Friday, March 03, 2006

Hebrew School Bully

I don’t want you to think that Jews are wimps. Robert Cohn in The Sun Also Rises is the tough guy in the story, the boxer. He even beats up the matador, if I remember correctly. I just wasn’t scared of anyone at Hebrew School. It was definitely a reaction to my day job as a nerd at my regular school. A loud-mouthed, ostentatious nerd with the nickname
“The Walking Encyclopedia," a nickname I was proud of.

At Hebrew School, I talked back to teachers and gave kids dirty looks if they didn't agree with me-- even about facts. Fuck you! I know how old Moses was when he died.

Thusly I was friends with all the girls. I was definitely hostile to the boys who were in the Tuesday-Thursday program. They were fey and fancy and stuck-up compared to the salt of the Earth that was in the Monday-Wednesday world. Especially the Cohen twins.

Their snide putdowns, with a lisp as an exclamation to every sentence. Their comfort with male-to-male affection, hugging often, sitting with arms around each other on the Monday or Wednesdays they had to sit in because of a doctor’s appointment or something to do with singing. They were always singing. Their voices unchanged by obviously undeveloped genitals of some sort. And the girls loved them. Women-- babies, girls, women and grandmothers-- could not help but smile around this tuneful twosome.

To make it all worse they had singing in common with Yossi, the principal of the Hebrew School. My arch-nemesis in my effort to be a bully. He sang whenever he could. His hands out in front of him approximating the roundness of his belly. He was always stubbly, in his late thirties, Israeli and nothing I wanted to be, except in charge.

The news that the Cohen twins were moving to Monday-Wednesday for all of Gimmel (which is the grade in Hebrew School that means you are one year from your Bar Mitzvah, when your parents would let you quit if they didn’t really believe in the stuff), made Yossi as pleased as my Hebrew School buddy Brian after four or five cups of watered-down Manischewitz. That meant they could be in Yossi’s singing class that was an elective that could only be offered then due to Yossi’s many obligations, like buying five of the same belt or lecturing kids about what Tel Aviv was really like.

It pissed me off. The worst thing about the Cohens is that they didn’t even get that I was a bully. When I talked over them, it meant shut up. When I pretended to hug another boy, it meant they were gross. Nothing could stop those kids from smiling, hugging. They were even happy on the days their braces got tightened.

Of course, it had to turn into a fight, a physical one. I was going to have to show them that this Jew meant business. I think I got one good punch to one of their arms before Yossi pulled me into his office. Both of the Cohens smiling as Brian demanded to be in trouble with me. But Yossi wouldn’t have it. He wanted me one on one. I was going to sing.

“You a natural leader,” he told me as I leaned back in a folding chair, looking at the flute and music stand that some Art Director had put in Yossi’s trailer office to make it seem like he was interesting and comic at the same time. “You choose to use that for negative.”

His English was so bad that I noticed and it made me chuckle. “I don’t think you sing very well,” I said, surprised at my own courage and lack of subtext.

“Why do you come here?” he asked. “Just for mom?”


“Well, I’ll call her then. Let her know what you are up to.”

I was a bit scared, but I just chuckled.

He shook his head and sent me out.

When the carpool dropped me off, I went straight to my mom’s room and pressed the button to erase his message. As it erased it played. The only sentence that made sense was that I was a very bad boy. It sounded like such a struggle for him to speak, compared to the way Hebrew melodies flowed out through his smile. It was such a struggle, that I felt good, that empty, hateful way that bullies do.


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