Jewish World Review August 2, 2001 / 13 Menachem-Av, 5761

Buttons, anyone?

By Yaffa Ganz -- I WALKED into a store the other day to buy a button. A single, simple button to match a line of other simple buttons on an everyday blouse. No big deal. Or so I thought.

Once in the store, I discovered a world of buttons. Over one hundred different button boxes, neatly stacked on shelves holding a dizzying array of buttons. They ranged from fifteen cents to fifteen (gulp!) dollars a button. Plastic, steel, wood; stone, bone, aluminum; round, square, triangular, oblong, and shapeless; smooth, frilled, waved, and rippled, shiny, gilded, matte.

It took almost fifteen minutes to find a simple, round, flat, smallish, smooth button with two holes, and when I did, guess what? They didn't have it in white. There was yellow, tan, coffee, gold, ivory, mustard, off-white and grey, but not plain white. "White isn't in this year," the salewoman told me.

I stood there slightly punch-drunk, wondering who was mad --- the button makers or me.

If we spend so much time, energy and effort producing such a vast array of buttons, just imagine what we could do -- if only we put our mind to it -- with something really important. Like good textbooks, better medicines, cars that don't emit poisonous gases, clothes that don't wear out, housing that costs only half the price. The possibilities are endless. Of course we are at work on some of these projects, but not necessarily because they are good for the world. The manufacturers, scientists, technologists and inventors trying to improve things are usually doing so to make more money. (Yesterday, for example, I read that over $200 million dollars are being spent on putting echinetzia into milk products. Of course it may be injurious to our health, but the milk-makers are marketing it as a bonus for our immune systems. If it's good for sales, can it be bad for our health?)

This thought disturbs me. I'm the last in line to knock the importance of money (it is definitely one of things which makes the world go round), but must profit always be our main goal? Perhaps I'm being naive, but isn't it possible to create a different type of society?

People must be paid for their efforts or nothing will ever get done, but there are other values in life as well. When profit takes over, an ever spiraling, endless round of producing and selling ensues and we must be convinced to keep buying or the machine will grind to a halt. It makes no difference if we need what is being produced or not; we must buy. Living becomes a by-product of consuming. We see the results all around us.

Instead of convincing people to buy things they don't need or want - to use more and more milk or meat products, for example (how many types of cheese does your supermarket stock? Mine carries fifty or sixty!), we could educate them to use less and be more discriminating. All that milk and meat isn't really that healthy anyway and it takes a larger than fair share of the world's resources to produce. Instead of selling tranquillizers, teach people to take a walk. Instead of buying designer made shoes, produce well made but less expensive brands. We could give prizes to the people who created the best, with the least damage and the most benefit at the lowest price.

Imagine how much money we could save! How many resources! How much more time and energy we'd have for more important things! I remember spending a year in Israel many long years ago as a young girl when I had one "dressy" outfit and two everyday outfits and I was happy as a lark. And for several years, early on in our marriage, we lived (with two small kids) in a small, rented apartment with the most basic of furnishings - no curtains, rugs, china or frills - but with great neighbors - and I was flying high. Less to clean, less to want; less to need, less to pay. More time and energy to live! I felt free. Because we are most definitely the captives of our possessions. They cost money, need care, must be exchanged and renewed and reviewed, all of which takes up a lot of our precious life. Personally, Wouldn't we rather live than have?

There was once a song "The Best Things in Life Are Free" - the sun, the moon, the stars; air, water, and of course, Love. But nowadays the sun has a shrinking ozone layer; the sky is covered with hazy pollution; the water is rarey pristine clear and the air is filled with fumes. (In our neighborhood, Friday nights, when there is no traffic, are the only nights of the week when the wind blows fresh and sweet. The rest of the time it smells of exhaust.) Only love, it seems, is still "free". (If you don't count wedding expenses...)

Perhaps love will redeem us and help return the earth to its original form. Love of ourselves, prompting us to stop harming and destroying our world. Love of others to stop us from damaging their surroundings and environment. Love of G-d and His world - l'ovdah u'leshamra - to perfect it and to guard it. Meanwhile, who in the world needs so many buttons?

Oh, by the way ... I finally found what I was looking for. I took a plain white button off one of my husband's old white shirts. Voila! It was a perfect match!

JWR contributor Yaffa Ganz is the award winning author of Cinnamon and Myrrh and All Things Considered (Mesorah Publications N.Y.). She has written more than forty Jewish juvenile titles including Sand and Stars --- a 2000 year saga of Jewish history for teen readers. You may contact her by clicking here.


07/20/01: When visiting 'momma' is dangerous

© 2001, Yaffa Ganz