Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Rabbis of My Youth: A Memoir, or Apologia, by a Jew Who Became One, Albeit Not Orthodox

            I grew up Orthodox; I consider myself a left-wing Conservative rabbi, but I always say to folks who ask me, “Don’t pigeonhole me. If you ask me a specific question, I will give you a specific answer.” I did not attend the Jewish Theological Seminary; I had the good fortune to attend the Academy for Jewish Religion, a non-denominational rabbinical school that has existed since the 1950s. I also attended Yeshiva University, which was a great place for soulsearching, even when the soul in question doesn’t know that it is searching, and where, in spite of myself, I got a wonderfully complete and complex Jewish education, one which is never going to end, for as long as I live. I have studied Zen, Buddhism, English and American Literature, history, Christianity, Kabbalah, Chasidism, and more; I lived in Israel for a year, and thought seriously about living there, but history and the events of my life dictated differently. I love Israel with all my heart, even when I look with dread down the road its leaders are going—and I am not alone in this fear.
Like William Butler Yeats, a mad, mystical Irishman (the Jews and the Irish have much in common; actually, the Jews have a lot in common with all of humanity, and with God), I view life as a series of “gyres,” circular staircases in space, like the twisted helix of DNA, only where you can stand on a higher rung, and see where you have been, from a higher level of existence.
I have now been a rabbi for thirty years, thank God. Whatever sort of rabbi I have been, am becoming, is a conscious affirmation of the rabbis I admired, and a rejection of the rabbis I disliked. There is a saying attributed to the Catholic clergy—“Give me a child for the first five years of his life, and he is mine forever." One could say the same of Orthodox rabbis. Sadly, I had few role models among the rabbis of my childhood and early youth; indeed, I spent much of my young life running away from them—those who acted as God’s Policemen. I recall the last few lines of the William Blake poem, “The Garden of Love”:

                        And priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
                        And binding with briars my joys & desires.

My first encounter with a rabbi was with Rabbi N, who was both rabbi and principal of the Hebrew Day School-Synagogue amalgam that I attended in my neighborhood, the Lower East Side of New York City. He was no administrator or educator; he had no understanding whatsoever of Jewish Education or of young children; he had gotten his semicha/rabbinic ordination solely in order to prevent his being drafted to fight in Korea. His own unfulfilled dream had been to be a commercial illustrator, perhaps an artist; his temple bulletin, which he called “The Monthly Letter,” was full of little cartoony figures around the margin, as well as miniature bunches of grapes, menorahs, and Jewish stars. It was the only bit of whimsy he allowed himself, beyond an occasional joke among his balabatim/male congregants, whose punchline was invariably in Yiddish, which he would deliver with a hearty belly laugh.
Rabbi N loved being the center of attention, a common rabbinical character trait—I suffer from it myself—and was a tireless self-promoter. The climax of this came towards the end of his life, when he proclaimed the anniversary of his synagogue-school and commissioned a massive bronze plaque commemorating the event, complete with self-profile, which he had bolted to the side of the building. It was removed and disappeared soon after his passing. Sic transit Gloria mundi—so passes glory from the world, especially self-glorification.
To run the Hebrew Day School, Rabbi N hired a series of secretaries, and finally my mother, first as an English and Science teacher, and later as “Assistant Administrator,” though it was common knowledge that she was completely responsible for the school’s programming and academics. The school was finally driven under in the late 1970s by the tonier, midtown-Manhattan Hebrew day schools, which began running bus services down to our neighborhood and cherry-picking the school’s potential candidates. As these midtown dynamos were funded by deep-pocketed doctors, lawyers, and business executives, the old-fashioned local yeshivas could not compete, and closed.
Rabbi N’s heyday in the 1960s was the time of the Imperial Rabbinate, during which most rabbis’ word was law; they generally had more education, or, at least, more powers of persuasion, than their congregants. He himself stood over six feet tall, allowing him to tower over most of his congregants, and he cultivated a physically and mentally imposing style. His particular genius lay in fundraising, an area which many rabbis loathe, but in which he happened to excel. He smoked, despite its danger to his basso profundo singing voice and cantorial abilities: indeed, I learned most of my early prayer-singing from him. He formed a giant presence in my young life, both literally and religiously.
