In Acknowledgment of a Chief Rabbi
“WHEN she smiles at me,” Ralph said, “I get a pain here.” He pressed his palm tenderly against his blue woollen chest.
“Jewish girl?” his mother asked, but as both an interrogation offering no choice of answer, or a purely social formula to which there could be only one reply.
“What a question,” said Ralph, “you know everyone at our school’s Jewish.”
“You said Mrs. Hanna was Jewish that time I asked you, and she isn’t,” his mother said, but as a point of argument, not reproof.
“She’s a teacher. How was I to know?” said Ralph.
“Jewish people aren’t black,” his mother said, “not as black as Mrs. Hanna, anyway. Is this girl the one who puts your coat on and does your shoes up for you?”
“Sometimes,” said Ralph.
He was unbearably dilatory in his personal toilet. It was as if his socks and pants, though no objects of meditation in themselves, were the keys to vast halls of reflection. On his socks, as it were, Ralph told his beads. When, that summer, he had gone off confidently to camp for a fortnight, his parents in fear and hope awaited the breaking or making of their son, both proved baseless by his first letter. “I have made a friend,” Ralph wrote, “called Emmanuel Kaner. He is a very convenient boy.”
“He must be the one who washes and dresses him,” his father said.
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