Do you have a Rabbi? It is a seemingly innocuous question. The answer was always the same; no. Behind that answer is years of resentment and hatred. Years of feeling unique, feeling like a stranger, years of basic mistrust and feelings of betrayal. But the answer I always gave was no.
Yet lately, I began to realize that this was indeed the wrong answer because for years I have not only had a Rabbi but someone to go to with every religious question or doubt that I had.
This Rabbi, was my rabbi in sixth grade and while I had many Rabbis who impacted me both negatively and positively over the years, he, without a doubt, is the driving force behind my religion. He was known throughout the school as one of the best rabbis in the school. The kids loved him as did the parents. He gave away treats, sodas and extra recess frivolously.
There was only one caveat, every year he chose one or two children to pick on. Those children, unlike the others, suffered throughout the year. They did not receive the same treatments as the others; somehow they constantly missed the extra recess and the extra goodies. Children were singled out for verbal abuse and sometimes physical abuse by the Rabbi and subsequently the class.
Children were singled out for verbal abuse and sometimes physical abuse by the Rabbi and subsequently the class.
I was lucky; my classmates did not take the bait. While I was lucky enough to have been chosen by the rabbi, my classmates did not treat me differently. My brothers were not as lucky.
With me, it started small with little mental games and took a while until it escalated into physical abuse. I was ridiculed before my classmates, kicked out of class, and even had my shoelaces cut. Nothing was as bad though as when the more physical side of him came out. In the beginning, it began with little “love” taps which escalated slowly.
The peak was when, after kicking me out of the classroom for smiling, he allowed me back in after lunch. Me, being a cheeky young twelve year old, continued to smile which made him upset and he told me to place my head on the desk. As we clearly hated each other and this had been going on for months I eventually lifted my head to flash him a smile before placing it back down. Next thing I knew I felt strong hands on my head lifting it from the desk before slamming it three times back on to the desk.
Next thing I knew I felt strong hands on my head lifting it from the desk before slamming it three times back on to the desk.
I did not tell my parents. After all I had misbehaved in class. The punishment although unfair was still a punishment for a crime that I had committed.
Eventually, I did tell my parents two years later one Friday night when my younger brothers accidentally told them of their experiences with the same Rabbi. Both my mother and father were outraged. Upset that I had not told them sooner, but enraged by the Rabbi. How could he do this? Who would allow such a thing? Despite the complaints that my parents made to the school, administrators or board, nothing worked.
The Rabbi stayed and would eventually move on to the position of principal. My brothers finished their stint in elementary school after suffering endless humiliations by their Rabbi and classmates and life moved on.
Over the years I have had my fair share of Rabbis who just ignored me as I was normally a mediocre student at best. They interpreted my growing apathy towards religion as nothing more than regular teenage angst not worth their time. Throughout high school the Rabbis stopped being people who were trying to educate me and care for me into people who were trying to catch me doing something wrong. And I thrived on not getting caught! Rabbis taught me to lie, cheat and steal, they taught me how to hide who I was from everyone including myself.
Throughout high school the Rabbis stopped being people who were trying to educate me and care for me into people who were trying to catch me doing something wrong
So do I have a Rabbi? I guess I do, but not in the sense that people would normally expect. I am haunted by my Rabbi, the one that chases me in my dreams. In my head, my religious and halachic questions go directly to him. But anytime he answers my questions it just feels like a smack in the face.