(Former) Hebrew School Nerd


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.)




  1. This post is timely for me because my husband was offered a job today (he is currently out of work) but when he said he couldnt be on-call for the IT job on Shabbos, even though he would fill in extra the rest of the time, they rescinded the offer. Yes, sometimes sticking to our religious convictions can be a challenge.

    • I’m sorry to hear that your husband is out of work, but I just spoke to my husband who’s an attorney and he agrees with me that it might have been illegal for this company to rescind the job offer for your husband’s Shabbos observance. Is the IT position just one person in the entire company or are there other people who could cover for him on Shabbos?

  2. I am also a former Hebrew School “nerd.” I attended the Memphis Talmud Torah, which served the Jewish kids who did not go to the Academy (the Jewish day school), three days a week for six years. Many of my peers just went until Bar Mitzvah (five years) and dropped out.

    I remember a number of the teachers, in this case from the Orthodox community (some of them were also on the faculty of the Academy). I especially remember Mrs. Cheruff, the first grade teacher, and Rabbi Yormark, the director of the Talmud Torah and the teacher for sixth grade who helped us with graduation.
    One of Mrs. Cheruff’s daughters is a friend of my wife and me. I will always think of her as “Morah.”

    I will always give credit to the Talmud Torah for sparking my Jewish education. I look upon everything I study as a continuation of what was started in Talmud Torah. We did not have a “Hebrew High” like you did, but although the Talmud Torah no longer exists, I think there were many of us who were given a good opportunity to learn thanks to the Talmud Torah. Thanks for sparking so many good memories.

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Allison is the Founder and Director of Jew in the City. Please find her full bio here.