Thursday, August 30, 2007


[Note: here's one I've had around for a while. Hope you enjoy.]

When we moved to Seattle, I was in the seventh grade. I started in a new religious school right after my mother and I moved to town. Classes were held on Thursday evenings, rather than on Sunday mornings. On the first night of our Hebrew class the instructor, Mr. Coen asked us what our Hebrew names were. I don't have a Hebrew name. (My mother still feels guilty about not giving me one.) The year before, some Orthodox girls gave me the Hebrew name "Yaffa." (I was visiting my Orthodox brother at his Yeshiva in Baltimore for the weekend and I spent the day with these girls while he was in class.) Yaffa means pretty and I took it as a compliment. So, when Mr. Coen asked for my Hebrew name, I said, "I don't really have one but I guess you can call me Yaffa." And he did. Unfortunately, he wasn't the only one.

As a rule, we only went by our Hebrew names in Hebrew class. In the other classes, we went by our "regular" names. Since no one had ever called me Yaffa except for that one weekend when I was 12, it was rather jarring when one of my classmates, Jeremy, started calling me Yaffa all the time. I asked him to stop, but that seemed to have the opposite effect. I tried that ignoring thing, but that didn't get him to stop either. He never stopped.

By our tenth grade year, I was used to being called Yaffa. I didn't like it, but I'd stopped trying to make the boys stop. It wasn't only Jeremy who called me Yaffa, but a whole crew of mean boys, lead by the rabbi's son, Joel. Joel was a clever, troubled kid and a creative teaser. I almost didn't mind when he gave me a hard time but I still didn't enjoy it. I reserved my contempt, though, for idiot boys like Seth, who clumsily followed in the expert teasing footsteps of Jeremy and Joel. Seth didn't have feelings about me one way or another, he just teased me so he could seem cool. I was actually able to get my own back at him fairly easily, which I could see that Joel and Jeremy appreciated.

This teasing dynamic was the norm for me throughout my religious school life and I never understood it. However, I know that I made things worse when I started in the Early Entrance Program (aka college) in what would have been my ninth grade year. I was humble and non-elitist on campus. At Thursday school, however, I had no problem casually impressing my instructors with tales of college knowledge while not-so-subtly antagonizing my classmates. I'd been teased for so long, I didn't care anymore. If I could make some of them feel stupid along the way, that wouldn't hurt either.

After the seventh grade year, we no longer took Hebrew classes, since we'd all had our Bar or Bat Mitzvahs. But that didn't stop Jeremy from continuing to call me Yaffa. I continued to hate him.

For my last year of Thursday school, my class of six or seven kids, was combined with a much larger class of ninth graders because the Rabbi was taking a sabbatical the next year. Tenth grade in Thursday school was "graduation year" or "confirmation." Our Rabbi called it "covenant renewal" (confirmation has Catholic overtones). If you'd had a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, you agreed to continue until the tenth grade year. The ninth grade kids just got lucky. Also, Joel, the rabbi's son was in the ninth grade class, so for the first time, I was confronted with him in at least one of my classes each Thursday. Before, he'd only get a few shots in during breaks. Jeremy was always egged on by Joel, so I knew this combo was not going to be fun for me.

One day, I was in a classroom with a couple of the ninth grade girls and boys, Joel, and Jeremy. The boys were calling me Yaffa and yukking it up, as usual. The girls were unfamiliar with this routine and one of them whispered to me, "Why are they calling you Yaffa?"

"You'd have to ask them."

"Don't they know what it means?"

I knew she was insulting me. I said, "I'm sure they know."

"Then why do they say it?"

"I don't know."

She said, "Can we ask them? Do you mind?"

"No. Go right ahead. What do I care?"

The girl in question turned to Jeremy and said, "Do you know what it means? Do you know what 'yaffa' means?"

"Of course I do!" Jeremy laughed.

"Really?? You really know?!"

Jeremy went to the chalkboard and said, as he wrote, "Yaffa equals pretty."

As soon as he stopped talking there was silence. Complete silence. The girls started laughing. I was stunned. Then I smiled and shook my head.

Jeremy was flustered and erased the board as quickly as he could. He said, "Oh, no. No, that's not what I meant."

But in that moment it became clear to me that it was exactly what he'd meant all along.

My mother, of course, had told me some time before that Jeremy liked me, but I didn't believe her. I said to Mom, "I guess you were right, but I still don't like him. He tormented me for all these years because he liked me? I don't get it. I don't think that's how you act when you like someone and I'll never forgive him."

Right after the covenant renewal ceremony, Jeremy found me and pulled me aside. He apologized for all the years of teasing and confessed that it was because, um, you know, he um, sorta had feelings for me, or something. He was sincere and I had to grant that it took a lot of courage for him to say anything. My response? I thanked him, accepted his apology, and got away from him as quickly as I could. After all, I've had lots of crushes and never once did I show my affection by cruel, relentless teasing. I would never like Jeremy, but I pitied him. And I forgave him.

Grateful for: forgiveness.

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