Mensa, a Fortune Cookie and the Talmud
Last Saturday, it was to my pleasure, amusement, and intellectual humiliation that I attended a Mensa game night with a family friend. Mensa, for those of us who are not geniuses, is "The International High IQ Society," and every so often this meeting of the minds unwinds with a social game night.
The cool summer breeze on the porch of this Mensan's lair in Columbia, Maryland was refreshing; the Brie, rich and creamy; the tonic water, a good year; and the game - Trivial Pursuit. Now, since the womb, my mother has told me that I am a smart little boy, but this night...this night was different.
Why was this night different from all other nights? Because I was nearly chastised for not knowing the quite obvious facts that copper burns green, Dick Cheney is allergic to pomegranates, only the royal family is permitted to wear yellow in certain Malaysian provinces, and, of course, there is an exact replica of Bill Clinton's childhood home on the Japanese island of Okinawa.
The fact that those around the table not only answered these questions as if they were muttering, having been disturbed in mid-sleep, but also lectured on the historical context surrounding their answer was humbling to say the least. And it occurred to me that we in the Machon Kaplan program, at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and many of us in our country are not unlike a Mensa club of our own.
With a whole host of privileges - food, housing, freedom from persecution and access to higher education (many of the things we Machon Kaplan interns are trying to provide for the less fortunate), I know that I, personally, can be forgetful. Not only do I forget to be grateful, but also, surrounded by privilege and people of it, I also forget to be humble. I forget to understand other points of view; I forget to remember how much I don't know.
Mensa helped me remember.
One of the Mensans with whom I spent approximately four hours over the course of the evening asked me what my name was on the car ride home. This is because over those four hours he was too busy reveling in the history of my surname to remember my first name.
He too was forgetful.
And thus we may understand a double-edged sword: that with privilege and intelligence we have the power to inform others and to help those who are less fortunate, but also that our privilege can blind us from truly important things - whether empathizing with those with whom we are trying to help or even remembering a first name. It is therefore my belief that it is with an appreciation of what we have, but an even greater appreciation for what we do not, that we become infinitely fortunate.
It is not oft that a fortune cookie doth nourish my soul more than my stomach. However, I still recall receiving a fortunate cookie that read: "Everything you are against weakens you, Everything you are for empowers you."
Therefore, let us not just celebrate our strengths but also welcome our weaknesses. Surrounded by intensity in our positions as interns, let us join the ranks of Ghandi in becoming the change we wish to see in the world. Let us more nobly listen to the echoes of Michael Jackson staring in the mirror, but most important let us learn that our worlds become bigger and richer when we humbly let them extend beyond ourselves.
May we all come to discover that we are indeed the special princes and princesses our Jewish mothers told us we are, but not before coming to the crucial and sometimes crushing realization that we swim in a confusing sea of royalty. In the spirit of being created b'tzelem elohim, may we find both in ourselves and in others, powerful sources of strength and divine shortcomings.
Max Bevilacqua is a participant in the Machon Kaplan Summer Social Action Internship Program, interning at the National Low-Income Housing Coalition.