Values subtracted

Values subtracted

Forget the hyphens. The time has come to make a choice. Are we Jews or are we Americans?

This is not a frivolous question and it has nothing to do with geopolitics or nationalistic pride or any such triviality.

This has to do with a pizza commercial.

And with the seemingly unstoppable O’Donnell vs. The Donald conflagration.

And whether Britney Spears wears underwear.

Let us begin with that commercial. It features an absolutely clueless specimen of humanity we can refer to simply as "the husband." We can imagine how he spends his days: in front of a TV set watching reruns of the WWE’s Smackdown. He is a typical feature of many commercials.

In this commercial, he is gloating. Once again, he managed to put one over on those stupid Pizza Hut people, getting more pie for the buck than he was supposed to get, Whoopee.

True, the youthful delivery man shakes his head and smiles. Nevertheless, the message being delivered is that when you think you have gotten something more than you should have rightfully received, cheer for your good fortune, laugh at the fool who made the error, and enjoy the extra bites of pie.

The message that should have been delivered, of course, is that the proper course of action is to call the young man back, ascertain whether indeed there has been an error, and if so, to rectify it. That is the Jewish thing to do. It should also be the "American" thing to do, but sadly, it seems, that is not the case.

There is a reason that "American" is in quotes. America was founded on values Jews hold sacred because these values derive from the values we accepted at Sinai. These are not values that the average American shares, however, judging from this commercial and many others like it. Companies spend huge sums of money creating commercials and other types of advertising that they hope will resonate with consumers. They confirm their opinions of what works by spending even more money on focus groups and surveys. For a commercial like this to get on television means that a considerable segment of American society is interested in getting something for nothing, morality be damned.

What is particularly annoying about this commercial is that children see it, as well, and, because it is a pizza commercial, are likely to pay some attention to it. They learn from it that most fathers could play the leads in a remake of "Dumb and Dumber" and that cheating people is a good thing.

The culture of America has deteriorated. That something like the WWE Smackdown can be so wildly popular, or the spate of reality shows on television, or even the tell-all-the-dirt-on-celebrities programs should be proof enough. These programs are successful because millions upon millions of people watch them every day. Masterpiece Theater is on PBS not because public television executives are more highbrow than their commercial counterparts, but because their commercial counterparts know that more Americans prefer watching money-hungry adults eat carpenter ants while immersed neck-deep in greasy black slime than want to see a Henry James novel brought to life. They might be tempted to watch productions of "Daisy Miller" or "What Maisie Knew," but only until they realized that these were not what they though they would be.

This country is fighting wars at the moment in Afghanistan and Iraq. Genocide is being committed hourly in Darfur. The snow is disappearing from the Alps. So what is it that has Americans tuning in to their local news programs? O’Donnell vs. The Donald. This is the story of greater interest and, because it is, that is what the news programs deliver.

Make no mistake about how decisions are made in television newsrooms. These programs can get on the air only if they are commercially viable, meaning that people need to watch them or else the sponsors will not advertise on them. If O’Donnell vs. The Donald gets more play than, say, the number of infants who die each day in America because their mothers lack proper nutrition, that is because people are more interested in the antics of these two than they are about the welfare of others.

The same holds true for Spears and her lack of underwear (and virtual lack of outerwear, which is how anyone knew she had nothing on beneath the little she had on). News outlets and the great blogosphere jumped all over this story and soon a new category of famedom was pronounced: the pantyless princesses of Hollywood.

Frankly, what Spears and other so-called celebrities do or do not do should be irrelevant. They are not the people on whom we should focus. They are not the role models for the modern age (or any other).

Wesley Autrey is.

Who, you ask, is Wesley Autrey?

More important, if you know the answer, do your children?

That is the problem. We know about it whenever J.Lo. has a hissy fit, or Tom dances maniacally on a chair, but Wesley Autrey is a one-day wonder gone from sight and consciousness. He is black, 50 years old, and works in construction. Who cares what he thinks and what he does?

We should and we should see to it that our children care, too. On Jan. ‘, he jumped on a subway track, used his body to cover and immobilize a teenager suffering a seizure as a train rolled over them, then kept the man quiet on the tracks for another ‘0 minutes as subway workers turned off the electrified third rail.

"What I did was something any and every New Yorker should do," Autrey told the media. "If you see someone in distress do the right thing, help out."

Now that is something to be featured in commercials and on billboards. And that is something that clearly is a Jewish value. "Do not stand idly by the blood of your fellow," commands the Torah (Leviticus 19:16).

We may want to be part of American culture, but we would be doing ourselves and our children a great service if we concentrated, instead, on promoting Jewish values.

There are many Wesley Autreys out there. They may not be Jewish, but their values are. Two days after his act of selflessness, two men were passing by a Bronx apartment building when a 3-year-old boy came flying off a fourth-floor fire escape. Instead of just standing there, or pulling out a camera phone to take a picture that could be sold for big dollars, they rushed to the site, caught the boy and saved his life.

Who are these two men?

I wish I could tell you their names, but there was not enough time on the news that day to tell me. Jason Kidd had just filed for divorce.