Additionally, Rabbi N was not a rabbi acting under contract to his congregation; as was not unusual in those days, he did not just work in the school-cum-synagogue; he owned the building—it had been part of the legacy, the yerusha/inheritance left him by Rabbi W, his father-in-law. He could not be fired, nor would the congregation even entertain the thought. Rabbi N and his shul were one and the same. If a congregant did not like Rabbi N’s style or get along with him—and he was a tyrant, but such was the tenor of the age—they could go elsewhere. The neighborhood abounded in shuls, each one with a different sort of rabbi, but all Orthodox.
An apocryphal, but altogether likely, story was that a group of neighborhood Jews, tiring of Orthodox strictures, tried to organize a Conservative temple. They approached a local landlord to rent a meeting place. When the Orthodox rabbis got wind of the idea, they contacted the landlord, and threatened to blackball him, professionally. The landlord returned the deposit to the Conservative group, and the idea died a-borning. It is true that the closest Conservative temple was a bus ride, or, at least, a very long walk, away, back in the days when most New York Jews did not own cars; it was close to Greenwich Village, or Gramercy Park, which we considered “practically uptown.”
As for my earliest Hebrew Day School experience, the era was the late 1950s, and common practice dictated that boys wear ties to school. It was the heyday of cowboys-and-Indians on TV, and so we usually got by by wearing either a bolo tie (two ends of a string, joined by a slide featuring an anchor or some other ornament), the ends of which we would suck on during class, or a length of satin cloth crossed over and fastened by a snap in the middle—it was called a “Maverick,” and was popularized on the eponymous TV show, featuring the cowboy actor Gene Barry. On this particular day, my mother had forgotten to hang a tie around my neck, and I wore neither.
            There was a little garden, almost a vest-pocket park, in the space between the two tenement buildings of the school. It was a lovely spring day; birds chirped in the big old trees, and clouds drifted by the friendly New York sun. I was undoubtedly on my way to the Men’s Room; I would not have left the classroom for any other reason; I loved school in those early days, but a five-year-old bladder is a fickle thing.
            Rabbi N looked down at me from his enormous height, and, in his deep, dark voice, rumbled—I can hear it to this day, though I am a grandfather myself, and the rabbi is dead these many years—“Dovid, where is your tie?” He always gave my name that Yiddish intonation, but it never sounded affectionate coming from his lips; it sounded frightening and officious.
            I don’t know what sort of answer he expected me to give; I was but a small boy, in the First Grade, and not responsible for dressing myself; my mother, an efficiency expert of the first order, was in charge of laying out my clothes, and had evidently forgotten a key component. I did the most expedient thing available to a small child, when confronted by Authority Asking an Unanswerable Question:
            I burst into tears, and stood there, weeping, amid the shining day, with squirrels climbing the trees, hardy New York sparrows chirping, buds blossoming, and Rabbi N asserting his principalship—though it does read like bullying and pettifoggery, which it was.
            He didn’t know what to do, when confronted with a crying child. He had two young daughters himself, but I believe that his wife, a gentle, quiet woman, raised them, mostly by herself.
In the end, he took me by the hand, calmed me the best he could—which wasn’t much—and took me to the school office. Perhaps his secretary, Ida, a lovely, patient woman who understood children well, found me a butterscotch candy to calm my rabbi-frazzled nerves, and she returned me, fully recovered, to my class.
            That was my first Private Encounter with a Rabbi. Things did not improve from that point on.
            Rabbi N, as I said, did not have sons. He was not only my elementary school principal—a job for which he was singularly unqualified—but also my synagogue rabbi. He took it upon himself to mold me, but I resisted being molded. I was not a bad boy; quite the contrary; I was chubby and bookish. Sports did not appeal to me: I was invariably the last one chosen in a choose-up game of Dodge Ball, Punch Ball, or Off-the-Wall, and usually one of the first to be struck Out. This did not bother me, especially; I learned early that, by memorizing books of jokes, I could make my friends laugh, and they would want me to stick around, the better to Laugh With, than Laugh At. I learned that children could be cruel, but that humor, in small doses, was a useful survival technique. It was among children that I learned the brand of dry humor bordering on sarcasm that has served me all of my life.
            As for Orthodoxy, there was the problem, the issue, of going to shul regularly for Shabbos services, which were long and boring. Since I had a good ear for music, and could sing, I loved to lead services—the only bright spot in an otherwise dull-as-dishwater all-Hebrew service, where laypeople took turns “leading the davening,” as was customary, and where the droning went on from 9 am to 11:30 am, including a sermon by the Rabbi. He always began with a standard sermonic approach: an observation on the week’s parsha, or Torah portion, using an insight garnered from Rashi—Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchak (1040-1105), a standard, reliable commentator. But the meat of his sermons always seemed to be that, if the entire world were Orthodox Jewish, and everyone belonged to his synagogue, the world would be a much better place, all around. He always started off low and slowly, rolling his consonants, and eventually reached a pitch where he would be shouting. We knew he was done when he said, “Good Shabbos!” which was usually a relief.
