Our news brief last spring about the young Ms. Myla Clemetsen selling 3,636 boxes of Girl Scout cookies brought me back to the old salami days.
The BMH synagogue, in its wisdom, tasked us Hebrew School students with selling kosher salami rolls to benefit the synagogue. Or maybe it was the school itself that put us to work. Either way, we loved it.
The money part went right over our heads. It was the salamis. Who didn’t love salami? Here we had a chance to spread the pure pleasure of consuming salami.
It was also the competition. Not: Who could bring in the most money for the synagogue; but:Who could sell the most salamis. The two were not the same. The adult mentality and the kid mentality could not have been more different. They wanted money. We wanted the prize — who sold the most salamis!
My parents weren’t too pleased with boxes of salamis hanging around the house. I mean, after I sold a couple of boxes, they thought they were through. Whew!
But having sold a few boxes, I was hankerin’ for more. So I ordered more, on my own authority. The authorities at the school were only too happy to oblige. Just when my parents thought the house was finally empty of salami, I showed up with twice as many boxes as I had to begin with.
Because if I were such a good salesman, surely I needed more than the quantity I got the first time.
To this day I can still summon the scene in my mind’s eye: I am standing inside our house about six feet from the front door, which is open. I am gazing outside at a slew of teenagers lugging salamis up the sidewalk to the house, gesticulating and exclaiming how one kid outsold us and how much more our class needs to sell to catch up. And we’ll do it!
Needless to say, there was another element: eating salami. How could I sell salamis to my aunts, neighbors, non-BMH friends and anyone else I could find if I did not consume salami myself? What a perfect excuse.
Two-for-one. I got to to savor more salami than ever before, and in doing so I boosted my sales numbers. What could be nicer?
The position in which I put my kindhearted aunts also went right over my head. I didn’t realize that if I sold a salami to one aunt, my brother would try to do the same. Not to mention, the other kids who also knew my aunts came down on them to purchase a salami roll.
I don’t remember who sold the most salamis. Was it Nelson Goldhammer? Somehow, that name sticks in my mind. Was it he who was crowned BMH Champion Salami Salesman?
In the end it didn’t matter, since it was so much fun.
One thing was certain: Salami engaged us at least as much as anything taught in Hebrew School at the old BMH on 16th and Gaylord St. Not that the teachers didn’t try. Not that I was not inspired by some of them, but if ever there were a gimmick to get kids to come to Hebrew School, this was it. We had to see who sold how many salamis, and we needed to replenish.
I suppose that today the Hebrew schools and outreach groups are still searching for the right gimmick to involve Jewish kids. No doubt, methods have changed, due to deep changes in culture and technology since the 1960s. But the principle remains exactly the same. Whether in The Salami Era or today: Give the kids something that’s exciting.
It works every time.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that the exciting gimmicks back then had little or no substantive element. Today’s better Jewish outreach efforts — ski trips, ice-cream parties, rock climbing, bake sales, concerts, ball games — gently interweave some Jewish teachings. Judaism becomes part of the fun.
Today, the mind or soul is opened a bit, ready to receive a deeper dose in a class, at a Shabbat experience or on trip to Israel.
That said, I remain skeptical. Today’s methods, their intrinsic worth notwithstanding, can’t possibly generate the sheer excitement and glee of the old BMH salami sale.
P.S. No matter how well any of us did, I am certain that none of us even came close to Ms. Clemetsen’s sales numbers: 3,636 boxes of Girl Scout Cookies! It’s dwarfing. It’s humbling. Too bad BMH (now BMH-BJ) isn’t still selling salamis. They could learn a lot by talking to Ms. Clemetsen — if she’s willing to talk.
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