...except for me and my monkey! "Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see." -Rene Magritte

Monday, July 30, 2007

Guinea pigs and tzaddikim

I was frustrated almost to tears today as I closed up my classroom and prepared to leave school. My hands were shaking as I took off my apron and stuffed it in the cupboard (we’re required to wear aprons, which maybe doesn’t make sense until you realize the frequency with which you will be handed special woodchips to save, and Legos, and how it really is a good idea to always keep a pack of Band-aids and a rag on hand, and you come to appreciate the extra pockets, even if sometimes you end up holding some kid’s soggy, sandy socks or used Kleenexes). I mean, my frustration was really not commensurate to the stimuli. I didn’t want to mop, I didn’t want to sweep, and I definitely didn’t want to clean out the guinea pigs' cage—but it hadn’t been done for a week, and the little guys were whistling at me to muck them out, so I got down on my hands and knees and started scooping their soiled shavings into the trash.

A few minutes later I gathered my things and left the class to sign out for the day. The time cards are kept by a shelf next to the school’s kitchen, and as I was signing out, T, the afternoon dish-washer, caught my attention. “I read your biography,” she said. A few paragraphs about our personal interests, education, and background are printed outside our classroom doors. “And I have a question about religion. Is it true that, in some Jewish communities, the rabbi is such a central figure, and is respected so much, that it’s like he’s an intermediary between the community and God—like getting the rabbi’s answer to a question would be just like getting God’s own answer?”

It was such an unexpected question, and it made me so happy. For the first time since defending my thesis, I got to use words like Hasidic, tzaddik, and rebbe. I got to talk about the differences between Reform and Orthodox Judaism. I wanted to name-drop Weber, but I didn’t. It struck me that it was such a funny juxtaposition, coming out of my classroom with guinea pig poo on my hands, practically, and getting to talk about Judaic Studies; and a fitting parallel for the day two months ago when I defended my thesis before the Religious Studies department then left campus and jumped on a bus to North Portland to interview for my job at the preschool.