Regular readers may, on occasion, find themselves wondering, reading one of these offerings,
“Didn’t he write that already?”
There are times when I wonder exactly the same thing.
An idea comes to my mind, compelling me to give it a go, and I am excitedly off to the races. Then it occurs to me, “I think I wrote this already.” Surprisingly, that does not seem to matter to me that much. Not in the context of “I have to write this”, which, in the case of the “reboots”, rivals the driving insistence of the “I have to write this-es” that are totally brand new.
It seems like, new story or old, when you have to write something, you unequivocally have to write it. The only interesting part, for me, is “How come this came up again?” Like some recollectional burp. I think, “Why again?” and “Why now?” And you know what?
I cannot figure it out.
I am taking a walk, my mind freely open to whatever happens to appear. And completely out of the blue – where Fate steps in and sees me through – “The Arye Leibowitz Story” returns to my consciousness, demanding the attention it previously received but adamantly insists on receiving again.
Trust me. This is not me, being lazy. It is me, doing the bidding of “The Cosmic Distributor of Writable Ideas.” Because you don’t mess with the magic, or else. “Or else”, what? I do not want to find out.
Okay, so the revised…
“Arye Leibowitz Story.”
Arye Leibowitz was my classmate at the Toronto Hebrew Day School, which taught English and Hebraic subject matter, half-a-day each. Arye Leibowitz was not a close friend. But in a class of seventeen students, I had definitely seen him around.
Arye Leibowitz was “Ultra Orthodox.” Which, by his standards meant he was “Just doing what you were supposed to do.” Though the school itself had an “Orthodox” orientation, the attending students’ families’ religiosity ranged from, “Men and women pray together” to “We eat pork, but just ‘out’”, to the totally unfathomable “We have an organ in our synagogue, and our services are short.”
There was, however, a sizable contingent that, figuratively, knew God by His first name. Which I didn’t, because I was not one of them.
Okay, so, jumping to birthday parties:
We are, like, around nine years old, celebrating (boys and girls separately) rotating birthday parties, everyone automatically attending everyone else’s. You did not have to be “buddies.” You only had to be in their class, and buy coveted presents at Topps’ Toy Town. (With the juggling clowns on their signature wrapping paper.)
To avoid “Dietary Law” conflicts, the “Birthday menu” involved the acceptable “‘Egg’ or ‘Salmon’”, which was a problem for me because I enjoyed neither. Sometimes, the “Birthday Mom” had been “Heads-Upped” and she’d say to me,
“Oh! You’re the ‘special’ one!”
And she’d race into the kitchen, and bring me peanut-butter-and-jam. Which I also disliked but forced down because the woman had gone to the effort. (I like peanut butter alone. Why you would put two sticky ingredients in one sandwich is beyond my culinary comprehension.)
When it came time for my birthday, however, my mother, well aware of my dietary proclivities, prepared her party “piece de resistance” – ground hamburger, spread on a thin slice of rye bread, and grilled in the oven.
Yes, it was meat. But my mother frequented a kosher butcher, so the meal appeared to pass ecclesiastical muster. (Not “mustard”, an available condiment for the open-faced birthday treat.)
For some reason, I was in the kitchen when Arye Leibowitz came in, politely inquiring where the meat for the hamburgers had come from. When my mother assured him it was a kosher butcher shop, Arye asked if that kosher butcher shop had a “mashgiach.” (Defined as a Jewish supervisor, overseeing the strict “kashrut” (“Kosherness”) requirements in Orthodox butchering, involving assiduous slaughtering techniques, appropriate blessings, and receiving a tip.)
My mother admitted that, although the butcher shop she went to was “Strictly Kosher”, it indeed lacked a resident “mashgiach.”
It was then that Arye Leibowitz took an unwavering position.
“I can’t eat that,” he quietly announced.
Leading to an unfortunate, Pomerantz “Birthday Meal” impasse.
Though my mother insisted the hamburger meat met the necessary specifications, Arye Leibowitz adamantly stuck to his guns, refusing to partake in what my mother – in her mind – had scrupulously provided.
I do not know why she did not give in, whipping up an edible alternative, but she didn’t, insisting the open-faced “Birthday Burgers” were “fine.” I also pleaded that he relent, arguing the provided standard of hamburger was “Good enough.”
But Arye Leibowitz, following the rules laid down by his family and the Almighty, held firm.
To the point – touching my heart, then and forever – where Arye Leibowitz started to cry.
His reaction, painful to watch, was understandable. The social pressure on the kid was enormous. But what could he do? “Going along.” “Following the Law.” For weeping Arye Leibowiz, there was only one choice.
And despite the intense external encouragement to do so, Arye Leibowitz never gave in.
You would hope, as you get older, you would develop a grounded, respectable maturity, marking the unshakable boundaries of your personal beliefs.
Not Arye Leibowitz.
Nine years old.
And he was already there.
I’ll tell ya. I don’t know why this story suddenly came back to me.
But I am kind of happy it did.