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My Turquoise Birthday


What has turquoise got to do with my birthday—or, for that matter, with anything else of interest to me or to my readers?

First off, let me tell you why I chose my birthday as the focus of this article. B’ezras Hashem, I shall very soon be approaching the age which many Americans hold as a “banner-birthday year,” but which isn’t accounted as anything very special by the Mishnah (5:22) in Pirkei Avos, since it falls out quite neatly between “seivah” and “gevurah.” (Have you figured it out yet? Good. I just knew you could!)

Now my birthday falls out in the secular calendar on some date or other in December—but its Jewish label is the one that interests me more. I was born as a Kislev  baby—and today I am still a yachsan of that Jewish month, not so much of December. Yet December does tug a bit on my heart strings, especially since Kislev and December often are forced, as it were, to coexist on the pages of my calendar.


And incidentally, one of the “birthstones” of the month of December is turquoise (at least, according to the American way of reckoning the birthstone of each month).

Ah, turquoise! The very name connotes something exquisitely oriental.

But in point of fact, the word “turquoise” simply refers to the fact that in days of yore, turquoise was mined in Persia and transported through Turkey to the Western world. It is no surprise, then, that “turquoise” means “Turkish” in Old French.

There is something somewhat exotic about the color of this gem, which is a “hydrated phosphate of copper and aluminum.” Indeed, it may be quite challenging to find two people who agree as to precisely what color a turquoise ought to be. After all, the semiprecious stone may run the gamut from “white to dark navy blue to lime green.” However, my dictionary lists the color as “greenish-blue,” so we’ll go with that description. And since some translators taitsh the word techeiles as “turquoise,”—and with good reason (see Mesichta Menachos 43b)—I think we’ll stick with a variety of lovely shades of blue-green as our definition of the color turquoise.

But there’s something else about turquoise—something very special—which should rivet our attention: Depending on a number of outside influences—such as solvents, perspiration, and maybe even body temperature—the turquoise’s greenish-blue color is likely to change, however subtly.

Now how does this fascinating stone—and its unique yet changeable hue—have anything to do with me? And it really does, you know!

Interestingly enough, when I was growing up in upstate New York (oh! so many) decades ago, turquoise was often the color of choice in my family when it came to choosing the color of an automobile. As I clearly recall, turquoise was one of a number of pastel shades of automotive paint that were favored by Americans living in the ‘50s and ‘60s. As time passed and fashions changed, I began to miss those little intangibles of the past with which I had grown up. To my young mind, turquoise had always seemed to be the color of vitality and hope. But as shades of white, black, and gray became the predominant colors of the cars of later periods, turquoise and all that it had represented to me as a youth seemed to have all but faded away.     


But, truth to tell, turquoise seems to be staging a modest comeback in the automotive world. Although more noticeable as the color of choice in commercial vehicles, blue-green is once more making its statement in private vehicles as well! As for me, turquoise’s connection with the sea, sky, and “beyond” provides a soothing balm to the soul of a man who still recalls his youth with a bit of a pang. Indeed, it is just this fluidity of change while remaining “true-blue” that connects me now to this intriguing color, just as it did when I was young.

So if I view myself as an ageing Mr. Blue, I do so confidently, knowing that  the eternal Torah jewel to which I have dedicated my life is not merely semiprecious, as is a turquoise, but supremely precious in all its aspects. And although the physiology of growing old may seem to produce sometimes unwelcome changes and present difficult challenges, the gemlike quality of Yiddishkeit keeps the turquoise of my soul as bright and lustrous as ever.

Such being the case, “Happy Birthday!” to me.          

No, wait a minute. “Happy Birthday!” to us all.


Questions and comments? Please send these to me at hillyarm@yeshivanet.com. A freilichen Chanukah, dear readers!


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