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Twenty Seconds of Gratitude

The medium seems modest: a cheerful poster with whimsical illustrations and the text of a brachah most know by heart. But its reach — outside millions of restrooms in households, institutions, and buildings worldwide — has revolutionized our attitude toward a daily activity that might be considered mundane. Who’s behind those ubiquitous “asher yatzar” signs around the globe?

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

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MULTILINGUAL The posters have been translated into ten languages, including Hebrew, English, Yiddish, French, Persian, Russian, German, Spanish, and Portuguese. “Somebody once asked if I could do it in Turkish, so I said, ‘Why not?’”

Twenty-five years ago, Mr. Shimshon Halperin of Monsey, New York, witnessed something troubling at the haneitz minyan he attended. 

“I noticed a man exiting the restroom. He’s a renowned talmid chacham and maggid shiur, someone well-respected who davens Shemoneh Esreh for so long, he often misses chazaras hashatz,” remembers Mr. Halperin, who works in real estate. 

“He was holding his phone and dialing as he was saying asher yatzar. Imagine! Just to save the five seconds of dialing he would do after finishing the brachah. Here was a learned person, an oved Hashem, who didn’t realize the importance of the brachah of asher yatzar. It hurt me to see that, and I knew I had to do something.” 

That “something” culminated in a global campaign that has prompted Jews of all ages and sectors to stop and verbalize their appreciation for every crevice and vessel and cell of the most complex machine ever created — the human body. 

BUOYED BY THE FORCE of his own appreciation for the brachah — as well as the troubling sight he’d seen at shul — Mr. Halperin dreamed up the idea to hang up illustrated posters outside restrooms that would prompt people to say the asher yatzar brachah properly. With the help of his sister-in-law, he contacted a graphic designer to create the posters. A local friend was the illustrator. “The illustrations are the most important part of this project,” Mr. Halperin says. “I had him draw a stop sign smack in the middle of the poster and placed right before the brachah, to remind you what you need to do before saying asher yatzar: Stop. Think. Take time.” 

The sign was also designed with an arrow at the upper right-hand corner, directing you how to read it: left to right, as one reads Hebrew. The graphics include a depiction of the five senses of the human body and a comics-style illustration of the progression of the life cycle, from childhood to old age. Most prominent is the picture of a human heart with a tiny blockage, followed by a man suffering a cardiac arrest. 

The illustrations, while charming, aren’t meant to be humorous. Mr. Halperin planned them as a wake-up call. 

“The miracles of the human body are impossible to fathom,” he says, “but the brachah makes it clear. If one closure opens, or if one opening closes, it would be impossible to stay alive. Just saying those words slowly and then thinking of their importance changes anyone’s day.” (Excerpted from Mishpacha’s Behind the Scenes, Pesach Mega-Issue 5777)

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