The other day at lunch in Yeshiva, I was taking salad from the serving bowl. Just ahead of me, a colleague was putting dressing on his salad. He looked up at me and said “elef iyim,” Hebrew for a thousand islands. He explained that in Israel that’s what the dressing is called, translated from the English “Thousand Island dressing.”
That led me to wonder where the dressing got its name from.
It turns out that Thousand Island dressing was named after the area where it was created, Thousand Islands, New York.
The Thousand Islands is a North American archipelago consisting of 1,864 islands that straddle the Canada-US border, stretching about 50 miles.
The islands range in size from over 40 square miles to the “Just Room Enough Island,” which is also known as “Hub Island.” (Hub Island, approximately one-thirteenth of an acre, is the smallest inhabited island in the world. It has a house, a tree, shrubs, and a small beach.)
In the early 1900s, Sophie Lalonde, a fishing guide’s wife, mixed a few ingredients for her husband’s dinner.
A few nights later, she served her mix to an actress visiting the area. The actress liked it and asked for the recipe, which she then shared with another Thousand Islands visitor, George Boldt, the owner of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York.
Boldt then directed his world-famous maître d’ – Oscar of the Waldorf – to add it on the hotel’s menu, and that’s how Thousand Island dressing was born.
On Friday night, in the beautiful p’rakim of T’hilim recited as part of Kabalas Shabbos, we say: “Hashem will reign, the land will rejoice; the many islands will be happy.” Where are these rejoicing islands and what are they so happy about?
It is painfully apparent that our society is sliding down a precipitous slope toward moral anarchy. It is disheartening and somewhat frightening to see how much is being slaughtered upon the altar of liberalism and open-mindedness. As someone once said, “Some people are so open-minded that their brains fall out of their heads.” Recent news stories that demonstrate the veracity of this point cannot even be recounted in a family-friendly column.
When gender orientation becomes front and center of how a person defines himself or herself (or itself), it demonstrates that society has veered away from focusing on the soul and core of our humanity. We have lost our moral compass and are now drowning in an ocean of lewdness and spiritual bankruptcy.
Within that degenerate ocean, however, are islands – paradise islands for the soul, and oases of divine connection, where one can find respite to reinvigorate his spiritual muscles. The islands may be few and far between, but they give hope and direction for humankind.
Perhaps the islands we refer to on Friday night refer to us, the Torah faithful. We, who maintain our faith and dedication to Torah values, are islands of morality and divinity in an otherwise depraved world. It isn’t easy to counter the tides of society. But we maintain our commitment, knowing that the day will come when we “the many islands” will rejoice, when the world will recognize the truth.
Where did we learn how to do this? From Avraham Avinu, who was an island of morality, faith, and kindness, in an otherwise antithetical world.
During N’ilah on Yom Kippur, we declare, “Ein shiur, rak haTorah ha’zos – Nothing remains except for this Torah.” In a sense, we have a deeper appreciation of those timeless words than they had in recent generations. Ours is a post-truth world, where what feels good in the moment is what dictates right and wrong. Indeed, the sole beacon of unadulterated truth is Torah.
We are the thousand islands that contain the hope of the future. Our islands may have their flaws, and they aren’t perfect. But they are governed by a Higher Being, not swayed by the tempests of society.
Perhaps our thousand islands aren’t creamy and rich. But they are unquestionably dreamy and rich – with dreams of a utopian future and rich in moral and spiritual growth.