Kol Yisroel Areivim – Racism in a Story I Wrote in High School

Please read this before scrolling down to the transcription.

This is a story I wrote for a school publication when I was in twelfth grade, in Bais Yaakov High School in Brooklyn, NY. It is racist. I am not proud of it. But I am sharing because, as I’ve explained in a previous post, I think it’s important to look back at my past and the things I wrote or said then.

It’s important for me, in my own personal development. But it’s also important for those considering Bais Yaakov education or ultra-Orthodox education and socialization.

The thrust of this story’s message is not about the race of the person who unexpectedly comes to the Jew’s rescue. It’s about the elite Jewish status and about the burden a visibly-Orthodox Jew carries to behave appropriately, and about the connection between all Jews and the burden of every Jew to behave to high standards because they might affect other Jews. I now think all of that is bullshit to at least some extent.

With the rise of anti-Semitism, especially events like this one, it is obvious that one Jew’s actions do affect another’s. But the idea that Jews are inherently wonderful, as this story suggests, is wrong.

And the racism in this story, although slightly and confusedly benevolent, is wrong.

The “youths” are obviously meant to be black, though their race is never mentioned. And the “huge black guy” – I’m sorry, I don’t even know what to say about that. It’s clear I thought I was portraying him in a neutral, if not good, light. But still – racist.

[side-note: notice how I talk about “teenagers.” The person who wrote this sounds very much like a self-hating teenager. I’ve heard from Bais Yaakov teachers who think it’s better for the girls to be called “young adults” rather than “teenagers” or “adolescents,” and I vehemently disagree with them. Teens should be allowed to behave as teens, to think of themselves as teens – not to be derisive of teens or to equate adolescence with hooliganism.]

Okay. Now for the story. Transcription after images.

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Title in Hebrew: “Kol Yisroel Areivim Zeh LaZeh” – All Jews are connected to each other

Mr. Teitelbaum swayed over his gemara to the rhythm of the train car. His sing-song hum, baruch Hashem, went unnoticed because there was only one other man in the car, sitting at the other end. Mr. Teitelbaum always looked for empty cars on his way home so he could learn with no disturbance, and he was thankful for the quiet.

But he looked up in consternation as the doors slid open at a local stop. The sounds of loud music and wil laughter permeated the station, and a group of five rough-looking teenagers boarded his car. They settled themselves in the middle of the car and their thrumming music bounded off the metal walls of the train.

Mr. Teitelbaum sighed in exasperation and closed his gemara. There was no way he could learn with that racket. He bent down and tucked the sefer into his attache case. As he straightened up, he saw one of the youths eyeing him, almost gleefully. Two of the teenagers stood up and sauntered over to Mr. Teitelbaum’s side of the car. One stopped directly in front of him and grabbed onto the overhead rail, swinging himself from side to side so he came within an inch of Mr. Teitelbaum’s face. The other sat in the seat directly next to Mr. Teitelbaum and shuffled nonstop. Mr. Teitelbaum kept quiet. He didn’t want to start anything. He’d just wait it out till his stop.

Another teenager came over to the swinging kid.

“Get out of my place!” he yelled and shoved him. The swinging kid fell across Mr. Teitelbaum and his “seatmate.” Mr. Teitelbaum drew back but kept quiet.

“Watcha doin’?” his “seatmate” snarled.

“Waddaya want?” whined the “fallen” teenager. “This guy’s foot’s stickin’ out so far, he just tripped me!”

All three turned to Mr. Teitelbaum. Frantically he looked at the man on the other side of the car, but the man didn’t move. I don’t blame him, Mr. Teitelbaum thought. Who would want to get involved with these kids?

“Hey, big guy, scrunch up a little, you take up too much space!” the other two teenagers joined the scene.

“Or why don’t you just leave?”

“Hey, let’s help him, guys, do our good deed for the day!”

Mr. Teitelbaum stood up and picked up his attache case, but one boy grabbed it from him.

“Hey, Jewboy, not so fast,” he wagged a finger at him. “We got some business to take care of first.”
Suddenly one teenager went flying clear across the car.

“Wha-” the one holding the attache case turned, but the huge black man grabbed him and threw him to the floor, too.

The train stopped just then and all five roughs ran out the door, throwing terrified looks over their shoulders as the black man glowered after them. Mr. Teitelbaum sat stunned.

“Tha – thank you,” he stammered. “But – excuse me, but you were ignoring them before – why did you come now?”

The black man went to the stereo and shut off the music with a snap, then sat down next to Mr. Teitelbaum.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I should’ve stopped them right away, but I didn’t want to get involved. But when they called you Jewboy, I had to help you, and I want to tell you why.

Right now, I look like any regular businessman, but a few years ago, I looked nothing like this. I had no job and i actually had to beg on the streets in order to live. It was humiliating, pleading with strangers to give me a bit of money, and not very lucrative at all. Hardly anyone ever gave.

There was one day when no one at all gave me anything. By mid-afternoon, I hadn’t eaten, and I had no money, so I decided to walk from car to car in the trains. I figured, when they’re sitting down, maybe people would give. But everybody ignored me. Car after car, no one even made eye contact with me! I started to feel invisible.

But then one man took out his wallet and pulled out a dollar. That alone was enough to make me more than happy, but he didn’t stop there. He grasped my hand and wished me luck – and smiled at me! All of a sudden, I felt like a person again, like I had some value as a human.

That feeling carried me through many other difficult days until I got a job again. And the man who gave me that feeling was a Jew, wearing a  skullcap like you are. When I realized you were a Jew in trouble, I thought – here’s my chance to repay that kindness the Jew did for me then.”

 

5 thoughts on “Kol Yisroel Areivim – Racism in a Story I Wrote in High School

  1. It’s a very fummy story.

    I take it you hadn’t taken the train during rush hour at that point in your life? An empty car every day so he could learn?

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    1. I know!!! My entire radius of existence was Boro Park and Midwood, though – with a jaunt or two to Macy’s or Lord and Taylor every so often. So no – I did not know much about train dynamics, and that’s obvious 😉

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  2. Forgive yourself for the person you were. You were a teenager. And that is okay. Teens are allowed to behave as teens–self-righteous and clueless as they are striving to find and create their place in the world. I would be far more worried about the adults who allowed this to be published.

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    1. That’s a wonderful take on it. Absolutely, I blame the adults who fostered this mindset and who allowed it to be published.

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    2. Also I just googled your name and I am honored that you read this and commented, given your work and philosophy ❤

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