Kids are evil. Not all the time, but boy, now that I started teaching underprivileged kids three days a week I remember what little terrors they could be. I definitely remember having that same outlook when I was little: it was me against the teachers. This story definitely taught me how to empathize with kids when they do bad things. I hope they will improve when they grow up.
I was not an underprivileged kid in any means, but I was still mean. I bullied a new kid in class and even stole his Torah.
The Torah, if you don’t know, is the holy book for the Jews that is just the Old Testament. The Old Testament contains the Ten Commandments, one of which is “Thou shall not steal.”
So obviously I was not a great Jew, but again, this was 4th grade.
I was a weird, quiet kid. I also was full of anxiety, but back then nobody really knew what that meant so when I would randomly burst into tears and get overwhelmed, I would just be that crybaby kid. Now I am a crybaby adult but I don’t feel bad about it because I know it’s anxiety and I take medication for it and also have coping skills to deal with it.
But when I was nine, I didn’t know why I felt so small and awkward. Spoiler alert: it was because I was nine. I went to a private Jewish school in Denver called DAT (Denver Academy of Torah) and it had barely 50 kids in the whole school (Kindergarten through 6th grade). My 4th-grade class had seven kids in it.
Then, Jeremy joined our class. He hadn’t gone to an orthodox school before, so we noticed he was Different. One time when we were reading Torah out loud in class, he made a mistake. Can you imagine?! That was a huge faux pas in 4th grade. We weren’t taught, “Hey, this kid is just learning Hebrew so give him a break.” I think the teachers assumed that we would be kind and forgiving.
Not me. I felt superior because I made fewer mistakes than Jeremy. Although honestly, I don’t know how much that is true because I also am an undiagnosed dyslexic and I probably made way more mistakes.
One time I made fun of Jeremy because he got a temporary tattoo on his face. I was like, wow, what a nerd, he had a flower on his cheek.
After making fun of him, I put a temporary tattoo on my hand. He pointed this out and it made me furious. Obviously, my hand was way different than his cheek. Duh.
Anyway, Jeremy brought in this super great mini-Torah one day. I thought it was so cool. The Torahs we had were probably regular adult size, but his Torah fit in his hands and had English translation. I knew my parents had one just like that at home, but the giant version. I couldn’t help it. I wanted that Torah so badly.
So, when everyone was out at recess, I took it out of his locker and snuck it home.
Jeremy was furious. He found out I was the one who stole it and demanded that I give it back. I said ok and the next day brought in the bigger Torah, gloating.
“See?” I said. “It’s not yours.”
I kept that Torah for years. I obviously felt too guilty to use it. It just sat on the shelf in my bedroom.
Jeremy didn’t stay for 5th grade at DAT. I knew it was my fault.
So, that Torah sat on my shelf for years. I grew up and started going to high school. I got kicked out of a different high school every year. For my senior year, I ended up back in Denver and going to public school. And the Torah sat there.
My 17-year-old brain wasn’t fully matured, but something changed. I finally figured out that I can do something about that guilt that had been sunk into my heart all those years ago.
I looked up Jeremy in the phone book. Because in the early 2000s, those were still a thing.
I called the number.
“Hello?” said a woman.
“Um, is Jeremy there?” I asked awkwardly.
“No, but this is his mom. Can I help you with something?”
The whole story came pouring out. I was so flustered, but I owed her the truth. I wondered if his mom would remember.
“Why would you do that??” was her only question.
I tried to defend myself. I was only nine. I didn’t know better.
She didn’t buy it.
I kept saying sorry, but I don’t think she ever accepted my apology.
I wrote down her address. I would return the Torah, I promised.
I took the Torah down, untouched, from my shelf. The first page had Jeremy’s name written on it; I had scratched it out and put my own name instead in my 4th grade handwriting.
I got whiteout and erased my name.
Then, I had to go ask my mom to borrow her car.
“I have to drive out to Broomfield,” I said to her.
“Why do you need to borrow my car to drive 30 minutes to a random stranger’s house?” My mom was not having it.
I shared my story with my mom and my mom offered to drop off the Torah instead. Maybe she was trying to save me from more humiliation. Most probably my mom didn’t trust my driving/navigation skills and thought it’d be best for her to drive.
All these years later, I still feel guilty. I was jealous of Jeremy and lashed out in mean ways. The irony of my actions was definitely not lost on me. I even feel bad that I personally couldn’t redeem my actions. I never had to look Jeremy or his mother in the eye and apologize.
I’m glad I had the courage to make that call and return the Torah. Even though I didn’t get forgiven, I still ended up doing the right thing. It’s never too late. Sometimes you need to swallow your pride. Sometimes you need to acknowledge when you were a bad kid and redeem your actions. And I have faith that all kids must grow up someday.