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The Starbucks cup may be iconic (if not ubiquitous), but there’s one other coffee cup that has it beat in terms of recognizability and Jewish connections.
Fifty years ago, in an attempt to sell more paper cups to the plethora of Greek-owned diners in New York City, the marketing director for the startup Sherri Cup Company created the “Anthora” coffee cup. The cup’s creator, Leslie Buck, was born Laszlo Büch to a Ukranian Jewish family. Both his parents were killed by the Nazis, and Leslie himself was a survivor of both Auschwitz and Buchenwald.
Featuring the blue and white of the Greek flag, with a classic key pattern, a drawing of an amphora (the Greek vase for which the cup, courtesy of Buck’s thick accent, is named), The New York Times called this cup, “a pop-cultural totem” that was “as vivid an emblem of New York City as the Statue of Liberty.” For many New Yorkers, this simple cup can evoke Proustian memories of streets traveled, early work mornings, and Sunday dog walks. For Buck, it was a long journey from “Work Makes You Free” to “We Are Happy to Serve You.”
At our seder, we lift each cup in remembrance of our journey from slavery to freedom. But it is not freedom from work we desire - it is the freedom to approach each (caffeine-fueled) day with the discipline, generosity and patience necessary to immerse ourselves in work that really matters - to our lives, our communities, and our world.
As Marge Piercy wrote, in her poem, “To Be of Use”:
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along…
…The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.
Eric Schulmiller is the cantor of the Reconstructionist Synagogue of the North Shore.