While driving to work last month, I saw Abraham Lincoln outside of Starbucks.
His silhouette was unmistakable. Tall. Stovepipe hat. Beard. Undeniably, iconically Lincoln.
I rolled down my window. “Abe!” I shouted. “Mr. Lincoln!”
But he didn’t hear me. So I swerved into oncoming traffic, parked illegally and jumped out of my car. Then I rushed across the street and took a picture with the sixteenth President of the United States.
Dolly Madison and George Washington were there. So was Frederick Douglas, who explained that the anachronistic crowd had assembled to shoot a Web series about historical reenactors.
That made sense. But I really didn’t need the explanation. I had met and taken my picture with Abraham Lincoln, and the experience buoyed me all day.
It was the same feeling I used to get as a child, taking my picture with Mickey Mouse. Hey! It’s Mickey Mouse! I knew even then that I was posing with a guy in a costume and not an exuberant six-foot mouse. And, of course, I knew that the gentleman at the Starbucks wasn’t Lincoln. But it didn’t matter. The guy was recreating the spirit of Lincoln; and separated by so much history, Honest Abe is about as real to me as Mickey.
Lincoln is legend. A story our nation tells itself of resolve in the face of bitter divide. His image inspires feelings of goodwill and pride.
Which brings me to why I practice Judaism.
From the questionable calculus of 600,000 Israelites fleeing Egypt to the improbable boast that Jews can make a little bit of oil last a little bit longer, our tradition is full of myths whipped by time into the story of our people.
Every year at Pesach, we tell the story of the Exodus, even though we know it probably didn’t quite happen that way. At Hanukkah, we light a candelabrum to celebrate Jewish might in the face of extinction, despite knowing the whole oil story is a little weird. We celebrate Shabbat as a day of rest, though the recognizable universe was created in about nine billion years, not seven days.
We do this not to fool ourselves, we do this because, to quote that great Talmudic reference, the Disney movie, “Brave,” “Legends are lessons. They ring with truths.”
To me, Judaism has never has been about whether frogs really rained down from the sky or a snake really talked to Eve. Those are just the tales we tell to explain that feeling inside of us that connects us to G-d and to each other.
There is profound meaning to keeping Shabbat, taking a day out of every week to celebrate the awesome power of creation and the wonder of our very existence. And in every age, unfortunately, there is an urgency to hearing stories of how our ancestors persevered and kept the Torah in the face of extreme adversity.
When we tell these stories and celebrate these holidays, we know, on some level, that we’re all just sipping lattes with Lincoln.
But it still feels incredible—and it makes a great selfie.
After a ten-year career as a newspaper reporter for the Los Angeles Times and Orange County Register, Mayrav Sarr left to try her hand at child rearing and freelance writing.