September 24, 2018

The authenticity of anonymity, the absurdity of fame

It starts with that moon. That haunting, mystical full moon that rises over erev Passover, the brightest of the year. The same moon that accompanied our ancestors as they committed the most courageous, terrifying, faithful act of our history. This was their light. It is our light.

I look at that moon and I feel a sense of fear and awe — a memory encoded in my DNA — and I wonder: What did it feel like, that night, to flee the only place you’ve ever known, to run for your life? I imagine unimaginable terror — no GPS, no knowledge of where you’re going or how you will survive once you get there.

I look at that moon and wonder: Who were my ancestors who had the courage to leave? It’s a stunning fact: I share blood with this person from so many hundreds of years ago, so many generations ago. How old was he or she? What did he or she look like? Questions about this hero flood my mind, starting with the most basic one: What was his or her name?

On erev Shavuot, 50 days later, while immersed in the study of Torah as a remembrance of when the Jewish people received our holiest of holy instructions, I imagine my ancestors, of whom I know no details, standing at the foot of Mount Sinai and hearing the voice of God, experiencing the most profound revelation in the existence of mankind.

The energy of this night makes it real for me, the story we tell about our Exodus from bondage to freedom, our days of wandering, wondering, remembering and receiving the Torah.

And it’s this relative of mine who I can’t stop thinking about.  As I imagine Jews all over the world celebrating Shavuot, I’m deeply moved that each one of us has ancestors whose acts of courage and faith contributed to the making of the Jewish people, and because of them, we are Jews today.  

But mostly I am struck by the collective anonymity of those who created the Jewish people. 

As a life coach in the entertainment industry, I am keenly aware of the belief that anonymity in Hollywood is a fate worse than death. People today, and not just entertainers, desperately want to be famous. As the fame and celebrity culture has mushroomed and as the media continues to feed us the belief that, to really count in this world, you have to be famous, it’s no wonder studies show that teenagers don’t want to be doctors, lawyers or the president as in years past. Today, they want to be famous. Not for anything in particular, not for any accomplishment, simply famous.

When actors tell me how much they want to win an Academy Award, or musicians tell me how much they want to win a Grammy, as we dissect their desires, it always comes down to this: They want to matter. They want to make a difference in the world. Entertainers are not alone in thinking that public acknowledgment, awards and celebrity status will prove they count. This seems to be our new cultural “is.”

As Americans immersed in popular culture, we can name thousands of actors, musicians, scientists, engineers, politicians, activists and so on who have “made a difference” based on this faulty definition of success.

But as Jews, Shavuot offers us a moment to re-valuate: There’s no Nobel Prize, no CNN heroes profile, no 9/11-esque memorial recounting the name of every person who braved breaking free from Pharaoh’s wrath, whose every step from that night until entering the land of Israel was full of faith and courage. Shavuot allows us a night to take pause: Who has really made more of a difference in our lives than the anonymous thousands who fled Egypt and created the Jewish people? And how can we apply that understanding to our own lives?

Here’s how, in four parts. 

Part 1: Fame, celebrity, awards (even if the award show is broadcast around the world) or public acknowledgment have no impact on how your words or deeds will impact anyone today, next week or generations from now. Mitzvot — acts of good deeds — are unquantifiable, their true hidden value unknowable. Awards and public glorification are nonsense. Know this, and listen to the sound of your soul. What’s speaking to you is your divine mission. Follow it — that’s what matters.

Part 2: We all count. We all matter. The Jewish belief of tikkun olam teaches us we all have a part to play in healing the world. There’s no competition. Choose to see beauty and value in each person and you will be released from the need to be elevated above others and recognized publicly.

Part 3: Ask yourself, “Where in my life do I want to take one step forward, but fear and uncertainty are holding me back?  I want to remind you of this: If you’re Jewish and alive today, you share blood with people of immeasurable courage. If your ancestor can tie a sheep (the idols of the Egyptians) to his bedpost for three days, slaughter it with his bare hands and smear its blood over his door post, I promise you, you can take one step in the comforts of 2015 toward doing anything.

Part 4: Love more, love deeper, and be kind at every opportunity. The effects of love and kindness are what last forever.

May the energy of Shavuot, and the anonymity of our ancestors, inspire you to reconnect with your truest selves and live lives of true freedom.


Sherri Ziff is an entertainment industry-focused life coach, speaker, TV writer and author of the upcoming “Hollywood Epidemic: Fame, Celebrity & Other Illusions. How to Live a Life That Really Matters.”  She can be reached at sherri@rockyourlifecoaching.com.