I will grant that Rabbi N did try to let me lead services on Shabbos once in a while, but the unwritten policy in the shul was that people with yahrzeit—that is, observing the anniversary of the death of a close relative—had priority on leading services, regardless of singing ability—and there were some daveners/prayer leaders whose vocal abilities were lacking, to be blunt.
I used to remark, sarcastically and bitterly, to my parents, that if I shot one of them, it would be a tragedy and I would go to prison, but, at least, I would finally qualify to lead the davening. Still, there was nothing they could do about it: the Rabbi knew that those who led the davening could be counted upon to give even a piddling donation to the shul. My parents were strong supporters of the rabbi—for many years, my father was shul president, and my mother, Sisterhood president (in addition to my father’s leading a Science Club for us students, and my mother’s teaching in and administering the school), but it would make no sense for them to bribe the rabbi just for his letting me daven, especially when Messrs. Goldstein and Cohen both had yahrzeit: one had to daven Shacharis, the Morning Service, and the other had Musaf, the Additional Service. I often got to lead the concluding songs, but that was the tail end of the entire business, and a long wait for a young person.
There was nothing left for me to do but sit and read the Song of Songs surreptitiously in the Chumash/Pentateuch—true, it did mention “breasts,” which, at the age of thirteen, had begun to be an area of interest for me, but that was as sexy as it got. The 1611 King James translation did not exactly read like Playboy Magazine, nor were there any pictures. There certainly were no eligible girls in the congregation for me to have lustful thoughts about; all the women, safely ensconced behind the mechitzah/barrier of the Women’s Section were my mother’s age, or older. Services were dull, dull, boring, boring.
            Rabbi N disliked that my ennui during services led me to talk incessantly to Eli, a friend of mine, who shared our pew. To prevent our conversing, the rabbi began to take me out of my seat and make me sit against the eastern wall, just below his own seat on the bema, the podium. Naïve and young as I was, I thought at first that this was an honor, but it soon lost its luster: it made services even more boring—with the added agony of everyone’s looking at me—and took away my only form of shul entertainment, conversation, it being a truism that, in Orthodox shuls, schmoozing is a universal pastime, and increases incrementally, the farther one sits from the bema/podium. As I got older, I developed friends from outside the congregation, and began to go to their shul for services. It felt good to escape from my home shul.
            Besides Rabbi N, whose teachings were more role modeling than textbook, there were two rabbis from my days at the neighborhood yeshiva from whom I did learn significantly, and to whom I feel indebted: my sixth- and eighth-grade teachers, Rabbi Y and Rabbi R. Rabbi Y taught us a foundation-stone of Jewish philosophy: that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. “God has placed a limit on our minds,” he said, “otherwise, we would be like God.” I did not know at the time that this was Isaiah speaking and Rabbi Y quoting, but I have used that same line of theological argument innumerable times.
            As for Rabbi R, he was careful to drill us over and over again in Hebrew dikduk, or grammar; he made us memorize pages and pages of verbs and conjugations. He was a bit of a tyrant, but it did pay off. We did not, sadly, learn to speak in Hebrew, but this did make it easier for me to learn to speak when I spent my year abroad in Israel in 1971-2.
            I did have a bittersweet meeting with Rabbi R in the streets of the Old Neighborhood when B and I returned a few years ago; it was a chilly day, and our meeting was purely by chance, at the corner of Essex and Grand. I was happy to see him; I thanked him for all he had taught me, and told him what I was doing as a Conservative rabbi. When he, an Orthodox rabbi, heard that I had gone Conservative, his face changed, and he began to brag to me about all of his talmidim (former students) who had gotten Orthodox semicha (ordination), including one who had become a rosh yeshiva (head of school). We shook hands, but it was not a good parting, though I understand his feelings: the Orthodox have no love lost for Conservative rabbis.
