Have you heard about the latest literary challenge? Six word memoirs! I read about them in the latest O magazine. Here is what it’s all about: Larry Smith threw out a challenge on his online publication, SMITH Magazine. It seems he was inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s legendary shortest short story: “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.” Smith wanted to get people to describe their lives in just six words. I think we should launch our own Jewish version. What do you think?
“You…In Six Words.” It’s a humbling challenge that has become an impressive movement. From Paula Deen’s more famous, telling crisp, “Might as Well Eat That Cookie” memoir, to Melinda Hui’s less-well-known personal account, “Abandoned at 5. Learning to Thrive,” you can see how six succinct pithy words can pack a potent punch.
Though the Six-Word Memoir contest officially concluded after a month, terse tales continued to be submitted. More than half a million mini-memoirs have been sent in over the last five years. Smith has since published five collections of personal accounts and continues his Internet quest to spark the creativity of aspiring writers.
“There is inspiration everywhere,” he says. “Even if you don’t think you’re a storyteller, you are.”
Well, who am I to disagree with Larry Smith or Ernest Hemingway, let alone Jewish tradition? Pirke Avot instructs us to say little and do much. While the Book of Proverbs teaches that the wise keep their words brief, consider further that our very core religious mantra is itself a mere six words long: “Shema Yisrael Hashem elokeinu Hashem echad!” Confirmation, perhaps, there is something to this six-word thing. Before we create our own memoirs, why not get some practice writing memoirs of Jews from yesteryear? Do I dare?
King David – Shepherding sheep, shooting slingshots, singing Psalms.
Queen Esther – Orphaned and adopted. Kidnapped and crowned.
Hillel – Teaching while standing on one foot?
Rashi – The best. The rest? It’s commentary.
Maimonides – Perplexed? Your Guide by the Side.
Abarbanel – In 1492. Columbus was a Jew?
Spinoza – From Yeshiva to philosopher, pantheist, outcast.
Baal Shem Tov – Song and dance. Mystical trance. Hassidim.
Sigmund Freud – Id, Ego, Superego. Yid, Ego, SuperYid.
Anne Frank – Dear Diary, you changed our lives.
Golda Meir - Smoky Milwaukee Jewish mother does good.
Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik – He, the lonely man of faith.
This is all well and good. But we are the People of the Book. Why limit this exercise in brevity to people’s memoirs? Why not extend it to…let’s say, Torah portions? It might look something like this;
Bereshit – Six days and world is done.
Noach – The ark, the rain, the arc.
Lech Lecha –You can’t go home again, Abraham.
Vayera – Isaac Unbound. Ram Offered. ’Nuf said.
Chayei Sarah – One funeral and a wedding. Congrats.
Toldot – Doubly blessed? Surprise, it’s twins! Oy.
VaYetzei – Big Love. Members of the Tribe.
Vayishlach – Wrestling. Remember me at wounded thigh.
Vayeshev – Joseph: dream weaving, sheaves binding. Sold.
Miketz – The brothers; spies who loved me.
Vayigash – Judah steps up. Jacob comes down.
Vayechi – Bow for Blessings, bury. Bereshit ends.
Thus goes the Book of Bereshit. Why not get carried away? Let’s do all the other books too!
Joshua – Jericho: Those walls came tumbling down.
Judges – Repeat; Depravity, punishment, penance, oh my!
Samuel – Give us a King! Happy now?
Kings – The good, the bad, the ugly.
Isaiah – Why not give peace a chance?
Jeremiah – The end is near. Destruction here.
Ezekiel – Chariots of fire. Visions of heaven.
Trei Asar –Twelve prophets, one message. Repent now.
Psalms – Though I walk through the valley…
Proverbs – Don’t enter the path of wickedness.
Job – Why suffering? We will never know.
Song of Songs – Hark, I am to my beloved.
Ruth – Marriage, death. Gleanings, schemings. Marriage, birth.
Lamentations – Return. Renew our days of old.
Kohelet – Vanity of vanities all is vanity.
Esther – King kills queen. King kills advisor.
Daniel – From lion’s pit to Holy Writ.
Ezra – Nehemia – Hold the weapon, build the wall.
Chronicles – From Adam to Cyrus. Start over.
Ok anyone can condense a Torah portion even a Holy Book. What about a Jewish holiday? We seem to always be celebrating and explaining. This could come in handy.
Shabbat – Candles and kiddush. Ladino and Yiddish.
Rosh Hashanah – Apples and honey. Shul and shofar.
Yom Kippur – Hey, not so fast. Pretty slow…
Sukkot – Build a booth. Shake a lulav.
Hanukkah – Light the candles, open the presents.
Purim – Make merry. Masks, Megillah and mayhem.
Pesach – All who are hungry, come eat.
Shavuot – Thou shalt stay up all night.
Tisha B’Av – By the waters of Babylon, tears.
Now that we’ve got holidays we are going to need some food. If we could only get those recipes pared down a bit things might get a little easier. It is definitely worth a shot.
Challah – Proof the yeast. Knead the dough.
Gefilte fish – Carp in bathtub, carrot on top.
Chicken soup – Carrots, celery, onions. Noodles, knaidlach, kreplach.
Cholent – Crock pot. Hope for the best.
Chopped liver – Shmear the matzoh. Shape the mold.
Kugel – Noodle, potato, spinach; add eggs, bake.
Bourekas, boulemos, biscochos – Advice? Make friends with Sephardic cooks!
Don’t let all this fun obscure the worth of this ambitious enterprise. This paring down of ideas to the smallest denominator is an exercise in honing in on essential components. It pushes us to get to a core of our being and to bravely put it out there. Are you willing to give it a shot? Here is mine, for now. Lots to say, learning to listen. Join me. What would be if we give every Jew in Seattle six words? We just might be able to publish everyone’s autobiography! Now that is a community, Hooray!