Sunday, March 13, 2016

My Grandfather's Yeshiva (Trigger Warning!)

Note: These are subjective memories of experiences during my early childhood in my grandfather's yeshiva in Vineland New Jersey.  I have written them as I experienced them, through the eyes of the young child who I was.

The bais medrish is where the aron kodesh is.
It is where Zaidy, the uncles, and the bochurim learn Torah all the time unless they are davening.  
Girls are not allowed to go into the bais medrish
I’m a girl.  
I am not supposed to talk to the bochurim.
Bochurim don’t look at girls, or talk to girls, except for sometimes, when Tatty and Zaidy aren’t with me.
I stand outside the door to watch the bochurim dance on Simchas Torah.
I watch the men moving in a circle of black and white.
Everyone is squeezed together, touching.
The black shoes stomp.
One foot forward, then one foot back.

Stomp, STOMP. Stomp, STOMP!

Some of the men’s eyes are squeezed shut, some are open wide.  The open eyes are smiling.
Their song is shaking the floor. 
Shaking inside me:

“Emes, emes, emes, emes, emes, emes, emes, emes atah hu rishoin! Emes, emes, emes, emes, emes, emes, emes, emes, emes ata hu acharoin!”
(“Truth, truth, truth, truth, truth, truth, truth, truth!...Truth is the first thing! Truth, truth, truth, truth, truth, truth, truth, truth!...Truth is the last thing!”)

I hope the men won’t stomp a hole right through the floor and fall down to the cellar.
The ladies and girls throw candy at the men, and the boys run and catch them.
Uncle Moishe* catches some for me.
Yeshiva has a family side, and a Yeshiva side.
The Carpet Room is on the family side.
The Carpet Room doesn’t have carpet.
It used to have carpet, that’s why we call it the Carpet Room. 
The carpet came off before I was born.  
The couches in the Carpet Room are covered with dark red plastic. 
Smooth, hard and cold. 
I have to go through the family dining room, and the Carpet Room to go upstairs.

The stairs squeak when I climb them.
In the morning, when I wake up in Yeshiva, I walk down carefully so the stairs don’t make so much noise, because people are sleeping.
Omi, Zaidy’s mother, lives in Yeshiva, too.
She has her own living room and bedroom upstairs. There is a glass fish tank in her bedroom, with colored stones on the bottom, but no fish in it.  

No one is allowed to bother Omi.

I stay far away from Omi's and Zaidy's rooms.
I walk past the bathroom and through the door at the end of the hall, to the stairs going up to the third floor on the family side.
The door to the Yeshiva side, where the bochurim’s bedrooms are, is open again.
Mommy said it is supposed to be locked.  
There are two black dumbells on the floor just inside the door. One of the bochurim is hiding them on the family side, so Zaidy won’t know they’re his.

I peek in, but I don’t go in there.
I am not allowed to go in there by myself.
Only when Tatty takes me.

Tatty takes me in there sometimes and leaves me with the bochurim.
They give Tatty money, and I have to do what they say.
It hurts my bottom.
I push my head hard into the wall so I won’t feel anything.
Then I forget what happened.

I tell myself nothing happened.
Nothing real, anyway.
I just know that I’m bad.

There are more stairs on the bochurim's side, going up to the bochurim’s third floor.
We sleep up there sometimes on Shabbos, and also during the week when the Tantas and Uncles are watching us and there are no extra beds.
One time, Zaidy took me upstairs, to the bathroom with him and my sister, Hadassa*.  The bathroom with the big bathtub that has animal feet.  He left the door open and we could hear and see him use the toilet.

I looked at Hadassa and then quickly looked away.
She looked away too.
We know we are not supposed to watch people going to the bathroom.

Today, It's just me and Tatty.

Tatty wants to show me the matzah on the third floor on the Yeshiva side.
The children are not allowed up here alone because we might touch the matzah, and it could break.
The matzah is spread out on brown paper on the bed and Tatty holds up a matzah to the light. 
“ Isn't it beautiful?” He says. 
 “The matzah this year is pure gold.”

He puts me up on the bed next to the matzah and starts to take off my clothes.
My stomach hurts.
I know that this happened before, and I remember how much it's going to hurt.
I push my head into the wall and my eyes stare and stare at the black inside my head. My mind feels fuzzy and far away.  From far away in my head, I know that Tatty is angry with me because I'm too small.
He has to cut me.
It's sharp.
It's my fault.
Is the matzah cutting me?
I think I'm bleeding.

What is happening to me?
Is Tatty real? 
Am I real?
Did I hurt myself?

Something hurts bad. Tatty is talking,
“Get dressed and come down stairs.” He walks out.
No Tatty, no! don’t go away! I need you!

I can't move.
But I have to move or I'll get in trouble.
I need Mommy, but I can't let her see what happened.  
No one can know how bad I am.

I am moving even though it hurts.
I am walking down the hall to the stairs.
I am still staring and staring.
My eyes don't want to move.
Uncle Moishe comes up and sees me walking down the hall.
He is upset that I am up here by myself with the matzah.
He tells me to go downstairs right now.

Don’t I understand what I was told? Why am I not listening?

I don’t know.
I guess I didn't listen.
I guess I hurt myself.
I guess I did something very bad on Erev Pesach.

I wish I could be dead and never have a body. 
 I want to squeeze my neck so hard I'll be dead.
I want to smash my head so hard I'll be dead. 
I wish I was never alive. 
I wish someone would kill me already. 
But I am scared to die because Hashem will hurt me worse.  
It's so scary to be hurt and bad. 
My throat hurts from being sad.

* Not their real names

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