            I had a conversation years ago with an older Conservative colleague (now deceased) who, like me, had attended Yeshiva University as an undergraduate, had made a decision common among many young men in the postwar era: to attend the Jewish Theological Seminary and be ordained a Conservative rabbi. He phoned a former Hebrew professor of his from YU, and innocently made the mistake of telling him of his plans. The teacher was suddenly quick to hang up, bidding him farewell with a terse, “Anachnu zor’im, v’hem kotz’rim—We sow and plant, and they harvest.”
Indeed, I learned, growing up in the 1960s, that Orthodox rabbis disliked the Conservative camp worse than the Reform, because, while the Reform were, in Orthodox judgment, beyond the pale (this was the heyday of Classical Reform, with bareheaded, un-tallited rabbis, organ music, and the majority of the prayers in English), the Conservative service was dangerously close to the Orthodox in style, with Hebrew prayers and lifecycle customs. Frequently, the only difference in those days between Conservative temples and Orthodox shuls was the mixed seating that Conservative Jews preferred and their rabbis “allowed.”
             When the time came for me to graduate from Hebrew Day School, I was enthusiastic about entering Stuyvesant High School, a competitive, specialized school, along with my school friends. My parents wanted me to go to Yeshiva University High School, and what thirteen-year-old can resist his parents’ wishes?
My conversation with my mother went this way:
“All right, I’ll go to Yeshiva High. In four years, will I have to go to Yeshiva College?”
My mother: “Oh, no. We’re not THAT Orthodox.”
Surprise: in four years, we were that Orthodox; the college was two blocks away from the high school, and so, I went.
At this point in my life, at the tender age of thirteen, off I went to Yeshiva University High School, a long bus-and-subway ride, back and forth, every morning and evening.
In my sophomore year, I encountered the young and zealous Rabbi M, who, himself a ba’al teshuva, or formerly-secular-Jew-turned-Orthodox, was determined to evangelize his new-found knowledge and enthusiasm among us cynical fourteen-year-olds. There is no one so fervid and fervent as a zealot. He was a pleasant enough young man, but tended to beat the drum far too often. When he required us to choose books from a Recommended Reading List, my friend Bob Cohen chose Herman Wouk’s magisterial This is My God. Had I chosen that work as well, I might still be Orthodox today. But my double schedule was killing, and I opted for a far slimmer book: Rabbi Isaac Grunfeld’s The Sabbath: Its Meaning & Observance.
The book was, indeed, slim in size, but weighty in meaning. Grunfeld, a British rabbi, took the thirty-nine Av Melachote/Acts of Labor Forbidden on Shabbos, listed them fully, and gave all the subdivisions and sub-subdivisions, showing how an object as innocent as a pocket comb became an instrument weighty with sin: combing one’s hair on Shabbos subjected one to the sins of Carrying, Winnowing, Plucking, Harvesting, Sorting, Plowing, and on and on. After reading the book, I concluded that the best place to keep the Sabbath according to Halacha/Jewish Law was in a closet, in the dark, with the door tightly shut. It was the Commencement of My Road to Rebellion—and me, an innocent sophomore in Yeshiva University High School. I was beginning, in Paul’s words, to kick against the pricks (Note: just because I quote from Acts 26:14 doesn’t mean I’m going Christian—it means I’m being ironic). Really, it’s too bad that I never read Herman Wouk: he stayed Orthodox all of his life, and still managed a successful career as a novelist, even collaborating with Jimmy Buffett, towards the end.
Rabbi M exhorted us boys during class, pounded us with the cudgels of Talmud, and met with us individually throughout the year to investigate the State of Our Adolescent Souls, all smarmy with unfulfilled sexual yearning, anxious with future professional uncertainties, and feverish over whether Dr. R, the dread Math teacher—more about him soon—would spring yet another Pop Quiz on us that afternoon. He always enjoyed those little tete-a-tetes far more than we; I doubt whether most of us enjoyed having our souls spiritually reamed out by an over-righteous Plumber of God.
 As the year’s end loomed, Rabbi M conferred with us yet again, to advise us about which department to choose the following year—the Hebrew or Talmud Departments. Hindsight is clearest, as they say, and I cannot, nor do I wish to tally, the vast amount of poor, but well-meant advice I have received from teachers both idealistic and burnt-out, but Rabbi M’s pointing me toward the Talmud Dept. of YU was, in retrospect, wrong-headed and devastating. He pointed me toward the Talmud Department, despite knowing how well I did in Hebrew and Bible—thinking back on it now, is it possible that Talmud had a quota? We will never know.
