15 March 2013


I don't know why I didn't think of it earlier.

If you want to control 7th graders, read to them.  The process of pacification that commences is so definitively calming as to be nothing less than an airtight theory for the seamless execution of controlling an adolescent mind on a weekday afternoon between 4-6 pm.

Read to them.

Last week I read to them S.Y. Agnon's "The Fable of the Goat," allowing them to grapple with Diaspora ideas, Zionism, and the attenuated reality of messianic yearning.  This week it was Y.L. Peretz's two classics, "Bontsha the Silent," about a bone-crushingly frustrating Man of Great Meekness, whose humility is only an occasion to be mocked; contrasted with Peretz's stunningly elegant and inspiring "If Not Higher," the tale of a Hasidic rebbe who delivers firewood to the poor dressed as a Gentile, Russian woodchopper.

His humility, as the students quickly grasped, equally humble but without a trace of the viscerally depressing meekness and self-hatred.

And then there was the matter of their own silence--less a silence of course and more the sign of a quaint, tender, innocent and calming thought process:  the pacifying contextualization of Jewish content that made them cognizant of characters, values and the Holy Grail of the skeptical crowd, Jewish narrative.

Around the room a dozen young minds listened to a Jewish story from a Jewish writer told in a Jewish voice which prompted Jewish questions and Jewish responses.

It's beautiful, and a moment worthy of celebration, when it comes together.

Today it did.

Next week I'd like to take it to a new place, "if not higher."

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