typical mid-century fears of a World War III which would turn into a ghastly nuclear war.

    As expressed by a well-known scientist, World War IV and V would be fought by cavemen with stones and sticks. Nobody in the 1950’s or 60’s realistically thought we’d make it to the year 2000, and now that we’re still here, people are amazed to think that we might still be here in the year 2100.

    There is some kind of a prediction in the Aggadita that before Moshiach comes, “the King of Persia will destroy the whole world.” It’s interesting to note that before 1945 no country really had the power to destroy the whole world, and that before the Shah of Iran was deposed in 1979 by the ayatollahs, Persia (modern day Iran) was a peaceful and moderate nation. Ahmadinejad has the power and the madness to start what might become World War III.

    All this is just to point out that yes, the prospect of still being here in the year 2100 is very exciting, especially to those of us who thought the world wouldn’t make it past 1999.

  2. DK asked, “If there is still civilization in 2100, do any of you people really think that Catholics won’t be crossing themselves, or Muslim blowing themselves up?”

    We hope that Mashiach will have come by then and have put an end to the beliefs supporting that behavior.

  3. Like Bob Miller said in #6, the NYT may not be around in 2100, or if is still around, might be 100 percent electronic and no longer producing a print edition.

    Interesting aside is that the Friday NYT front page candlelighting notice no longer appears, 90 years ahead of the year 2100, because the donor stopped paying for it (it got too expensive and he decided there were better uses for his money).

  4. Judy,

    You know what? Let’s say it happened. So what? If there is still civilization in 2100, do any of you people really think that Catholics won’t be crossing themselves, or Muslim blowing themselves up? We went how many years, and we’re supposed to get all excited about someone certain we’ll still be here in another 100?

    I hope NY is still here in another 100 years. And a NY Times manager is not calming my nerves. Oh, but he’s Irish. (Who cares?)

  5. I know for a fact that the Milennium edition of the New York Times, with the famous front page for January 1, 2100, did have the Friday night candlelighting time notice. That can be easily verified. People saw it and it is now archived on-line and on microfiche.

    Corroborating whether the Irish-Catholic production manager of the New York Times actually made that statement about the Jewish people is a lot more difficult. Unless someone was running an audio recorder when the person said that, or people who heard it spoken all agree about what was said, or the speaker agrees that this is an accurate quote of what he/she said, it may not be verifiable.

  6. Obviously, people who don’t believe in miracles don’t tell miracle stories. But stories they do tell.

  7. that one community is more prone to fabricate these than other communities are—also needs verification!

    The issue isn’t fabrication. The issue is accepting at face value stories that flatter one’s community or their leaders.

    Non-Orthodox Jews simply don’t have the same concept of choseness, nor Gedolim.

    I don’t know of comparable stories about secular or Liberal Jewish leaders such as:

    a leader who knew better than a surgeon how to perform a brain operation; or a secular leader who rode a sea from one country to the next on his oriental rug; or changed black feathers to white ones (while dead); or who advised the Israeli army on striking Iraq’s nuclear facility (all the more incredible since they did not get even the year of that raid right); ended the Russo-Georgian War through a blessing.

    All of these stories are spread around these communities, sometimes even after bring proven false, never mind just not being proven.

    This will continue as long as the community fails to perceive this is a problem.

    How does the community defend such behavior?

    Two ways I know of:

    1) Some stand by the reasoning one would claim such a story, such as, “They don’t tell stories about you and I.”

    2) Others refuse to attach importance of the veracity of the story, noting something like, “Those who believe all of these stories happened are gullible, but those who believe none of these stories could have happened are cynical.”

  8. Of course, feel-good stories need as much verification as any other stories. However, DK’s idea—that one community is more prone to fabricate these than other communities are—also needs verification!

  9. “I had been told about it by an extremely credible source

    That doesn’t work for me, and frankly, I can’t help but hope that really, that doesn’t work for you either.”

    If you read the comment, you will see that I actually said that.

  10. How many times have you told me that you don’t consider me too be ultra-orthodox?

    I don’t consider you to be haredi. I perceive you to be in that place between RWMO and LWUO.

    I thought to myself that I really should have put more effort into verifying the story.

    I am not surprised you thought that.

    I had been told about it by an extremely credible source

    That doesn’t work for me, and frankly, I can’t help but hope that really, that doesn’t work for you either.

  11. DK:

    How many times have you told me that you don’t consider me too be ultra-orthodox? Have you changed your mind?

    In all honesty, when Tesyaa asked for a source, I thought to myself that I really should have put more effort into verifying the story.

    I had been told about it by an extremely credible source who actually knew the philanthropist that initially funded the endeavor. Nonetheless, I should have done more to verify. If anyone has a copy of the Millennium edition and could advise whether the candlelighting notice appeared, please let me know. That would be a good start.

  12. At the rate print media are going to ruin, it’s not so clear that the New York Times will be in business in 2100. Maybe the robots discussed in this piece can be programmed to order subscriptions.

  13. What lessons can be learned from such a story?

    That ultra-Orthodox Jews will pass around any mayseh no matter how dubious and without any verification if they think it flatters them to do so.

  14. Like Tesyaa, I want an exact source because that quote is valuable, but only with a solid source.

    For every one time the NYT is positive on Jews, there are too many times when they are negative.

  15. One interesting lesson, that often plays itself out in the work-place, is that non-Jews tend to have respect for our observances. Had the production manager of the NYT been Jewish…

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