From first through fifth grade I went to a simple country school on the outskirts of Beaverton, Oregon which is located in the heart of fruit orchards and berry fields. However, in my sixth-grade year, my family moved closer to the city (Portland) and we then lived for the school year with my grandparents (as my folks sold their home) and we were preparing to move to Montana the following year.
I wasn’t prepared at all for this ‘new school’ as it was entirely the opposite of everything I had experienced prior to sixth grade.
My former ‘country bumpkin’ school was your typical elementary school. It was fairly bland, nothing too out of the ordinary, and academically not too challenging. We used lots of construction paper, rubber cement, and tempura paints and had a lot of recesses. The math wasn’t too hard and for me, that was a big deal because I’m cruddy at math. Nothing seemed too stressful school-wise.
And then I landed at my ‘new school’ which wasn’t really anything like an elementary school but much more like an academy and also a cultural eye-opener.
Half of the teachers and half of the students were Jewish and that provided an entirely new learning experience for me.
First of all, I was in a combination fifth/sixth-grade class so that was new. But besides the fact that it was academically intense (except for animal science which was boring because we had to track the life of the meal worm for MONTHS) the most shocking factor for me was when half the school was ABSENT (and on a regular basis).
I didn’t realize right away that half the school was comprised of Jewish people.
I knew nothing about Jewish holidays but I was about to find out. It was all so new to me. I had stepped into a whole different dimension. It was odd when they all left. And they did so because there are a lot of Jewish festivals and holy days. It was really bizarre when the teachers were gone. I didn’t know that they could just leave like that, but they did and the substitutes were (thankfully) much easier on us (who were left in class) academically speaking that is. Math was excruciatingly difficult and the First-Aide class was similar to a college course.
I learned about Hanukkah because up until that point, I had no idea what it was and for all I knew Christmas was the only thing that existed. I also came to understand that these people weren’t just gone to ‘skip school’ but they were practicing Jews. They were heavily steeped in their culture and their religion and that fascinated me. I wasn’t ‘steeped’ into much of anything back then except school and tether ball and listening to the radio.
These children were overachievers and I mean in a BIG WAY. Our school had an orchestra (and no this wasn’t a private school). There were violins and violas and cellos all played by mostly the Jewish children and I’m not going to lie these children seemed to be (from what I could tell) much brighter and smarter than us Gentiles. I played the guitar in the orchestra but not brilliant individual unfretted notes like the incredible strings that surrounded me but rather three major chords and one minor one (with one strum pattern and those chords being played over and over and over again). It was hard to play and not want to just stop and listen to these wildly gifted 5th and 6th-grade children with whom I shared practice space in the gym.
Another thing I noticed that struck me as unusual was that several of their names ended with ‘man’-Noodleman and Stutsman and so on. And (even though I don’t think they were related to one another) they had strikingly similar looks and features. In fact, they looked like one big family all these children. They had deep large brown sunken eyes and dark hair. I also learned that several of their parents were tailors or owned clothing stores (which made sense to me now as the Jewish immigrants who landed back east years ago then traveled west and did what they were most skilled at meaning working within the sewing industry.
These kids would talk about the Holocaust in passing with phrases such as “I’ve heard stories from my grandpa (or uncle) and so on. At that time I knew nothing really about the Holocaust but I learned over time because of them and through bits and pieces that they talked about.
It was a short time period in my life-one school year-sixth grade. But it left a lifetime impression on me and I will never forget these people. I have watched Schindler’s List 14 times and in my mind it’s the most powerful movie I’ve ever seen because it has such a theme of redemption.
I will never forget those Jewish children and teachers and mostly I will never forget when my teacher (Mrs. Fendel) would read “The Diary of Anne Frank” to us with tears streaming down her cheeks. I understand so much more now than I did then.
Pray for Israel and her people.