Emojis, a Game of Jeopardy, and the Jewish World

I discovered rituals of head bowing and hands placed palm to palm in prayer when I moved to the south. I grew up outside of Chicago and such things did not occur either in my childhood home or in the synagogue my parents (intermittently) visited. No, people looked at each other when they prayed and every “amen” was made with eyes wide open.

But here in North Carolina, I experienced a great deal of head bowing and prayerful hands. When, for example, I worked for Reed Gold Mine, a state historic site commemorating the location of the first documented discovery of gold in the United States (no, really, North Carolina was first in this, if not first in flight), I regularly experienced both. The then manager opened our meetings with head bowing, prayerful hands, and words of blessing in Jesus’ name. Never mind the separation of church and state stuff I assumed would govern a government-run site – it didn’t.

Later, as the (only) local rabbi in my southern town, I found myself regularly invited to do some version of the ubiquitous “What is Judaism” program for local religious and civic organizations. I learned to watch and listen for the words that beckoned my hands to meet and my chin to drop. Generally, this happened just before I was introduced.

When I was asked to give invocations at various events where Christians not only outnumbered any other denomination, they were almost always the only denomination present (aside from me), even my own Jewishly-framed words magically produced the same response. I wore a kippah. I had the look and the task of a religious functionary. Such individuals bow their heads and place their hands together. I didn’t, but everyone else did.

And so I learned to understand head bowing and hands placed palm to palm as particularly Christian practices.

This led to major confusion when I finally decided that texting constituted a mode of communication.

Most of the people I was texting with were (and still are) Jewish. Nevertheless, they frequently responded to my missives by sending me an emoji that featured two hands placed palm-to-palm.

I was pretty sure that my correspondents were not all the products of a mass conversion induced by social media. Admittedly, I generally do my best to ignore such platforms. I have yet to rely on Facebook as a venue for sharing my life story, Twitter as a location for Pithy Thoughts I have had whilst showering, and Instagram for providing the world with pictures of my meals. Tik Tok has never even been on my radar.

Recently, after receiving yet another folded-hands emoji (from a rabbi, no less), I went to my dearest friend and spouse of many decades.

“Why are all these Jews sending me a Christian image?” I asked.

“Ah, no,” Ralf said kindly, “Look it up. That emoji is often described as ‘folded hands’ which symbolize please or thank you in Japanese culture.”

“Look up an emoji?” I asked.

“Emojipedia,” he said.

I groaned. “Really?”

“Really,” he said. (Ralf is also not much attracted to social media platforms. But he knows what that jazz is and does.)

Indeed, he was correct. Down to the Japanese connection.

Clearly, I had jumped to conclusions.

I had been made curious, however, about whether there were such things as specifically Jewish emojis. You already know there are, dear reader, because you are not, as I am, crawling into the past all the time and thinking it’s better to stay there with the evils you know rather than to force yourself to face the evils that are headed at you at warp speed this very minute.

Ralf encouraged me to look and see.

“Guess,” I said. “Jewish symbols for $500!”

“A building with a Magen David.”

“Score: a synagogue,” I muttered.

“A channukiah described as a ‘menorah,’” he added.

“Another five hundred points for Ralf!” I added. “And don’t say it, ‘cause you know it’s there: the Magen David. And that’s it for Jewish emojis.”

There was a long pause.

“I think I need to say a prayer for the invention of new Jewish emojis,” I said. I looked at Ralf. I paused meaningfully. Then I folded my hands together and bowed my head. “May the emoji makers of the world offer us Jewish emojis with the power to renew emojiland. All of it.”

Ralf, who had Jewishly not bowed his head or put his hands together answered, “Amen.”

I take this moment to apologize to my blog. It has been woefully neglected for many years, largely because of my attempts to renew the Jewish world (though not with emojis). I promise to visit you more often. Chag sameach!

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