Object Origins

Recently Dunkin’ Donuts pulled a television spot featuring talk show host and Food Network personality Rachael Ray after a Fox news commentator associated it with terrorists. In the ad, Ray is wearing a scarf that Michelle Malkin said in her nationally syndicated column resembled a kiffiyeh, Middle Eastern garb that is “popularized by Yasser Arafat and a regular adornment of Muslim terrorists
appearing in beheading and hostage-taking videos.”ray.jpg

This story is not surprising. In today’s world of globalization and the constant circulation of trends and goods, it’s no wonder that
Rachael Ray ended up wearing what some call a “terrorist scarf�.

Objects such as this kiffiyeh seem to be popular more and more as ‘exotic’ becomes the new cool. But did Ray’s stylist examine the meaning behind the object and the origins which it holds so clearly?

This reminds me of the origins of an ad campaign which I recently discovered: “Diamonds are forever.�

In 1947 as sales of diamonds were declining, an ad agency devised a strategy for DeBeers to sell more diamonds and the famous slogan was created. But more importantly the idea of a diamond engagement ring was born. A symbol which many today attribute to folklore and tradition was conceived of in an advertising agency less than 50 years ago.

With the Holiday of Shavuot dawning on us the origin of Rachael Ray’s kiffiyeh and the diamond ring seem more important to me. From the objects we wear to the social norms and trends we accept so easily, we sometimes lose sight of their origins. The Jewish people have been a nomadic people for most of history, wandering different lands and taking on new customs and traditions. Shavuot literally meaning “weeks” and celebrates the greatest object the Jewish people have, the Torah, which was received on Shavuot at Mount Sinai. The Torah to many people today is seen as an obscure text which is only studied by “very religious” or “scholarly” people.

However, the Torah is the integral link of the relationship between God and the Jewish people. Many people do not read the text of the Torah and simply refer to its laws and narratives as something foreign to them. Anticipating Shavuot, I cannot help but wonder if the Torah has become just a slogan or an object whose meaning and origin have been altered or forgotten. More importantly, has the Jewish people lost sight of its origin, which we mark and celebrate with Shavuot?

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