First grade wasn’t among the better school years for me; I was moved from the previous school to a different one because the new one was ostensibly more chassidish than the last and more Yiddish speaking, I’m not sure which was a bigger consideration but I do know that those were the driving forces behind the move.
I learned from my first grade rebbi that the word ki has four meanings; it’s a rashi of course but we weren’t learning Rashi inside at that age, so I thought he was real smart. But to make up for the knowledge he imparted, he also dispensed fanaticism in equal or greater measure, for example; he was the one that taught me that we don’t have any need for radios, “for the weather? I just go outside and see what the weather is, if it’s raining I put on a raincoat and if not I don’t. The radio is a navi sheker“. Now nobody in a semi chasidic elementary school wants to get information from a false prophet, right?
As is the case in every school, there were a few kids who were on the borderline of compatibility for being in regular school rather than going to special school and I was lucky enough to have one of them in my class. I’ve always wondered whether any of the mothers of those children had to resort to the methods used by Forrest Gump’s mother to get their children into regular schools?
Baruch was the poor kid in my class who was slower in the intellectual, emotional and social department than most other kids his age and the kids in the class didn’t allow him to think he was one of them for long before they reminded him, by way of taunts and rebuffs of his attempts at integration, that he wasn’t.
One day, during that abysmally short recess we had during the morning session, a bunch of kids were at the sink outside the bathrooms playing around, laughing and having a childish time when, for no reason in the world, I filled up a cup of very hot water from – you guessed it – the hot water faucet; (why the hell was there a hot water faucet there anyways?) Baruch somehow got pushed or pulled and ended up bumping into me and getting some of the water splashed onto himself. He didn’t waste any time before telling the rebbi what I had done to him.
When we got back into class the usually angry rebbi was angrier than usual. “Shragi kim aher” he rumbled. I obeyed, quaking, since I knew what kind of credibility anyone has once the rebbi makes up his mind about someone’s guilt or innocence and based on his demeanor I sensed in whose favor he had ruled.
“Farvus husti eym ungeshpritzt mit heiys vaser, why did you spritz hot water at him”?
“I didn’t, it splashed”
At the beginning of the year he had shown us his special thin round wooden stick which he informed us was reserved for the worst offenses.
He had now inaugurated the dreaded stick on me.
Throughout the rest of the year he used that stick a few more times, on other kids, for other horrible offenses of which they were undoubtedly guilty. But my name was forever associated with that evil rebbi’s special thin round stick for every time he took it out of his drawer the whole class would turn to look at me and murmur “Shragi, Shragi”