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Jewish Wisdom from Jewish Educators

Judaism has a lot to tell us about how to live a meaningful life—here's some Jewish wisdom that inspires us.

The Education Fellows at the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL) have decided that we want to start an informal series on the blog. In our articles, you often hear about our experiences on the job, our family histories, and our hobbies. Now we have decided to give you a peek into how we think about Judaism.

Throughout the next few months, we’ll share the Jewish resources, media, and ideas that matter to us. We will be sharing children’s books, songs, pop culture, and more.

In this first installment, we’re sharing the Jewish quotes that stand out to us, inspire us, and get us through the day. We hope you find something in this post that’s meaningful for you.

If you will it, it is no dream.

Theodor Herzl

Paige Beame: Theodor Herzl wrote this line in his book The Old New Land, and the quote became a popular slogan for the Zionist movement for the Jewish people to have a homeland in Israel. This quote means a lot to me because it has helped me understand that it is possible to achieve my goals.

“Worries go down better with soup than without.”

Yiddish Proverb

Ava Gadon: Just because a problem cannot be fixed does not mean that it cannot be made more bearable by taking care of and comforting yourself.

We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.

Elie Wiesel

Isaac Gamoran: Wiesel shared these words during his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. As a Holocaust survivor, Wiesel knew the power of a person’s voice, and, more importantly, the consequences of someone not using their voice. This resonates for me, especially in our world today, and pushes me to continue to fight and stand up for what’s right each and every day.

“No two minds are alike, [just as] no two faces are alike.”

Berachot 58a

Julia Kunis: This is one of my favorite quotes from the Talmud. We are not all the same. Even though we are all probably more alike than we are different, I like this quote because it speaks directly to the diversity of humanity. All of us have something unique to bring to the table. Just as the Torah does not seek uniformity and offers a plethora of insight, so, too, does humanity.

“Well, I am so sensitive and I am very fragile but so is everything else, and living with a dangerous amount of sensitivity is sort of what I have to do sometimes, and it is so very much better than living with no gusto at all. And I’d rather live with a tender heart, because that is the key to feeling the beat of all of the other hearts.”

Jenny Slate, Little Weirds

Rena Lubin: This quote resonates with me, because it makes me feel seen and heard. I get too attached to characters in TV shows and movies and books; I cry when they cry, and I cry when bad things happen to them. I feel for others very deeply. But this quote—this entire book—by the powerful and honest Jewish actress and comedian Jenny Slate, is a reminder that without feeling this much, I wouldn’t be able to feel happiness at the capacity that I do. I wouldn’t be able to see myself in others and feel empathy so deeply, and I wouldn’t want that, either.  It makes me realize and remember that my feelings are valid, I am deeply rooted in the human experience, and I am grateful for that existence.

Be the first to greet each person.

Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) 4:20

“Receive all [people] with pleasant countenance.”

Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) 1:15

Margo Wagner: Although I don’t know if these are my favorite quotes from all of Jewish literature, these quotes stand out to me because I believe that treating others with kindness can make someone’s day. I have noticed that in the South, people take this sentiment of greeting everyone to heart. As I walk down the street, everybody I see waves or says hello. Especially in these hard times, greeting someone with kindness and a smile can really raise their spirit.

“The day is short, the work is much, the workers are lazy, the reward is great, and the master of the house is insistent.”

Rabbi Tarfon

“It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but neither are you free to absolve yourself from it.”

Rabbi Tarfon

Julian Cohen: I really connect to these quotes, because to me they sum up how we should approach everything we do. I take comfort in knowing that my best is enough and that even when I am having an off day, whatever I can manage is worthwhile.

Sometimes, a baby’s gotta do what a baby’s gotta do.

Tommy Pickles, Rugrats

Landon Crawford: As a kid, I loved cartoons. I still do. I’ve always been passionate about animated shows, but there are not many great Jewish characters in animation. Around the holidays, I would turn on the television and every single show would have a Christmas special. Rugrats is the only cartoon that had a Hanukkah special. Tommy Pickles doesn’t have any characteristics of a stereotypical Jewish character. He is a brave baby who does what he has to do for his friends. This quote reminds me that Jews are not tied down by the labels that are given to us in mainstream television, and that we can be strong, too—as strong as Tommy Pickles.

“If I am not for me, who is for me; and if I am (only) for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”

Hillel, Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) 1:14

Dylan Rice: This well-known nugget of wisdom by Rabbi Hillel elucidates how to live a balanced life. Hillel reminds us that as humans made in the image of God, we should strive to value ourselves, but in a way that precludes us from vanity, and opens our hearts and eyes to the plight of others. He also challenges us to avoid procrastination, because the time to make the world a better place through mitzvot (good deeds) is always now.

Community is the human expression of Divine love. It is where I am valued simply for who I am, how I live, and what I give to others. It is the place where they know my name.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

Gabby Tropp: For me, community has always been the linchpin of the Jewish experience. Jewish communities are places where people with both nothing and everything in common come together to know each other, celebrate each other, and learn from each other. It has always felt holy to me to be in an environment where everyone seeks to know everyone and be known by everyone.

What are the Jewish quotes that inspire you? Get in touch and let us know.

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