At the end of that school year, Mark’s mother made a point to thank me. She beamed as she told me that Mark was so proud to be Jewish, and that he loved learning about Judaism. I felt very gratified, until she continued. “You know that Mark lives in a diverse neighborhood. And we do not want him to feel too Jewish. That is why we are taking him out of this school and Mark is going to public school next year.” My mouth dropped open. Was it possible I heard her correctly? But it was true. The reason Mark was leaving our school, and not going on to first grade in our day school, was because he loved being Jewish a bit too much.
For years I tucked this sad memory into my soul. I would think of Mark’s picture, and how in all the ensuing years I never received another detailed picture like it. Recently, I met Mark’s mother. I asked how her son was doing. Mark was just finishing college, she proudly told me, and was graduating from a prestigious university. As Mark’s mom and I chatted, I caught Mark’s dad glancing at me from across the room, and promptly look away. From that look I knew everything. I knew that Mark no longer had a strong connection to his Jewish heritage. I was sure that now Mark was not as proud to be Jewish as he had been in kindergarten. And perhaps he was even seeing a girl who was not Jewish.
I remember this today as I watch Tina’s best friend play on the playground with the other kids in her class. I see that she is baffled as to why the playmate she went to preschool with, the one who would laugh at her jokes and enjoy her games, is suddenly gone. And I think of Tina, and how she once learned Torah and no longer does, and a little of my heart bleeds for another Jewish child that got away.