BOOKS JANUARY 30, 2008
Dear Mrs Masters, as you probably know,
almost half our Fifth Grade Class is Jewish--not
but lots, without even counting our teacher
Miss Husband, who's getting married (next June) to
a gentile husband!
--that has to change more than her name, doesn't it?
Well, your office records must show who's really
Jewish and who's not,
and for some of us who just happen to be
Jewish, those records might be the only sure
our race or faith or whatever makes us Jews,
and therefore different from the other kids
(no one really knows).
But this week our Rabbi told us this weird thing:
he says there are Jews--mostly in Hasidic
they're mostly in Brooklyn--who perform (between
Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur) this ritual
that's backward, the Hebrew word is kapparot--
during which Believers swing a live chicken
high over their heads:
this whirling is meant to transfer the Hasid's
sins to the chicken, which is then sacrificed.
said about 50,000 chickens are used
in ceremonies all over Brooklyn--
that's a lot of birds
to get slaughtered (after being whirled), and most
wind up in someone's pot. Not everyone whirls
chickens, there are some
Orthodox Believers who whirl money instead--
Maimonides himself once called kapparot
a pagan practice
that should be abandoned, but our Rabbi says
it's going strong in Brooklyn and can't be stopped.
Now Mrs Masters,
we've learned--trust Duncan Chu to find out, of course--
that Arthur Englander's late parents
were Hasidic Jews
(Arthur was the boy who killed that peacock, but
you wouldn't punish him, even though we voted
to expel him from the Fifth Grade), and when we
went to see his Aunt, she showed us a photo
of Arthur, age six,
wearing gloves and whirling a big white rooster
for kapparot... No one knew where he had gone
after What Happened,
but you said he we should help him "find himself"
if he came back to Park School, and of course
the police found him
right away. Mrs Masters, we think Arthur
believed he had to slaughter that poor peacock
for his kapparot--
he got it all mixed up with vampire movies
and that's what he meant when he screamed
he had to do it
right. Christine Rath says that's how religions work.
Even when we've forgotten what they mean
we do what we think
are the same things people have always done.
But we forget. Or we change. And Christine's
not even Jewish!
And then Duncan Chu said that religions die
once they're proved to be true. And that Science is
the tombstone of dead
religions. And Duncan's not Jewish either.
But David Stashower is, so he had to
tell what his father
thinks: that Scientists now say the same thing
as Rabbis, but without capital letters.
paid no attention to what anyone had said,
but now most of us want him back in Fifth Grade
with all the others.
By Richard Howard