Bullying and Kashrut: My Kindergarten Horror Story

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When I was Kindergarten aged, I attended a very expensive after-school Jewish day care center where I was, to put it mildly, unpopular. I wasn't even a pariah, it was like I was literally invisible. This was hard for me, because I was used to getting a lot of attention from my other teachers and classmates. Not that I was particularly remarkable, but I was always being sent to very nice schools where the teachers doted on each and every child as a unique flower to be grown by carefully chosen compliments. This was not the case at the JCC, where the teachers were uniquely uninterested in children, and the only kids being granted attention were the noisy, bossy, affrontive ones.

UNPOPULAR

For whatever reason, I had no friends here. Nobody knew my name, and nobody cared. I can't recall exactly why, but I was unable to find any playmates, and I had fixated on two girls with rhyming names (let's say Vanessa and Odessa?) to become my best friends. Once, they told me I could play with them if I covered a plastic bucket with sand. I did that, and they changed their rule: I had to cover the ENTIRE PLAY STRUCTURE with sand. This was an impossible feat, so I half-heartedly tried before reverting to playing alone in the sand without a chance at friendship. Another time, they told me I could play house with them, but I had to be the dead grandma. And I did it! I just laid down in the corner and took a nap. Then they said I wasn't in the family anymore because worms ate my body. So, without any sense that this was an unreasonable way for them to treat me, I wandered off.

One day, I went off to morning kindergarten with my neighborhood friend Andy. After we arrived, his parents realized we had left our lunches in their refrigerator. Rather than drive back, they planned a special surprise for us: a McDonald's truck came and brought happy meals for me and Andy! We were pretty thrilled, the whole school was wondering which kids got their lunches this way. It was us! We were stars!

Unfortunately, the delivery truck had arrived too late for the lunch hour, so I had to take my lunch to the JCC (a van drove us from the elementary school) and eat it there. It was a cheeseburger.

Our family didn't keep Kosher, but somehow I had never run afoul of the basic rules at the JCC before. I don't know if that was my parents being attentive to standards of kashrut, or just a lucky coincidence.

When I sat down at the table to eat my lunch with the other kids at the JCC, everyone was excited. We were at an age where McDonalds was very cool. But then, I opened the wrapper to the burger, and for the first time the teachers seemed to notice me, or at least what I was going to be eating.

They were horror-stricken, and spoke to the building manager on the loudspeaker: "there's a kid in here ('what's your name?') with a cheeseburger." The adults wouldn't look at me, and the kids were staring. It was absolutely mortifying.

A brusque woman barged into our classroom, and walked me down the hallway. "You shouldn't have brought that in here, you know. It's against the rules. I don't understand who allowed this." Keep in mind that at this point, Jewish in my mind meant Chanukkah, Passover, and maybe Rosh Hashanah. I knew what some Jewish foods were, but I didn't know that Jewish food also involved the exclusion of certain classes of food. I had no idea what was going on, or why I was being treated like I was a ticking time bomb.

She led me to a corner of her office, where I was allowed to eat my cheeseburger. It tasted cold, soggy. Like disappointment and shame.

My mom pulled me out of that school a few months later, but it taught me a lot about how I want to act as a teacher. In a Jewish setting, I never want to judge people for their level of observance. It's important to be inclusive and welcoming, not hateful or fearful of difference.

In all settings, I hope to be a warm and compassionate teacher who cares for her students. I want my students to know that I care about them, and I won't ignore them or wait for them to do something bad before I give them my attention.

Marina Gafni

Marina Gafni is a 28-year-old speech pathology student. She lives with her husband in San Jose, CA.

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