Talmud and I simply did not mesh; I ought to have entered the Hebrew Dept., where my superior ability to decipher Chumash (the Pentateuch) and do Hebrew grammar would have helped me to get better grades. Instead, I spent the next two years in bondage to the Talmud, with its esoteric arguments about dogs burrowing into walls in search of leavened food during Passover, handy tests for determining a girl’s virginity by placing her astraddle the bung-hole of a wine cask, and whether one could pen a Get/Writ of Divorce on the leaf of an elephant-ear plant. But wait; let’s see what Rashi and Tosefose (Medieval commentators) have to say about those….
            The nature of YU meant that we often had rabbis not only for religious subjects, but for secular, as well. I recall having a different rabbi, and a very good teacher he was, too, for a high school World History course, down to having to memorize the Seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church for the final exam. It was also the height of the Vietnam War, and many rabbis had to get teaching jobs, or face the very real possibility of being sent off to Southeast Asia, either as chaplains or cannon fodder. Our Art teacher was one Rabbi E, whose teaching of Art consisted of reading The New York Times while we doodled in our sketch books during class. (I am not casting aspersions on the many brave Jewish personnel who did serve in Vietnam in all branches of the service, including the chaplaincy.)
            Students who excel at English are often not adept at Math. For both Freshman Algebra and Sophomore Geometry, I found myself in the clutches of Dr. R, who was both a rabbi and Ph.D. He was a five-foot-tall tyrant who shrieked at us in class, imposed pop quizzes, and, while looking over our shoulders during exams, often swatted our heads, if he did not like the way we were working a problem.
            “Marrrk, you need ah too-tah!” he would yell, “Ah hoo-tah too-tah, Marrk!” meaning that I needed a math tutor, which was certainly true. I was running a straight 65, semester after semester. I had not yet read Dante’s Inferno, but Dr. R’s Math Class could have served as a model, with himself as King of Hell.
            Dr. R had a favorite charity, called P’eelim, whose particular purview was winning innocent Israeli Jews back from the clutches of Christian missionaries who were allegedly circulating among disgruntled Orthodox Jews in Israel. When I, smarting from a blow on the head during Math, considered this premise even slightly, it seemed ridiculous—were there not sufficient resources in Israel, of all places, to counteract the nefarious activities of such villains? I imagined legions of rabbis, all resembling Dr. R, swooping down on Roman-collared missionaries, and pummeling them smartly about the neck and head with Math textbooks, finishing up their torture with a nasty pop quiz, while they were made to donate to P’eelim. I wished, truly and with all my heart, that Dr. R would feel a yearning to make aliyah (move to Israel permanently); perhaps the Arabs, disgruntled by the Israeli victory, might kidnap him? No; they would give him back immediately, I was certain.
As for questions about P’eelim—one never questioned Dr. R, however; it simply wasn’t done. One never even had a civil conversation with Dr. R; he did not appear even slightly human. A short man with more than a passing likeness in style and manner to Menachem Begin, he ruled his classroom with an iron fist. During pop quizzes, he would take two sheets of the yellowed, crumbling foolscap paper they used to give out for free from the NYC Board of Education, fold it carefully into a pocket, insert a few pennies for their noisemaking quality, and roam the classroom, while we slaved feverishly over the problems he had listed on the board.
He would look over our shoulders and breathe garlic-and-herring rabbibreath noisily down our necks; he would shake the paper in our faces, and scream in a high-pitched voice, loud enough to shatter the tall, brass-and-copper-edged windows in our ancient, Moorish classroom, “Give P’eelim! Give P’eelim!”
If he did not like or agree with our progress, which was frequent, he would hit us on the head with the paper packet, and force us to insert some coins from the small stash we all carried to buy Drake’s Cakes at Mr. Zunder’s Grocery, across Amsterdam Ave., during the break. The class was Hell.
Not surprisingly, by midterm, I was running a 65, although not without Dr. R’s encouragement: “Marrrk,” he would croak, like Poe’s Raven, his eyes rolling madly beneath his dusty, oversized Borsalino, “I could haff flonked you, bot I gafe you seexty-fife. Seexty-FIFE, Marrk! Bee-CUZZ you are tryink. Heff your perents comm see me on Open School Day.”
That was a Sunday. Perhaps my time had come: I had told my parents about Dr. R’s tyranny; surely they would, at last, see and understand what this horrid, mathematical General Tom Thumb, this rabbinical Imp of the Perverse, was doing to their only son. It was payback time, for sure.
