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  • Be Stupid: Lessons for Jewish Learning

    Posted on February 28th, 2011 Ruth Abusch-Magder 5 comments

    This week we have the honor of hosting Joy Wasserman the National Director of Alumni Affairs at HUC-JIR as our guest blogger. Joy is one a select group of Jewish educators who were selected for the prestigious first cohort of Jim Joseph Fellows, a group dedicated to thinking about the ways in which technology can help us think about Jewish education. A recent gathering of the fellows brought her to Israel and led her to write thinking about whether dumb is the new smart.

    -Ruth Abusch-Magder ed. Tzeh U’llimad

    This is a true story—really!

    A few weeks ago I stumbled upon this display at the entry to the shopping area in “Departures” at Ben Gurion Air Port. The figures in the display are even bigger than life size and so this “exhibit” very hard to miss.   I stood staring in disbelief for several minutes.  Mystified, I asked myself over and over what is their real message? Diesel is a successful multimillion-dollar business—what do they know that I don’t understand?

    Joy Wasserman

    I had been reading “A Whole New Mind” by Daniel Pink with the Rhea Hirsh School of Education Community of Practice (CoP).  Pink believes that the “keys to the kingdom are changing hands” and that our society that has been dominated left brain (analytical) thinking is moving into a new era that will value and be dominated by right brain (emotional) thinking.  Perhaps the folks at Diesel agree with Pink’s read of the declining appeal and influence of left brain thinking and values that emerge from this perspective.  Like Pink, it seems that Diesel feels that rebelling against left brain thinking (driven by knowledge and analysis)  means valuing emotion,  creativity, and play.

    I do believe though that Pink would be mortified, though maybe not surprised by this ad display that  shouts;  “SMART CRITQUES, STUPID CREATES”.  “SMART LISTENS TO THE HEAD, STUPID LISTENS TO THE HEART” and “STUPID IS GOOD FOR YOU”, “SMART HAS BRAINS, STUPID HAS BALLS”, “STUPID IS FEARLESS”, and my personal favorite, “TRUST STUPID”.

    As a Jewish educator I am struggling with how to make sense of all this.  What does Diesel know that I don’t?  What lessons can we draw from this jarring approach as we do our avodat kodesh (sacred work)?  Crass language aside (though in this case that is a bit hard to ignore), I think one  of lessons here is that while for most of us our lives seem to be dominated by left brain analytical thinking, most of us also have a strong need to engage our right brain selves.  Many of us want opportunities to experience life through heart-felt emotional responses, creative  experiences, opportunites for the heart and not the head to take the lead. I think this larger-than-life ad at Ben Gurion air port is an important reminder to us  as transmiters of Judaism. We must teach Judaism in ways that can be experienced by both right and left brain and we must share a Judaism that is both intellectually and emotionally engaging and challenging.


    5 responses to “Be Stupid: Lessons for Jewish Learning”

    1. Great post, especially in light of some of the “stupid” anti-semitic things being said by influential people recently. I’m all for listening to the heart, but this ad campaign sets up a false debate with troubling implications, particularly where it is placed. Imagine the irony of foreign diplomats being whisked from Ben-Gurion to Yad VaShem. My heart and my head say, “Yuck!”

    2. Margaret Moers Wenig

      I am looking right now at the photos I took last year of all of these ads.

      Your quotations of the ads omit the key words:


      The purpose of this ad campaign is to convince viewers to spend money on Diesel products even if they don’t need those products or can’t afford them, i.e. to be impulsive not thoughtful.

      Yes, there are many reasons for us as Jewish educators to engage our and our students’ right and left brains. This ad campaign is not one of them.

      As a Jewish educator I’d study this ad campaign with my congregants, especially teenagers, to help them understand the ways in which Diesel is attempting to manipulate them. And to reinforce Jewish values which are opposite to those promoted in these ads.
      (Rabbi Margaret Moers Wenig)

    3. Maggie,
      Thanks so much for sharing your insights. The larger context is fascinating.

    4. Maggie,
      I am glad to know that these ads caught your attention as well. However it seems that the ads you saw last year are different that their current campaign. I did NOT omit any words…the words I include are exactly want is found in there current iteration of their campaign. Please see the photos included with the post. You will notice that the words you quote from your photos are no where to be found in the display at Ben Gurion. I certainly agree the purpose of the campaign is to convince buyers to spend money….but I still think they are reaching out to right brain of their market.

    5. I too read Pink’s books. Equating right brain with stupid is just the point of Pink’s books. Much of the world misses the point that the future – at least for American workers and Jewish thinkers – will be led by left brainers. Stupid, are those who fail to learn this lesson.

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