И еще один потрясающе интересный фрагмент!

Some of the teachers would keep kids after school as punishment but it always the Jewith kids. Why? Because we’re shifty little usurers and in keeping us after school, we’d be late or couldn’t attend Hebrew school. Now unbeknownst to them, this punishment to me, if I may use a Yiddish word, was a mitzvah. I hated Hebrew school as much as public school and now I’m going to tell you why. First of all, I never bought into the whole religious thing. I thought it was all a big hustle. Didn’t ever think there was a God; didn’t think he’d conveniently favor the Jews if there was one. Loved pork. Hated beards. The Hebrew language was too guttural for my taste. Plus it was written backwards. Who needed that? I had enough trouble in school where things were written left to right. And why should I fast for my sins? What were my sins? Kissing Barbara Westlake when I should’ve been hanging up my coat? Fobbing a plug nickel off on my grandpa? I say live with it, God, there’s much worse. The Nazis are putting us in ovens. First attend to that. But as I said, I didn’t believe in God. And why did the women have to sit upstairs m the synagogue? They were prettier and smarter than the men. Those hirsute zealots who wrapped themselves in prayer shawls on the premier level, nodding up and down like bobbleheads and kissing a string up to some imaginary power who, if he did exist, despite all their begging and flattery, rewarded them with diabetes and acid reflux.

Not worth my time, and my time was the great rub here. I couldn’t wait till the three o’clock bell rang and I was freed from public school so I could hit the streets and the schoolyard and play ball but oh no, to have to pack that in and go sit in a Hebrew class reading words, the meaning of which were never taught to us, and learning how the Jews had made a special covenant with God, but unfortunately failed to get anything in writing. But I went. Parental pressure, my allowance, the threat of no radio, not to mention I’d get hit. My mother hit me every day at least once. Hitting was very de rigueur in those days, though my father only did once, when I told him to tuck off and he made his displeasure known with a genfle tap across my face that gave me an unimpeded view of the Aurora Borealis. But mom whacked me every day and it was the old Sam Levenson joke—»Maybe I don’t know what you did to deserve it, but you do.» And so it came to pass that I was eventually bar mitzvahed and so had to take special bar mitzvah lessons and sing in Hebrew—and let me tell you, as they say in the Old Testament, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

My mother was the observant one. Because of her, we kept a kosher home. She was pretty strict about dietary laws that forbid pork, bacon, ham, lobster, and many delectable treats available to lucky infidels. To keep my mother placated, Dad faked being observant, but he couldn’t hide his addiction to tasty contraband and gobbled pig meat and shellfish like the Assyrians fell upon the fold. Hence, once in a while at a restaurant, I got to knock off a meal Yahweh, as his friends call him, hadn’t signed off on. I remember what a treat it was when at eight, my father first took me to Lundy’s, the legendary seafood restaurant in Brooklyn where I could pig out on clams, oysters, and shellfish, confident God was nowhere near Sheepshead Bay that day. Lundy’s was the first time I was ever given a finger bowl. I’d never heard of anything so astonishing as finger bowls, and it was a thoroughly exhilarating experience using one. Like having your own swimming pool. So impressed was I that two years later, when my aunt took me there for a shore dinner, all I could think of was, this joint has finger bowls. Consequently, when we ordered steamers and the clam broth was served with them, I was convinced this most be the finger bowl. Intensely excited, my certainty overrode Aunt Ann’s muddled skepticism, and the two of us sat there washing our hands in the clam broth. It was not until the actual finger bowls arrived at the end of the meal did my aunt realize she’d been right and struck me affectionately a number of times, perhaps twelve or fourteen, on the head with her purse.

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