I’ll admit it. I was a Hebrew school nerd. I didn’t hide under my desk like the other kids did if the teacher left the room, I refused to play toss the yarmulke in the halls as we’d walk to assemblies, and I never dreamed of making fun of my fourth grade teacher’s penciled-on eyebrows (though I did wonder where her real ones went).
The only reason I even knew what the Principal’s office looked like was because I’d volunteer to do errands for my teachers. I felt bad for them. They weren’t particularly interesting or engaging, but I didn’t find the need to torture them like most of the other kids.
Then I got to Hebrew High – after school Hebrew school for high school students – and things got a bit better. At Hebrew High, they offered classes like “Great Jewish Films” which were basically mediocre non-Jewish films that the teacher would loosely connect to a Jewish theme. (But hey, who could complain when they let you watch movies at school?)
Also, unlike in Hebrew school, many of the Hebrew High teachers were Orthodox, which meant that the Judaism that they spoke about came from actual experience instead of just being read out of a book.
That meant that Hebrew High, at times, was as interesting as going to the zoo since we’d get to observe foreign creatures whom we wouldn’t have otherwise come across in our everyday lives. These people observed ALL the holidays, wore prayer shawls under their shirts, went to temple every single day, and never, ever, ever put tref food past their lips.
But how much was it worth it to them, we wondered. So one day we asked our teacher how much money it would take to get him to eat a cheese burger. A million dollars? Five million dollars? One hundred million dollars?
And then he told us – there was no amount of money in the world that would make him eat one, and from the way he said it, it was clear that he meant it. We were all pretty shocked. ‘Cause when you think of all the crazy, immoral, embarrassing things people will do to make a fast buck (reality tv, anyone?) it’s pretty amazing that some people would stand so strongly by a set of convictions that, taken out of context, don’t even make too much sense.
I also stand by those convictions today, which I think would make my Hebrew school teachers pretty proud. (And what former Hebrew school nerd wouldn’t want to make her teachers proud.)