Posts tagged “hebrew school”.

Religious School Report to Parents

Okay, here are my Hebrew School report cards. Mrs. Rutner was my first teacher. I love how things are rosy, followed by “but.”

“Seth is quiet in class but he seems to be absorbing the oral language nicely.”

“Seth is making very fine progress in every area. Please encourage attendance at Junior Congregation on Shabbat.”

“It was a pleasure to have Seth in my class. Promoted to grade Bet.”

The next year I was taught by septuagenarian Mrs. Kaplan.

“Seth has made considerable progress. He shows effort and interest.”

“Seth has show much improvement in all areas. He should practice reading to improve his speed. [Where was I going?] He should do his homeworl more regularly.”

“Seth has made good progress. However he could do better. Comes unprepared.”

This woman promoted me to Gimel, but the LOWER, dumber track. I skipped two Sunday classes in a row and while she made sure to actually take me into a windowless storage area to give me some extra attention… it didn’t work. But her reports are somewhat pleasant.

I was then handed over to Mssrs. Zapinski and Gerlitz. Loved the former, hated the latter. Mr. Gerlitz told tall Zionist tales to prove a point, when he could have just told the truth. Let’s see what they had to say:

“Seth could easily get good marks–if he were to do his homework. [E.Z.]“

“He seems very happy with his studies, though his marks don’t reflect it.”

What the hell is that supposed to mean, and where is the plan to make me a good li’l Jewish student?

The following year I was graded by Mr. Gerlitz, although I recall a man who taught one of the other subjects. He was the son of another teacher (hence his uterine credentials gave him qualifications?), and he would sweat a lot. Possibly a pedophile.

Mr. Gerlitz reports in broken English:

” A very smart guy, but very lazy to do his work. Seth is not attending enough the Sabbath Services.”

For some reason, Mr. Gerlitz did not include any remarks for the second and final reports that year. I suspect he was spending too much time at Sabbath Services, and very lazy to do his own damned work.

For the fifth and sixth years, there are no narrative, but here’s how I fared gradewise. For some reason, Hebrew Language is not on one report, but I was doing “good” in Torah, “very good, good, and then fair” in Jewish Living, and then Good and then Excellent in History.”

In the next marking period, my marks for Hebrew Language suddenly appear, “fair, to good, to fair again.” Never unsatisfactory, though. The following year, when that bastard Rabbi Mayerfeld was in charge, I am listed as “Fair minus, and then twice as unsatisfactory.” And yet, within ten months, I flew through my Haftarah and Torah portions. Why? Because kindly Mr. Zapinsky was my tutor. And, I had to share my torah and haftarah portion with another kid, and at the last minute, I got the harder, second half because I was told the other kid was not as smart as I was.

So, how the hell did I go from “unsatisfactory” as per the “rabbi” who told the entire class that Mr. Rutner, the principal, thought I was “illiterate,” to being “the smarter of the bnai mitzvah” pairing?

Furthermore, let the record show that during that final year of Hebrew junior high school, I got “Excellent” in every single other subject–Torah, Jewish Living, and History.

I just hope that Hebrew Schools are much better today than they were back when I was a little kids surrounded by vicious homophobic social-climbing semites, and hte horrible teachers with no qualifications who babysat them three days a week for two or three hours.

Ultimately, the problem was this: I was sent to Hebrew School by parents who expected the teachers to teach me, but Mom was unable to help since she received no Jewish education, and Dad did what he could, but he worked hard and couldn’t do it all. And the teachers didn’t really reach out much to the parents.

By the way, I have done a lot of Jewish education, and I am pretty well versed in some things, and not others. But I still wish my Hebrew were better, and that Ulpan weren’t so expensive.

Why Seth Cannot Midaber Ivrit: Still VERY Angry About Hebrew School

So, another Yom Hakippurim Hazeh has rolled into town, and I find myself not  atoning for all of my sins, or some of yours, or fasting. Instead, I just had a snack and then plowed through more stuff here at Breezy Blossoms–my ancestral home since 1966.

Most of it is very pleasant: greeting cards from my first birthday, old photos I thought we lost, and then came the Report to Parents from the Religious School of Temple Israel of Great Neck. And it all comes back to me.

Hebrew School: Where adults who know something about Hebrew, Judaism, or Jewish History come to a school and completely don’t relate to the children they are supposed to be teaching. Most of the teachers were simply not good at teaching. Some even seemed to hate the children. Some in particular I think just hated me. The horror of Hebrew School for me was that by fourth grade, I already was the “class faggot” because of my poor performance in gym. But somehow, word of this spread to the other kids in the Hebrew School who were not even in my elementary school. This guaranteed my complete and utter pillorying as a big fag by the time I got to Junior High School, which was certainly inspired by Dante’s Inferno for Teens ™.

