I lied to a rabbi; a burden I’ve hidden for over 20 years. As a starving graduate student, the Temple hired me to teach religious school. For a part-time job, it paid extremely well. But the problem with religious school is; no one wants to be there. What kid looks forward to attending more classes at Temple, after spending the whole day in regular school? Not to mention the subject matter- Talmudic ethics? Yes, I was the ethics teacher for a group of sixth grade boys, a formidable undertaking, I admit. That’s how I met my nemesis, David Marx, a curly haired gerbil in an Izod rugby shirt. His attorney father sat on the board of directors. Mrs. Marx, the sisterhood president, would drop him off in their Bentley. You’d think with a pedigree like that, he’d be a star student. But, I began to wonder if he’d descended from Groucho or Harpo Marx. David’s sole aim was to disrupt every class, whether it was a relay like the keystone cops or a buzzing chorus at the mention of the secret word of the day, he’d learned watching Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. His class held the record for getting the most teachers to quit in one year. He’d march into class, singing “Another One Bites the Dust”. No amount of smiley-face stickers or M & Ms in a jar could tame the class. I was desperate.
As it happened, I was doing an internship at an agency where I met James, who ran the school-based counseling program. Over coffee, he shared his strategy for connecting with kids. “Get down on their level,” he said. “Meet ‘em where they’re at”. He’d held a group of 4th graders spellbound, showing them how to make arm farts. You know, that obscene sound boys make by cupping one hand, tucking it against a bare armpit and then, pumping the elbow toward the ribs; the resulting expulsion of air reminiscent of flatulence. I decided to try this strategy the very next class. David Marx claimed to be an expert. So, I invited him to give a demonstration. I even gave the class five full minutes to make as many arm farts as they wanted. In no time, there was a symphony of toots and splats. But before the time expired, they ran out of steam, quieted down and for the very first time were ready for a lesson. David Marx came up afterward. “This was the most fun I ever had a Hebrew school.” As you might imagine, he went right home and told his parents all about it. The next day, the rabbi’s secretary called me at home. He wanted to talk to me.
To congregants, Rabbi Levine was warm and compassionate. As his employee, though, I didn’t experience that side of him. He resembled an ostrich, with bulging eyes, mercilessly pecking at things. As I approached his office, every drop of moisture vanished from my mouth. The rabbi leaned over his desk. “Mrs. Marx called me, outraged. Her son claimed you were teaching the children to make arm farts in class. Is this true?” His cheeks grew red and a vein shaped like a lightening bolt pulsated across his forehead. The hair rose on the back of my neck. I was certain if I admitted my guilt, I would lose my job, on the spot. David Marx had already gotten rid of three other teachers. I wasn’t about to let him make me number four.
“No,” I said, staring him right in the face. “Absolutely not.” His eyes narrowed. I think he knew I was lying. The irony was, the arm farts had worked. And my nemesis, David Marx? This was only our first go-around.