Teaching in the 36K Computer Lab, part 3

Part 3: Yes, I am Jewish

On the first day in the 36K computer lab, one student stage-whispered “he’s Jewish!”

A teachable moment!

[NB: I wear a yarmulke on my head and have been in many classrooms in which students have demonstrated a certain callowness towards Jewish people: I have heard loud whispers of “hitler,” “Jew”, etc.]

I informed him (and the other students the following spiel:

“Yes I am Jewish; yes, this is a yarmulke; yes, I hope to leave early on Friday afternoons; yes I do not eat ham sandwich. Any questions?”

They had questions. Which is good, in fact, which is great. There are no stupid questions. And there is a lot of confusion about why certain Jewish populations — particularly the Chasidim of that part of Brooklyn (e.g., Crown Heights, into Brownsville, into East New York)  — look and dress they way they do. So we got side-tracked while I answered questions.

“Do Jews have a bible?” (“yes, the bible. What Christians call the ‘old testament’ we just call the bible, or the Torah.”)

“Why do Jews wear long curls in their hair?” (“They are called ‘payos.’ It means sideburns. I wear sideburns, you wear sideburns. There is a verse in the bible says ‘do not cut off your sideburns.’ Certain really religious people believe that if some sideburns are good, then even more sideburns are better.”)

“Why do Jews wear the strings?” (“I also wear the strings. [I untucked one pair to show the students.] There is a verse in the bible that says ‘men should wear strings on their undershirts,’ so we wear strings on our undershirts.”)

“Why do Jews wear black and white?” (“Religious people try to dress modestly. Simple basic colors, nothing too showy or flashy. And other people, like myself, wear whatever we want and we are no less religious.)

“What does ‘shalom‘ mean?” (“‘Shalom‘ means ‘hello’ in Hebrew.”) [I wrote “shalom” in English on the board.]

“What does ‘salam‘ mean?” (“‘Salam‘ is Arabic for ‘hello,’ just like ‘shalom‘ in Hebrew. Hebrew and Arabic are very similar.”

‘What does ‘Allah Akbar’ mean?” (“‘Allah‘ is Arabic for G-d. It means ‘G-d is great.”)

At this point, I saw how the conversation was getting away from us, so I returned to the class introductions.


To be continued

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October 2021
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