Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another

Drowning in Numbers

A haftorah of counting down and living it up

Print Email
Argentina’s Diego Maradona kisses the World Cup trophy after defeating West Germany 3-2 in the 1986 final, held the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. (Allsport UK/Getty Images)

Here’s how this week’s haftorah, taken from the book of Hosea, begins: “And the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which shall neither be measured nor counted.”

And yet counting is a particularly Jewish obsession. We count the numeric value of letters in search of hidden meaning, and we count the numbers of Jews in each country in the world in search of a glimpse at the future. We believe some numbers—7, 13, 18—have a special, symbolic meaning.

This week, then, I’d like to look back at the evolution of my Jewish identity as represented by a few meaningful numbers.

10: I was 10 years old when I realized for certain that I believed in God. Watching the soccer World Cup religiously, I made the acquaintance of Argentina’s Diego Maradona. He wore No. 10. Playing England in the quarterfinals, he scored a goal with his fist, which none of the referees seemed to have spotted. It was, Maradona later punned, the hand of God. Later in the game, he ran single-handedly across the pitch, hardly touching the ball, bypassing five English outfielders and scoring what is widely considered to be one of the most incredible goals in the history of the game. On our blue corduroy couch at home, I wept. Only the existence of a higher force could explain what I’d just seen.

14: I became a man a year later than Jewish ritual said I did. At 13, reciting the haftorah at my bar mitzvah, I felt like a phony. No matter what the rabbi said, I thought, I was still very much a kid. Thirteen, I snarled, was much too young for anyone to accept the burden of manhood. A year later, however, when my father was arrested and imprisoned and my life changed radically, I realized Judaism had it just right: Lacking a choice, I grew up overnight. I was not too young, and all that talk of burdens and responsibilities now made perfect sense.

17: To compensate for becoming a man a year too late, I became a soldier a year too early. At 17, I was already wearing the oily, olive-colored uniform of the Israel Defense Forces. I spent 1,155 days in the army and passed most of them thinking about what it meant to be an Israeli and a Jew. Under fire in Lebanon and in Hebron and in Gaza, I had to ask myself repeatedly what I was fighting for and if it was worth it. And every day I decided that it was. I didn’t agree with many of the policies I was sent to enforce, but I was nonetheless proud to know that I contributing, in whatever minuscule a way, to the Zionist project, madly audacious and wildly hopeful and deeply essential. My opinions have since evolved, but I’m still thrilled to know that I did my bit. Whenever I get into an argument about Israeli politics, I’m happy to know that I’ve got the scars to back up my opinions.

318: Is the number of hours I spent on a hunger strike in front of the prime minister’s house in Jerusalem, protesting the stratospheric costs of higher education and the inequity between the fully subsidized ultra-Orthodox yeshivot and the overcrowded, underfunded universities.

500: Was the price, in shekels, of the ambulance ride to the hospital after collapsing during a demonstration in Zion Square.

32,000: Was the annual salary, in dollars, I received after moving to New York and becoming a novice press officer at the Consulate General of Israel in New York in 2000.

150,000: Is the sum, in dollars, the foreign ministry is now paying its “Internet warfare team” to tweet for Israel.

6,000,000: Is the number with which each I, like so many Jews, begin and end so many thoughts. When I was young, my favorite television show was The Six Million Dollar Man, which, in Israel, was called The Man Worth Millions. I was just learning English when the show came on, and I asked my mother why the show’s Hebrew name was changed. She said it was because of the Holocaust. I asked what the Holocaust was. Not even Lee Majors could prepare me for the answer.

Now, dear readers, if you are so inclined, kindly comment below and share some of your meaningful numbers. To get you started, here’s a terrific song from Israel’s hip hop band HaDag Nachash, all about the numbers that really count in life.

Print Email

Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180

Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.

Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.

We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.

rivka says:

Fascinating story! You should write a memoir, Liel. OK, my numbers:

18: My age when I moved from Colombia to the U.S.
3: the years it has taken my Orthodox conversion to Judaism, still ongoing
1: Echad ani iodat…Echad Elokeinu shebashamaim uva’aretz

Shabbat shalom.

Robin Margolis says:

You write very interesting essays. I look forward to more.

Avi Crane says:

Very unique way to reviews one’s past. I have always been intriged by numbers. 17 the age I moved from So Calif to Israel, 20 the age I started my 3 years in Zahal, 25 the age I married my love on Kibbutz Shomrat, 27 the age our 1st son was born, 29 the age Ariel Sharon and team invaded Lebanon, 32 the age I returned with the family to So California, 54 the age I became a grandfather The rest is all commentary! One question- when was “Numbers” written? Keep up the great articles.

Yehudit says:

4 pregnancies, 3 live births.

A novel in one sentence.

I’ve been exploring for a little bit for any high-quality articles or blog posts on this sort of area . Exploring in Yahoo I at last stumbled upon this site. Reading this info So i’m happy to convey that I have a very good uncanny feeling I discovered just what I needed. I most certainly will make sure to do not forget this website and give it a glance regularly.

Hi, Neat post. There’s a problem with your website in internet explorer, would test this… IE still is the market leader and a big portion of people will miss your wonderful writing due to this problem.

I do agree with all the ideas you have presented in your post. They’re very convincing and will certainly work. Still, the posts are too short for starters. Could you please extend them a bit from next time? Thanks for the post.


Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

Drowning in Numbers

A haftorah of counting down and living it up

More on Tablet:

Why the Teenage Girls of Europe Are Joining ISIS

By Lee Smith — Because they want the same things that teenage boys want: a strong sense of meaning and purpose