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Belonging's Release

By Avram Mlotek

Section: Arts

November 30, 2007

1130072.jpg“At the end of 1941, the Germans made the decision to try to destroy all the Jews in every country they conquered or controlled. They began with the organized murder of hundreds and thousands of Jews, and with the help of gas chambers and death camps such as Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, the Nazis proceeded with their so called ‘Final Solution to the Jewish Problem,’ ultimately killing six million Jews,” read Jake, reading the textbook.

“Lindsay, focus. Back to the book,” I said quietly as she looked outside the classroom window. The wind was causing all the wet and colorful leaves to fly and stick to the glass.

“Lindsay,” I said again. She turned around, her head now facing the textbook.

“Great job, reading, Jake,” said Dave, their teacher. “Who would like to continue?”

“Wait a second,” said a girl sitting across from Lindsay. “My family, well, not my family, my grandfather- my great-grandfather- he was, like, one of the six million.”

“Yeah, my family too,” another student said. “My great-grandfather- he was a fighter in the forests- and so he didn’t get killed but his brothers did. In the camps.”

“In the camps?” asked a student. “In the Berkshires!”

“Not those camps, idiot,” said one student.

“Language,” David said.

The hands went up like lightning bolts, one by one. David realized he had to put the Israel; A History textbook down on his desk and lead this discussion. It wasn’t so often that the 5th graders of the Temple Micah’s Hebrew school participated as enthusiastically and dynamically as this in any kind of classroom discussion, unless it was about snack. “Yes, Max,” the teacher said, pointing to who he called.

“In this movie I once saw,” Max began, taking a bite from his unfinished snack of popcorn, “The Producers- it’s really funny. They sort of talk about the Holocaust and Will Ferrell is in it and he plays a Nazi and it’s soo funny.” Max laughed; a few joined in.

Lindsay began to take off her socks.

“Lindsay, what are you doing?” I asked her. A foolish question.

“Taking off my socks.”

“Why?”

“I think there’s something in between my toes.”

“Lindsay, you can’t take off socks in the middle of class. Would you do that in regular school?”

Another girl was talking now. Hillary was her name. “Yeah,” she said putting down her pink flavored taffy, “I was just talking about Hitler with my mom the other day and I asked how he could get so many people to follow him like that. And she was like, he was a painter once and he didn’t get into art school. So he really hated himself because of that and then he took it all out on the Jews. Oh, and he was like a really good talker.”

“Not talker,” said one student, “speech giver.”

“Does anyone know the word for that? For being able to deliver speeches really well?” the teacher asked. “There’s a special word.” David called on Steve.

“Orator.”

“Excellent, Steve.”

Lindsay continued peeling off her socks and did not answer my question. I asked again, “Lindsay, would you take off your socks in the middle of regular class?”

“No,” she eventually answered.

“So, this is school too, Lindsay. You can go out to the bathroom and take care of it there. The class is in the middle of a discussion.”

“I know.”

“Do you know what we’re talking about?” I said quietly, leaning in.

She took a moment and then answered, “The Producers.”

David was slowly losing control of the class. The students had so much to offer, so much to share and there was such little direction. The teacher called on students left and right and the Israel textbook, uninterested in giving a background and in-depth history of the Holocaust, instead focused on the significance of the Holocaust relating to the establishment of the State of Israel and offered no guidelines as how to run a classroom discussion about the topic- a topic that had never been previously discussed in their Hebrew school education. David was lost but doing his best.

“Well, like, why?” said Steve, finishing a chocolate candy bar. “Why did Hitler do it? Like, what’s the point?”

“Lindsay, we’re talking about the Holocaust,” I said.

“I know,” she said to me.

“I LOVE that kind of chocolate!” a student shouted. “Steve, what flavor did you get?”

“It’s not that kind of chocolate bar,” Steve answered, his mouth full. “There are no flavors.”

“Class, focus,” David asked.

“Lindsay, we’re talking about the Holocaust,” I said again.

“I heard you. What’s that?” She pointed to a stain on my shirt.

“Lindsay, focus.”

What direction could I have pointed her to when there was no direction at the current moment? And how hypocritical must I seem when I sit for two hours, alongside her, reminding her to focus, when the rest of the class is just as disoriented, if not worse. For this I get paid, I should remind myself, right? I could take her out of class and have our own private lesson, like we did when the class practiced Hebrew. But this seemed different. This discussion, in all its aimlessness, was in fact communal and she was connecting to it, I said to myself. Or was it just to The Producers?

“Steve, please go on with your question,” David said.

“Well, like why did Hitler do it? What did he want in the end?”

“Hitler believed in the supremacy of the Aryan race,” the teacher answered.

“Yeah,” said a student, “they were going to make a museum of Jews in Prague or someplace.”

“It was Prague,” said another student.

“Did they ever make it?” asked a student.

Steve answered this time. “Uh- look at yourself. You’re alive. You’re Jewish. Duh!”

The kids laughed. Lindsay looked at her pinky fingers.

“Hitler would set up a museum in Prague, Steve, to show that the Jews did once exist but not anymore. In answer to your question, Jews still exist and the museum doesn’t. His goal, Steve, was to have the Aryan race dominate.”

“You said that already,” Steve said.

“Blonde hair and blue eyes. Yes, Serena?” the teacher said, already calling on the next student.

“But I have blonde hair and blue eyes,” Steve offered, but the teacher was already preoccupied and disconnected for quite some time now. I was compelled to say something to Steve when Lindsay asked, “What page are we on?”

The other students were usually completely oblivious to her. During group games and activities Lindsay was noticed but rarely included, unless an aide was with her, but during Hebrew lessons she was out of the class and during classroom discussions, she might as well have been. But here, someone answered her. It was Stephanie, the girl who started the discussion, who sat right across from her.

“We’re not really on a page, Lindsay. We’re talking.”

Lindsay’s eyes lit up. “Thanks, Stephanie.” And then to me, in a quiet sound, “What page are we on?”

“We’re still on 118. You’re opened to it. Lindsay, did you have any family killed in the Holocaust?” What a question… Where did it even come from?

“No.”

“Do you have any questions that the other kids aren’t asking?”

“No.”

“Is this boring to you, Lindsay?”

She shrugged.

“Great discussion, class. Jake, please continue reading,” the teaching said so abruptly that I almost coughed.

“Jake just read, David!” a student objected.

“Okay, would anyone else like to read?”

A quiet voice spoke and an arm shot right up and Lindsay surprised even me when she whispered, “I’ll read.”

Lindsay’s classroom participation was so scarce that David and I had worked out a sign when he should call on her to read, even before she volunteered. But here she beat both of us to it. David smiled a sneaky smile. Don’t make it obvious, David, I thought.

“Go ahead, Lindsay,” he said.

And she read, possibly retaining not a single syllable, word or idea, but certainly aware that she- Lindsay, 5th grade student- was also called on, like the others were called on, and she too would and could read before the whole class. She took a deep breath, as she was taught to do by her parents, perhaps, before she ever said anything in public and read in a loud enough voice, “The Story of the Exodus.” And as she continued, I slowly tried to let go.

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