The Torah of Bumper Stickers (With help from the internet)

Introduction: For several years, I would purchase bumper stickers whenever I saw them in offbeat stores. I used them for two reasons: (1) If they were funny, to “loosen up” my audience or students because my topic was so heavy, and (2) to reinforce my teaching of Jewish values, focusing on Torah and Mitzvahs.

Beside the ones I had personally collected, I went to the Internet for Funny Bumper Stickers, and despite my years of experience with Google and other search engines, I was astonished at the hundreds that people had collected and photographed. How naïve of me! Some were over-the-top irreverent, nasty, off-color, gross, or downright obscene. None of the offensive or indecent ones are included here. I also passed on the ones that were merely funny. Those would have made this Dvar Torah more like a stand-up shtick of one-liners. Nowadays, what is true of bumper stickers also applies, no doubt, to t-shirts and refrigerator magnets.

Of course, I would like everyone to read serious books about Tikkun Olam. I want everyone to read pages and pages of beautiful, well-thought-out printed and digital material and extract and ponder the inspiring gems recorded over centuries from our Jewish texts and thinkers, and poets, and from the world’s great literature. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen as much as I would like it to happen. Too many people are moving through life too quickly, or don’t have the patience to read long books or books at all or multiple pages on their computer screens..

So, much as I do not prefer Torah-by-bumper-sticker (-or-T-shirt or -refrigerator-magnet), I offer a selection of useful Tikkun Olam material from less-than-university-level sources.

My personal collection of bumper stickers keeps growing. All the quotes are concise, some are clever, a few are profound. The best of them allow me to pause and think, sometimes with a smile. If I read them with Mitzvahs in mind, I learn a great deal about Tikkun Olam. The same unscientific study can be done with billboards, TV commercials, newspaper and magazine advertisements, and, of course, T-shirts and refrigerator magnets.

Bumper stickers that are specifically Jewish or Jewish-teachable are in bold.
Unbolded fonts represent bumper stickers that can be applied to Mitzvahs and Tikkun Olam.

Here are a few bumper stickers from my accumulated goodies:

From the ’60’s: (1) Give Peace a Chance, (2) Flower Power, (3) Make Love Not War, and (4) It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.  (These were our years of heightened activism particular about the war on poverty, civil rights, and the War in Vietnam).

Here is a miscellany, with my comments in Italics.

  • Stop Global Whining. (DO something. Ideal for teaching Tikkun Olam.)
  • Superman had foster parents. (Truth in striking brevity. Good for righting the wrongs of wrongs of child abuse.)
  • If Momma Ain’t Happy, Ain’t Nobody Happy. (Another Ultimate. Substitute the word “Rabbi: or “religious school teacher” “or day school teacher for “Momma.)
  • You Nonconformists Are All Alike. (Commendable for its terse humor. An excellent point of departure for discussions of courage and standing up against the masses if they are
    wrong.)

Five clearly with messages relating to Tikkun Olam:

  • If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.
  • Equal rights are not special rights.
  • Ageism will catch up with you.
  • Better a bleeding heart than none at all. (Ah! Very nice!)
  • Practice random acts of kindness. (Rabbi Donald Rossoff’s comment [relating to an identical phrase on a T-shirt]: It should read instead “Do planned acts of Chessed. [Acts of Chessed are deeds of deep-and-enduring lovingkindness.])

The following four are to be read as a single unit. They are frequently discussed with my students and audiences:

  • My child is an honor student at… (Many parents in the audience do not like this one because it establishes a flawed criterion for the true value of human beings. Someone once told me an interesting response, “All these brilliant children — where do all the stupid adults come from?”)
  • My Child Is. (Very nice.)
  • My Kid Is a Mensch. (Several people have commented that they need one in the plural. Others need one that says “grandchild” or “grandchildren”. [At times, when I accidentally slip into a scornful tone, I recommend covering the “My child’s an honor student at…” with this one. “My kid is a Mensch” is now also a refrigerator magnet!)
  • My Mensch Learns at Congregation Beth Am. (From a Synagogue in Buffalo Grove, IL. That one word — “Mensch” — says so much.
  • If you can read this, thank a teacher. (As a teacher, I LOVE this one. It can open up many areas about literacy and the Jewish emphasis on education throughout the centuries.)
  • We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. (Winston Churchill) (This is about as Jewish as you can get.)
  • There must be more to life than having everything. (Also a very Jewish value, from Jewish Maurice Sendak, author of Where The Wild Things Are.)
  • I Caught You Caring. (Stickers given to students at a Jewish day school at those magic moments when they radiate moments of Menschlichkeit. A fabulous pedagogic technique for teaching Gemillut Chassadim and Chessed.)
  • And, finally, the best one of all: ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN BUMPER STICKERS. (That’s what Mitzvahs, Tzedakah, and Tikkun Olam are all about.)
About the Author
Danny Siegel is a well-known author, lecturer, and poet who has spoken in more than 500 North American Jewish communities on Tzedakah and Jewish values, besides reading from his own poetry. He is the author of 29 1/2 books on such topics as Mitzvah heroism practical and personalized Tzedakah, and Talmudic quotes about living the Jewish life well. Siegel has been referred to as "The World's Greatest Expert on Microphilanthropy", "The Pied Piper of Tzedakah", "A Pioneer Of Tzedakah", and "The Most Famous Unknown Jewish Poet in America."
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