I digress. There were clearly two teachers I think were very nice people who loved teaching. There was Mr. Zapinski, who truly seemed to love the children, and was fairly patient with them, and even once let us take turns listening to his pacemaker after one kid heard it ticking during  a test and was convinced this dear old man was going to explode. “You should listen to it–so you know there’s nothing to be afraid of.”

There was also Mrs. Rutner, who was a truly lovely, maternal woman married to one of the most fuckingly sarcastic educators I ever met–he was the principal of the religious school. By the time I reached my fifth year there, I was struggling horribly in Hebrew. Around the time you are 11 and a half, they suddenly get interested in seeing if you are going to make it through your Torah portion at your own Bar Mitzvah. I could barely read a random Hebrew paragraph out loud, and Mr. Rutner (his real name) was so sarcastic, as if it were completely my fault that I was not fluent in Hebrew. I am as mad as he was. I should have become fluent in Hebrew. I should be able to read every Facebook update my cousins in Israel write in Hebrew. Instead, I only understand every fifth spoken word. All I can say in Hebrew with real certainty is “not now” and “I don’t know.” That might come in very handy at the El Al interrogation before you board the plane. I was able to read a word in Hebrew, and they let me board.

What annoys me most about Mr. Rutner–his real name–is that he was so nasty. There was not an ounce of compassion, or any thought to want to help me improve. Five years into the game, he wonders why I am not doing well at Hebrew? And to make matters worse, he shares this deprecating attitude about me with Rabbi Mayerfeld, not a rabbi from our Temple, but someone with the title Rabbi who was our teacher in the fifth and sixth years, who would openly mock me and taunt me, completely on his own initiative–nothing I did–in front of the class, telling them that the principal thinks I am a Hebrew illiterate. So, when the person who is there to teach you is a role model for the other bullies in the class, do they expect me to be running Mosad?

I don’t know if these two men are alive, but I hope they are in hell. Now, Mr. Rutner I hope is in the Jewish Hell where you go to the Second Avenue Deli and they are out of everything except sardines. I hope Rabbi Mayerfeld (his real name) is in Catholic Hell, where he is force to spend his days in an Irish Pub or something equally Goyish. I think Protestant Hell is too good for him–for them, Hell means flying coach, always. I say Catholic Hell because they mean business–those medieval woodcuts make it look pretty bad. Pretty-bad.

The other problem was my parents. First, my mother: She was raised orthodox, so she never sent for any religous instruction because girls didn’t need to know Hebrew or Halachah. If you can light candles on Friday night, keep a kosher kitchen, and put up with no electricity one out of every seven night, you get an A. This resulted in my mother lighting candles on Friday night and then serving us bacon or sausages before I was sent now and then to Junior Congregation on my own. On-my-own. My mother only went on the High Holidays, where she would hector us in whispers to pray louder. “Let’s hear it!” she would hiss between whispers, to which I dangerously replied, “Why aren’t you singing?” Because she didn’t know. And when I first learned Hebrew and was ecstatic to learn about how verbs were conjugated and nouns declined, Mom made it clear she didn’t want to hear about it. Because she couldn’t appreciate it.

I am giving a major pass to my Dad because he worked very hard and had a disability, and while  we never once went to Shabbat services together, he did go every single Sunday we had Hebrew school to go to the weekly breakfast with the rabbi, a wonderful, learned man who made the group read the books during the week and then discuss the Jewish meaning over a bagel.

Also, it was the 1970s. I watched an awful lot of TV, and helicopter parenting was not yet invented.

The really sad thing is that I should have become fluent in Hebrew, and those first six years should have been a lot more nurturing, instead of more of the same. Luckily, I actually continued onto the Hebrew High School, where I liked the remaining students a lot more, and we had younger teachers who actually felt they had a mission, and were encouraging of the students. Except for one older jerk who decided that my Aunt Mary should be called “Aunt Miriam” even though that was not her name. We also had the nonsense earlier on of my teacher telling me my Hebrew name wasn’t possible. This put my mother into Missile Mode, and she made it know LOUD AND CLEAR that she very well knew her father’s name and that I was named for him. They stopped fighing it after that. It was probably part of the cultural imperative to make our Yiddish given names more ivrit chaya–Living Hebrew. In the 1960s and 1970s, emulating modern Israel seemed preferable to Yiddishkeit. That was wrong. Not only was my mother right, but I have seen my grandfather’s ship record and naturalization, and he had a good Hebrew name with a Yiddish pronunciation. How dare the Hebrew School tell me and my mother the name did not exist? This is also the Hebrew School that sent us home telling our parents to vote for NIXON. Believe me, if you want to send my mother’s head into a low orbit around the Earth, talk to her about how great Nixon was.

More on this later: Excerpts from my Hebrew School report cards.