Wednesday, June 08, 2005

School Days Revisited

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On one of my favorite blogs, Seraphic Press, Robert Avrech talks about a school incident from yesteryear. Okay, so it might have been from yesteryear, but the incident has had long-lasting physical, emotional and mental effects on him.

It is horrible to think that many schools and yeshivas of the past used a strong hand --literally and figuratively (I first wrote "physically" by mistake!) to teach their students. Verbal abuse would be heaped upon a young child, as he or she stood before the class. Of course, many of these children who were at the wrong end of such treatments lived with this emblazoned shame, thinking and understanding that they were at fault, that they deserved this kind of treatment being bestowed upon them.

At such impressionable ages, children were meant to "set an example" for their peers, but at the same time further opening themselves to ridicule not just from the administrative staff, but from classmates, as well. Reputations were made or broken as a result, as were childish egos.

It is heartbreaking and aggravating to learn of such treatments that happened in schools in the "good old days."

Thank G-d I was a good student, albeit shy, and don't recall ever being marked for a teacher's ire or its resulting consequences...except for one incident. When I was in my first year of junior high, in seventh grade, a teacher said something to me that every now and again plays in my head like a broken record. Is it supposed to be a reminder to me of how I am behaving and how I should be behaving? Is it a reminder that everyone has their good and bad days and sometimes just let loose on anyone who is in their path?

It was French class with Mr. K. -- a cute, Jewish guy in his early thirties, I suspect. Yes, he was cute, but I think he was also a bit anal in appearance, attitude, teaching methods. One particular day, my classmates were not in the most responsive of moods -- Mr. K was asking questions and the kids weren't too interested in answering them. Some kids raised their hands, others did not. I was one of those who did...and did...and did. I wanted to participate, I wanted to please him in showing that I knew the answer. I suddenly transformed into Arnold Horshak, aka Horshak, from Welcome Back, Kotter. You know, the one who sits at his desk, raises his hand and says, "OH,OH,OH," trying to draw attention to himself so that Mr. Kotter might call on him. Well, in my Mr. K's class, I was raising my hand, waving it around and trying to get him to pick me because nobody else was bothering to answer. And then he blurted out: "PEARL...STOP ANTAGONIZING ME!" Now, for a shy kid to be put on the spot like that by her teacher is crushing. Okay, so maybe I was bothersome a bit that particular day, but it was not as if there were several other hands going up. I knew answers, I wanted to answer questions. But instead I got that figurative slap in the face.

Can I be a nudnik, as my Mr. K hinted at? Yes -- and several fellow bloggers already know that. But the teacher could have said, "Pearl. I do see you with your hand up. I will call on you, but want to give some other students a chance to answer. Let's take turns answering, shall we?" That's only several more syllables than his original statement; it takes only a few more breaths to say; it's much gentler; it doesn't hurt as much.

I cannot imagine being in a position as Robert Avrech was. Bullied by a seemingly "eesh chashuv" (important person), someone who is supposed to be a leader, someone you are supposed to look up to, someone students in a different kind of world might have chosen to emulate, had he been a different kind of person.

Those types of teachers and administrators described by Robert could never truly be the victors. But people like Robert were certainly the victims.

A Blogger's Interface

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Yesterday evening I had the pleasure of meeting fellow blogger M from Ink as Rain. She is a 17-year-old who was briefly visiting Toronto on her senior school trip.

I first learned about her several months ago on Robert Avrech's blog Seraphic Secret. He featured her review/personal feelings about Robert's recently released book, The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden. He is a longtime major Hollywood, award-winning screenwriter who was impressed enough with her outlook and her language to share her words with us. I was impressed enough to write to her and tell her how impressed I was with her.

M is a prolific writer, reader and an all-around good gal. I don't know her all that well, but when you read blogs, you also end up reading a lot between the lines. And those spaces do say a lot about this young woman, as have her messages to me over the past several months.

I was pleased when she contacted me last week and asked if we could perhaps meet. After consulting her trip schedule, it was decided that I'd come after work to meet her at the restaurant where they were having dinner. She warned me that she'd be wearing a blue kerchief.

As I entered the restaurant to a throng of teen girls dressed in a sea of denim, and looked around, I spotted her. She was pretty much what I'd imagined her to be: sweet, gentle and overall what I've always been called, "a nice Jewish girl"! Over the adolescent voices and the clink of cutlery and dishes, we managed to hold a brief "getting to know you" conversation.

She'd been very excited to meet me, had told some of her friends about it, and some of her fellow bloggers whose blogs I've visited were also on the trip. They, too, were happy to meet me, having heard all about me. Wow, a pseudo-blogging celebrity...!

I looked at M, I looked at her peers and thought to myself: "If I'd been handed a different deck of cards to play with in my life, I might very well have had a daughter that age."

Okay, so my own daughter is not yet that age, but in the meantime I'm happy enough to know someone that age who is wise beyond her years.

Her family should be proud of her, this high school graduate who is setting out to learn in a seminary in Israel, and later go on to college. I wish her lots of mazel on reaching this point in her life and setting off on a new and seemingly unknown course.

And one more thing, "Hey, M, may the blogging force be with you!"

Christian Debt Removers

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Here I am, writing about my Yiddishkeit on this blog and on The Jewish Connection, and what SPAM message do I find in my e-mail account this morning? A message with the subject line: Remove your debt the Christian way.

I opened it up to find a message from, "debt elimination services based on Christian principles." And the ad cites Proverbs 22:7: "The a slave to the lender."

I didn't know if I should laugh or curse. Should I contact them and say, "I'm Jewish, but 'take my debts please'?" (a la Henny Youngman)

Maybe they would laugh at me and say, "Go seek your own. You have many Shylocks among your people."

In the interest of all, Christian Debt Removers, please first remove my name from your distribution list. Then we can consider our account paid in full.

A Match Made on a Blog

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Blogger buddy Neil Fleischmann (Rabbi Neil Fleischmann to you folks) is in a play in NYC. It sounds like a blast -- I'm jealous it's not playing in Toronto, and wish that such an interactive production would make its way here. If any of you live in or around the Big Apple, do go check it out and let me (and Rabbi Neil) know what you thought of it.

Here are the essentials...oh, and MAZAL TOV!

A Match Made in Manhattan

Center for Jewish Discovery, 199 West 19th Street

June 6, 2005

Mon at 8pm

$55 includes Glatt Kosher dinner 212-924-3200

includes Neil Fleischmann, Mordy Lahasky, Kimberly Rae Miller, Peter Jablonski, Richard Lurie, Aaron Braunstein, Michelle Slonim and more

A Match Made in Manhattan is subtitled "The Interactive Jewish Wedding Experience." The press release says: "A Match Made in Manhattan involves the audience in all the festivities of a traditional Jewish wedding--and much more! This wild-and-crazy affair features hors d'ouevres, the ketubah signing, the badeken, the chupah ceremony, an elegant Glatt-kosher three-course meal with champagne toast, live music and dancing, riveting drama, and more laughs and tears than any other wedding you've ever attended."

It comes from the folks who gave us Destinations and Second Chances. The meal is catered by the Glatt Kosher restaurant The Village Crown, which specializes in gourmet Moroccan cuisine. Dinner is included in the ticket price; a cash bar is open throughout the evening.


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My mind has been churning, my fingers have been furiously typing. You can look to THE JEWISH CONNECTION (linked by post title) to see what has been on my mind these past couple of days...