That Sunday, the three of us—Mom, Dad, and I—toiled uptown on the A train, but my heart was, at least a little, light: Dr. R would confront the Wrath of Saul Mark. I even hummed a little tune as we slogged up the hill to the Copper-tinged Fortress that was Yeshiva University High School, there, gleaming in the midday sun.
Dr. R was holding court in his corner classroom. The P’eelim packet lay on the desk before him. He shook hands with my parents. We sat down, and they began to speak—
And then, the world ended. It turned out that Dr. R’s Ph.D degree was in Chemistry, and, of course, my father was an industrial chemist. The two of them starting trading Chemistry stories, while my mother and I looked on. My heart sank: I was doomed.
In the end, I was sentenced to a make-up class, meeting, of course, on Fridays—my only day off. I saw the future, a long line of numbers and problems stretching off into Eternity, like a Black Hole in space. I was doomed to Mathematical Failure; I would never graduate; I would stay on in YUHS forever, to be the Eldred Gnome on the Second Floor—

“Who is that Old Man there in the Corner Classroom, Rabbi?”
“Oh, don’t talk to him, Shimmy. He will never leave, poor fellow, never graduate.”
“Why, what has he done? What was his crime?”
“He had Dr. R for math.”
“Oh—poor, poor fellow—should we read Tehillim/Psalms for him?”
“It won’t help….”

I did better in Geometry, though, but it was still hard. And, in Junior Year, Calculus was hellish, but Dr. R was gone, off to afflict a new crop of freshmen and sophomores. Instead, we had “Fat Lonnie” Wegman, who barred the door and didn’t want to let me into his classroom one raw, rainy November day, because I, a commuting student, had put on jeans—jeans were forbidden; we called them “dungarees,” then—in the pouring rain, and came three-quarters-soaked-through to his class.
“Not in my class,” uttered the petty tyrant, fat, greasy, and curling his lip at me.
“Mr. Wegman—the rain—that’s why I wore them!” I protested.
He let me in. I was no troublemaker, just one of the faceless boys who tramped through his class.
In my senior year, I had Rabbi I—a thin-faced man with watery-blue eyes, who looked at—no, into—you, without really focusing. He may have been myopic, but the effect was startling, almost frightening. I placed myself deliberately in front of him, determined not to fall asleep—that had been my downfall the year before, resulting in my having to go to summer school. That had been a mixed blessing: I spent that summer schlepping up to YUHS every day in the morning, and learning the first six or so pages of the Talmud, so as to have an advantage in the fall. I also read through James Clavell’s magisterial, enormously-thick novel, Tai-Pan, and took a typing course.
But Rabbi I was an—unusual?—teacher. He seemed to be out of touch with us; not that it mattered, since we seniors had one foot out the door, and were more concerned with preparing for the necessary college entrance exams. There was also the mixed blessing of his irregular bladder, which required him to leave the classroom for minutes at a time. As good little yeshiva boys, we did not act up, but Shaye Grabstein in the back, a longhaired (we all were, letting our hair grow as long as the rabbis and our parents would let us) fan of The Doors, would start in:

When I was back there in seminary school
There was a person there who put forth the proposition
That you can petition the Lord with prayer
Petition the Lord with prayer
Petition the Lord with prayer

--which was, of course, the beginning of The Doors’ “The Soft Parade,” which we all loved—wasn’t Jim Morrison’s poetry speaking directly to us? And weren’t we in Seminary School? Omigod—yes, yes, we were, indeed.
            By the time Shaye was done, Rabbi I was back, and we would resume Talmud study. Somehow, we boys got one another through.
            Graduation day was a muddle: I really can’t remember the details, but I do recall that the Powers-that-Be grouped all four schools together—in those days of the Baby Boomers, there were two boys’ and two girls’ high schools, in both Manhattan and Brooklyn—but I believe that They only grouped us boys together; perhaps They feared we might assault the fair maidens of Central Girls’ Yeshiva, so full of testosterone were we, so eager to taste our Freedom.
We were together; we felt, like the Spartans at Thermopylae, that we had defended the Pass, whatever that was, and we were about to be free—at least, for a couple of months. I believe that the vast majority of us were, in September, to go no further than two blocks away from the Copper Castle, and into the slightly-more-modern-but-still-worn-out-looking halls of Yeshiva College.
            I have no friends from high school, though. I don’t know why. Perhaps it was the tenor of the times: the 1960s were dying; the ‘70s had yet to begin.
And there were more rabbis for me to meet.