February 24, 2014

Are Jewish Holidays Becoming Too Commercial?

An old friend who never fails to offer his opinion about what the kosher food industry ought to be doing came up with another piece of advice. “The Jewish holidays,” he said, “have lost their genuine spiritual flavor.” He pointed to the full page ads that are filling Jewish publications with ads for the upcoming Purim holiday. “It’s not even a regular Jewish holiday where all work is forbidden; yet the ads make it seem that it is a major holiday.” He went on: “It might surprise you that most Jews in America don’t even celebrate Purim,” he said. When I shared this opinion with a major kosher retailer, he shrugged: “No such thing as too commercial- no more than being  too Jewish.” In other words, what’s wrong with making money while helping Jews celebrate the holidays, he said.

But Purim (eve of March 15th)  is a special holiday that highlights many values worth mentioning. The sharing of foods as gifts amongst friends, the unlimited alms for the poor, the reading of the story of Esther, consuming the hamataschen that look like the tri-cornered hats of the founding fathers, and the festive meal; so much crammed into one day. Then there are the kids, all dressed up, some as the wicked Haman who sought to destroy the Jews in ancient Persia. And let’s not forget some responsible drinking. So after all this, what’s a little bit of commercialization to rev it up even more. One Brooklyn retailer put it this way: “Purim has increasingly become a profitable holiday, because there is so much to this one day festival.