"The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera." - Dorothea Lange

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


I first experienced it in the sixth grade.

I had just switched to a new school - from a public school to a private one. I only knew one person in my class, so I had to start over making friends. Shortly after the school year began, some of the kids in my class decided to play a trick on our teacher, Mrs. DeBerry. It was around the time we were learning how to diagram sentences.

I L.O.V.E.D. diagramming sentences. It is my nature to want to organize and arrange things - words included, and I suppose this personality trait had already established itself by the time I was twelve. Anyhow, one morning before class started, while Mrs. DeBerry was getting her coffee from the teacher’s lounge, one of the kids placed a thumbtack in her seat. The plan was that we were all to sit politely and quietly, eyes forward, no talking when she came back into the room. That was when she’d presumably take her seat and begin to call roll.

I thought Mrs. DeBerry was the most beautiful creature in the world. At my old school, I’d never had such a young and elegant teacher. Mrs. DeBerry was strict, but she was smart and stately and had an impressive array of glamorous couture. Plus, she was letting me spend my mornings DIAGRAMMING SENTENCES! I loved this woman. But I was also dying to make friends. So, I sat quietly as she entered the room, her coffee cup poised gracefully in her porcelain-white hands.

I was quiet just until she began to lower herself into her chair. My heart was racing, and when her bottom (which was clad in a stylish tweed skirt that morning) was about four inches above the sharp tack, I burst into a nervous laugh, which quickly morphed into a very loud and strange sound, one that was emitted simultaneously from my mouth and nose, one that I did not know I was capable of making. Kind of a cross between a snort, a honk and a scream.

It was enough to get the attention of the lovely Mrs. DeBerry.

She glanced at me, and without missing a beat slowly raised herself up into a standing position, walked over to the blackboard and began the lesson for the day.

Of course, she saw the tack from her new vantage point and avoided sitting down for the rest of the morning.

Everyone hated me after that.

Except a boy named Doug, who became my boyfriend a few weeks later. You’re starting to wonder when I’ll ever get to the anti Semitism part of this post. It’s coming.

Romance is short lived in the sixth grade. Because of that, Doug and I were doomed from the beginning. We did our share of making out and dancing together at parties. But in the end, it was an ugly separation.

He slipped me a note in the hallway. In it he explained that he wanted to break up and demanded that I return the gold-plated football on a chain that I had been wearing around my neck since we had started “going steady.”

The note ended with the words, “I hate you, YOU DIRTY JEW!” Those few words sort of seared their way into my brain that day in the hallway of my new school. Because I’d never heard anything like them in all my twelve years of life. Because my feelings were hurt. Because I didn’t realize that being Jewish was such an attention-getting big deal. Because I understood then that I was different from the rest of the kids in my class. Because I couldn’t change the situation and suddenly become more like them. Because it was a hell of a sentence to diagram. I mean, where would the extra “you” go?

Mrs. DeBerry and I became kindred spirits that year for many reasons.

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