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I suppose you expect me to say that my life became one big paradise after my moving to Israel- well, it didn’t. Not right away, anyway.
First off, there was this boy, Jimmy, who moved with me. I mean that his family moved to Israel when mine did. We went to the same synagogue. And he went to my school for a while, too. But then he switched schools, and became distant from the rest of us at synagogue, like he no longer knew us.
We lived in a two-story white stone house on a hill at the end of a cul-de-sac in northern Israel. It overlooked the scrubby hills and desert-like plains near the growing metropolis of Carmiel and the Arab village of Rama. Jimmy’s family lived right down the street. Their family had an orange grove which flourished in their own backyard and threatened to take over the neighboring yard as well. I guess that was the subject of the day at my parents’ house because coming home from school one day they let loose that Jimmy had been attacked by a resident neighbor simply for being a member of the offending family.
“Attacked?” I asked incredulously. “But they’ve hardly even moved in!”
There was a knock at the front door, followed by a loud barking. “Ruff ruff,” I said. “Clover, shut up.”
“You get it, honey,” my mother said. Just that moment, there was a loud “ftach et ha delet (open the door)” from behind the door. Apparently, someone wanted us to open the door. Someone with a very loud, very deep Israeli voice.
My mother peered through the hole. “Police,” she announced, and instead of answering the door, she stood back and said, “Honey, you should probably answer it. They’re probably going to ask about Jimmy’s case.”
Case? Jimmy’s? What the heck? But before I could demand any more of my mother, the door swung open.
“Excuse me, could I speak to your mother,” the policeman said.
The policeman was a towering presence. He had to have been six-foot three. The booming voice didn’t do anything to alleviate my nerves, either. I was scared.
“Slicha (sorry),” I said, and bravely stood my ground. “My mother doesn’t want to talk right now, and besides, you wouldn’t want to talk to her anyway.”
The policeman ignored this barb and focused his eyes on me. “I would like you to tell me everything you know about Jimmy Goldgrabber.” He pronounced the name “Jeem-ee Goldgghrabberrh,” so I had to do all I could to not laugh.
“Um,” I said, covering the side of my mouth with one hand, “Ani lo midaveret Ivrit (I don’t speak Hebrew)." I understood it well enough, but to ask me to have a conversation with this armored, hulking beast—a two-way conversation, at that—was downright unreasonable.
“Lo ichpat li (I don't care),” he said. It doesn’t matter. He didn’t care; he was going to get what he wanted out of me whether I desired it or not.
“Ma at yoda’at al ha chutzpan haze Jeem-ee (What do you know about this troublemaker, Jimmy)?” I didn’t laugh this time.
“Um,” I said while I paced on the linoleum in the front entranceway, and tried to think back.
Jimmy had been introduced to me in the fifth grade, an aberration if there ever was one. At that time, girls didn’t talk to boys (although in my little brother’s grade, there were early bloomers that started to go out in fifth, sometimes even forth grade) but were introduced to each-other by their parents. By their muddling parents, if any word could be used to describe them.
I had been ‘re-introduced’ to Jimmy (or you could say re-acquainted, because our parents didn’t introduce us this time) on the bus last week. Jimmy had been sitting in the front seat of the bus, and I in the seat directly behind him. Well, I didn’t know anybody—you can’t blame me.
“Clarissa,” he had said to me as the bus had carted down the sloping street of our little village, “what do you know about slugs?”
What? I had thought as I absorbed what he had said. What kind of moron was he? What had all these years at public school done to him?
I tried to be brave and said, “Jimmy Goldgrabber, right?”
Jimmy ignored me and said, “Clarissa Steiner, right? You went to my school, right? And then I left and went to a different school, but we still went to the same shul. Remember?”
Of course I remembered, but I was trying to pretend I didn’t. Well, if he spoke in complete sentences like this, then why did he start by asking me the question about the slugs? Was he a loser or not?
“Jimmy, of course I remember,” I said, trying to keep my cool. “The question is, why did you start by asking me about the slugs?” There. I had put it to him. I would get my answer now.
Jimmy folded his arms and sat back in his seat. “Because I wanted to test you,” he said.
Just at that moment, the loudspeaker erupted with noise: “Yeladim! Tafsiku lihishtolell! (Children! Stop running wild!)" Jimmy and I had been almost standing in our seats, but we hadn’t noticed it. Jimmy grounded and said, “But I just sat down!”
“Quiet,” I said, “or else he’ll hear us.”
“Does it really matter?” Jimmy said. “The bus’ll probably run flat on its face before we reach school, anyway.”
I was shocked. “What are you saying?” I said, covering my mouth with my left hand (the one with the stars and stripes, not the one with the balloons—Independence day happened so long ago anyway). “Are you trying to anger the driver enough to get us killed?” And at that point I turned in my seat and hugged the window, glad I could get an excuse to write him off once and for all.
“I don’t think you’re making very much sense now,” Jimmy said, obviously angered by my refusal to engage him. “I think you need some sense put into you.”
Some sense definitely had to be put into me. Some sense to stay away from Jimmy. “Whatever,” I said.
What did end up going wrong, however, was that Jimmy drove all the teachers wild.
Some of the classes were co-educational; single-sex for others. And while Jimmy didn’t take offense to the co-educational classes, he definitely erupted at the thought of splitting each class down the middle along gender lines.
“But Clarissa here!” he said, pointing to me in a very demonstrative manner, in front of the clutch of teachers that had grown very quickly since he had started shouting, “Clarissa is my best friend! You can’t take me away from her!”
Thankfully, one of the teachers, who had spoken and understood English very well, had the presence of mind to wait him out (and not enter into a shouting match).
“Jimmy,” he had said, “we are a religious school. Religious schools don’t have young men and women learning religious topics together.”
“But I did at my school,” I said. At once I was the center of attention. My cheeks flushed and my ears got hot.
“We’re not asking what you did at your school,” one of the teachers, a woman, said to me in broken English. Her black headscarf looked menacing. “You’re only Conservative,” it seemed to say (Our family was only Conservative, and not Orthodox).
“Enough,” the man addressing Jimmy said in his American-accented English (I wonder if the other teachers were looking on with awe or if that silent seriousness on their faces was obedience).
“It’s okay,” I said to the teacher as he stared at me, “he’s not my best friend. He’s only an acquaintance.”
“What?” Jimmy looked angrily at me, and then down at the floor. I could feel the heat radiating angrily off of him. You wouldn't want to get close to him at this point, I thought. Nor would any slug.
“You step back here,” the tall, powerful (it seemed like) male teacher said to Jimmy, indicating the principal’s office. He must have been the principal after all. “And enough standing around,” he said to the teachers in Hebrew (this I could understand). The teachers moved grumpily away. “Anything you give, you get back in return,” he said, sighing, to the two of us. “I was like you once.”
Jimmy turned his back and walked with the principal to the principal’s office. Fine, Jimmy, I thought. Be that way.