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A Musing on Mongering


I recently heard someone on TV talking about war mongering and hate mongering. There's lot of that going around. But are those the only kinds of mongering? And what exactly is mongering, anyway?

We hear monger as a noun – he is a hate monger; there is a lot of war mongering going on, etc. We might hear it as the verb to monger. We seldom hear it as the original verb: to mong. This archaic word, meaning to trade or barter, has been around at least since the 1400's.

Mongers, of the war and hate variety, trade in nasty stuff. "What are you going to do today?" one evil terrorist asks his friend as they sharpen their teeth in their dark tunnel. "I'm going out to monger," replies his friend. "I'll join you," smiles the first evil terrorist, finishing off his morning cup of blood.

Are there also good mongers? What about the fish monger, whose work is surely a boon to society? When he mongers, we can buy and eat. There are also cheese mongers, and possibly other food-related mongers as well. What other non-evil mongers are there? In Britain, a costermonger is a peddler, a person who sells goods, especially fruits and vegetables, from a handcart in the street. This is a somewhat archaic use. The 'coster' part comes from a medieval variety of apple called a costard. Thus, a peddler of apples.

The word 'monger,' if we call up our high school French, we can recognize as possibly related to the French 'manger,' to eat, since many of the good mongers deal in food. Alternately, it may come from Middle English mongere, which comes from the Old English mangere, meaning 'merchant' or 'trader, dealer,' and this from Germanic and/or Latin, which have similar words. In this category of good mongers we also have iron mongers and other merchants as well. We can once in a while see 'book monger,' and what would we do without them?

Generally, as the Oxford Dictionary tells us, a monger "denotes a person who promotes a specified activity, situation, or feeling, especially one that is undesirable or discreditable." When a monger deals in concrete goods, he is usually practicing an honorable profession. When he deals in the undesirable or discreditable, he is a dastardly fellow. As well as war and hatred, the nasty mongers can be gossip mongers, rumor mongers, scandal mongers and (we blush to say it) whore mongers. Fear mongering is a psychological weapon used in war and sometimes in politics, designed to destroy people's peace of mind, often without firing a single shot.

Begone, you nasty mongers! (Not the good fish, cheese, fruit and vegetable, iron and book guys; the evil monger guys.) We have a different approach to life.

A couple of nights ago we went to our ten-year-old granddaughter's hip hop group's end-of-year hip hop performance. Hip hop music has roots in funk, disco, soul, rhythm and blues, and rap. Its founder was DJ Kool, a Jamaican immigrant to the US who brought Jamaican reggae music with him and, in 1973, started an after school music get together in his apartment in the Bronx where various musical styles melded and grew into hip hop, a musical style and a cultural phenomenon. Hip hop is pure, unadulterated fun. As we watched these wonderful girls, and a few happy boys, dance in perfectly orchestrated steps to joyful dance music with a strong beat and words as deep as "So fine! Everybody dance now!", and the audience stomped their feet and clapped, hooting and cheering as each song and dance ended, I thought, this is what we do. In the midst of a war we did not choose, as families mourn their brave dead and wait for news of their lost loved ones, as tens of thousands of ordinary people, farmers whose fields are abandoned or burned, parents and children, teachers whose classes are scattered, have had to leave their homes, as we beg and barter for more weapons and ammunition, and pray for protection of our people, we choose life.

"I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, that you and your children may live." Choosing life in every minute, every day, every dance, every song, every grief and sadness: this is our strength. "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing," wrote Viktor Frankel after Auschwitz, "the last of the human freedoms – to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way." And here are we, in our own country, speaking our ancient language, fighting for everything that is true and good. So dance, my friends, clap your hands and stomp your feet, even amidst your tears. Sing to the music you love. Knowing that there are difficult times ahead, nevertheless find happiness. Sing, sending all our love to our soldiers, and all of our prayers for their safety and the safe return of our hostages. We choose life.

Rabbi Jonathan Saks, of blessed memory, tells us that "The Jewish response to trauma is counter-intuitive and extraordinary. You defeat fear by joy. You conquer terror by collective celebration." So thank you, you joyful, hip hopping ten-year olds and you whooping, foot stomping parents and grandparents.

And take that, you evil mongers, you teeth sharpening, blood-sucking, tunnel dwelling vile killers, you satanic mongers of war, hate and fear. Times are tough, and it ain't over. But we choose life. Whatever you do, we win.




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