You could be anywhere when Elul begins. Yup, the 23rd of August looks like a totally regular day on the civil calendar. It might catch you seriously in the middle of your vacation, or your family’s vacation, or in the midst of some plain old hard work.
Rosh Chodesh Elul has a habit of sneaking up on people in the middle of the summer.
But don’t worry, it will find you, wherever you are. The shofar will be sounded, and if you have slipped off into the “slumber of the vanities of temporality,” as the Seforim Hakedoshim call it, you will be jolted rudely awake. And then everything will be okay. Teshuvah, Tefilah, Tzedaka…
It’s a little different in Eretz Yisrael. Over there, life revolves more around the Hebrew calendar. Rosh Chodesh Elul is when cheder and yeshiva and mesivta and kollel all start again, and the Beis Yaakov schools follow shortly thereafter.
So good parents are at home, sending their good children off to good schools to begin a good new school year. It’s actually kind of exciting, especially for the kids themselves, who are now beginning first grade, or third grade, or whatever.
You know what it looks like: the new schoolbag with the new notebooks and the new pencils and the new everything.
There is a certain excitement in the air. It is surely not just a plain old day.
But some kids don’t have it so easy. First of all, the family never went on vacation, because they couldn’t afford it. Second of all, they don’t have the new schoolbag with the new notebooks and the new pencils and the new everything, because they couldn’t afford it. Third of all, everyone is tense and worried, because a new school year means new expenses, and they couldn’t afford even the old expenses.
These are Vaad Harabbanim’s children.
They have all sorts of unusual school experiences. Take Shani’s, for instance:
Just Not The Front Row
Shani hates to sit at the first table, under the nose of the teacher who watches her with seven eyes, making sure she doesn’t get up, or dream, or scribble pretty pictures, or, of course, talk to her neighbor.
When the teacher asks Shani to read a pasuk from the Chumash, she is seized by fear. She is like a frozen doll that doesn’t hear and doesn’t see and isn’t there, until the teacher gives up and asks another girl to read.
It’s all so they won’t find out the secret: Shani doesn’t know how to read.
It’s always the same story. At the beginning of every school year, the new teacher, whoever it is, needs to help. She calls Shani’s home to talk to the parents, again and again. Even the principal tries. But Father always doesn’t feel good, and Mother is always busy and extremely pressured, and who will take care of Shani?
Remedial reading lessons are very expensive, so they are out of the question, of course. That’s the way it is. Shani knows it, and has almost come to accept her bitter fate: she doesn’t know how to read. She is stupid and pitiable and rejected.
The whole summer vacation between fifth grade and sixth grade, Shani was practicing. On the messy shelf there were six story books, battered and torn. Shani chose the one with the most colorful cover. She sat in front of it, wrapped herself up on the creaky bed in the children’s room, and tried, she really tried.
The words were jumping around before her eyes and confusing her. The lines jumbled with one another. But she did not give up. She tried again and again. She focused her eyes, covered half the line with her hand, and looked only at the uncovered words.
After an hour, Shani finished a whole page, and that was a giant achievement. Maybe she will begin the new school year knowing how to read?
The morning of the first day of school, Shani got up early. Mother went out to work at 7:00 AM, shooting hasty orders into the air as she hurried toward the door. Father lay in bed with a migraine that he almost always has.
Shani looked for her school blouse, which she had prepared the night before, and put on the chair. Where is it?
“Who saw my school blouse, it’s late already!”
Father says from the bedroom to be quiet. His head is exploding. Shani’s brothers are trying to get themselves ready, and they are also running late.
And she still needs to bring Rutie to nursery school!
In the end, she pulls her school skirt out from under the bed, and finds the school blouse in the kitchen on the table, with a ketchup stain on it. She doesn’t have another blouse, and it is five minutes to eight. She grabs Rutie and runs out without eating a bite.
The corridor in school is silent. All the class doors are already closed. Shani stands outside the door for sixth grade, class #2, and knocks.
The teacher opens the door with a smile. Shani steps over to a place at the back of the left row (she won’t stay there for long, because the teacher will move her up to the front row pretty soon).
She clumsily tries to hide the ketchup stain on her crumpled school blouse. She puts down the school bag that she inherited from a cousin, and holds back her tears as she looks at all the well-groomed and well-equipped girls all around her.
After tefilah the nice teacher gives out colored sheets of paper. “We all have expectations from the new year,” the teacher says with excitement and emotion. “Write down what important things you hope to gain from sixth grade.”
Shani sits in front of the happy, colored sheet of paper. She tries to read the printed title, she recognizes the letters, but doesn’t manage to combine them into words. Her most important expectation, which she longs for the most, is to read and write like everyone else. But how will she be able to put it down on paper?
A Hard Phone call
Rebbe Chaim picked up the cellphone in his right hand, stuck it into his paralyzed left hand, wrapped his senseless fingers around it, so it won’t fall, and then pressed the buttons with his right hand. Afterwards he took the phone from his nonfunctioning hand, and put it to his right ear, which still hears.
Chaim was calling back the principal of the yeshiva where he teaches, to arrange a special event for the 7th grade class, of which Chaim is the rebbe.
It was agreed that the boys will come to Chaim’s home the next day at 11:30 AM for a bikur cholim call. Chaim’s wife will prepare refreshments, open the door for them, and basically do everything.
Because Rebbe Chaim had a stroke. Half of his body is paralyzed, and his whole body is confined to a wheelchair.
That’s no way to run a 7th grade class, and Chaim knows it better than anyone.
He loves them. He misses them. Teaching them gave his life meaning, and he was one of the best teachers around.
Yes, there is therapy. There are actually two kinds of therapy: the one that the health plan pays for, which is pretty minimal, and the one that requires private funding.
Guess which is the one that works.
It is absolutely crucial that Rebbe Chaim get proper treatment. It is his life, his family’s life, and generations of talmidim that are hanging in the balance.