Reb Avrom Recruits
by Irv Pliskin
Reb Avrom said ‘sie gesunt’ to the handful of boys in his chedar, and watched them get up to leave for the day.
His chedar was in a small shul at the edge of the shtetl, and his class was small because he did not yet have the reputation as a great teacher.
His bocherim learned their aleph base and their talmud and torah very well, he knew. But the townsfolk seemed to choose the more experienced, older teachers for their kids.
"If only I had a few more students," Avrom mused. "Then I could be making a living and feeling better about myself. Oh well, it is the Lords’ will. He will provide."
He poured a drink in his not too clean glass, felt the warmth of the schnaps and left for the day. He owed some money to the merchants in the shtetl, and he didn’t want to confront those tradesmen who might expect to get paid before the Shabbos, so he walked home the long way through the forest.
He was startled by the slap of a strap against wood, and a young voice shouting.
"Take that you lazy schlemiel. Take that you no goodnick."
In a small clearing, he saw the young Pincus boy, battering trees and stumps with a leather strap and a stick. "Serves you right," the boy shouted. "Serves you right. If you don’t have your class work ready, this is what you get."
When the boy looked up he was obviously startled to see the malamud there and was about to turn and run.
"Halt sich ein," Reb Avrom said. "Wait a minute. What are you doing? I am very curious."
The boy hesitated.
"You can tell me, I promise you, no harm will come to you."
"Well, Reb Avrom I am practicing to be a malamud and run a chedar. You must learn to use the strap and the stick to get obedience from students when you teach them, so I’m practicing."
"Is that how you are taught, Menachem? You are Menachem Pincus aren’t you?"
"Yes. That is how we are all taught. That is also the way you teach. Right?"
"I suppose so." He smiled at the boy and said, "Sie Gesunt. Have a nice game. And a good evening."
After his supper, Avrom sat with a glass of bromfen. What should I do he wondered. Can I do anything? Would it be rightto do anything? Then he decided.
Pincus the butcher and grocer had done very well. Reb Avrom knocked softly on the door of his big house, hoping perhaps they wouldn’t hear him and he could go home, before he aggravated Pincus and his friends.
Mrs. Pincus opened the door. "Reb Avrom what are you doing here?"
"Well, I wondered if I could talk to you and Smulka, please."
"Come in, come in. You are always welcome here."
He laughed inside. Never before had be been invited into the Pincus’ home. Impoverished school masters with small chedars don't get to visit in such finery.
"Sit," she said, pointing to the table "I’ll go get my man."
Pincus came in, with a questioning look as his wife began to prepare tea.
"So? Nice of you to visit."
"Thank you. I am grateful for your courtesy."
"So tell me, why are you here?"
"Smulka, I want to ask you to let me have your Menachem in my chedar. I think he will learn better and do better than he is now doing."
"What? Why do you ask that? Faygy, pour the tea already. A little schapps in the tea Reb Avrom?"
"Today, in the woods, I saw your boychick playing at being a rabbi. He was beating up the trees and the fence posts with a strap and a stick. He told me that without a beating a boy don’t learn. My chedar bocherim learn without beatings. I believe Menachem would do better if he played more pleasant games and wasn’t getting beaten in chedar."
"Beatings? Beatings? Nobody beats my Menachem. We don’t beat him at home, he don't get beaten in chedar."
"I could be wrong, Smulka, but why don’t you ask him?"
"Menachem totala," the father called. "Come here please. I want to see you."
Menachem came into the kitchen and stopped when he saw the teacher. The boy stood and stared. Was he to be punished for the game he played? Oh, his heart beat hard.
"Son," Pincus said. "Reb Avrom here says that you sometimes get beaten in chedar. Is that so?"
The boy seemed confused and then shook his head yes.
"Yes, tell me why?"
"All the boys get beaten in chedar papa. The rov says it is the only way to learn. Make a mistake, and you get beaten. It is the way it is."
"Where?" Pincus asked "does he patch you? On the tochas?"
"Not a patch papa, he hits us with a strap or his stick. Sometimes with his fist, too. "
"On the body papa."
"I don’t believe it." The grocer said. "It isn't possible."
"Papa," the boy said, now emboldened. "Let me show you."
He unbuttoned his shirt and pulled aside his underwear. There were three or four contusions on his side and when he pulled his shirt up there were three ugly welts on his back.
"Oy," the mother said. "Oy gevalt. Why didn't you tell me you were being hit like that? The big boys did that?"
"No mama, the rev did that. That is how he teaches. Everybody teaches like that. Don’t they, Reb Avrom, don’t they?"
"I don't know from everybody, but I never believe you should hit a boy. Hitting don't make him learn. Wanting to learn, that’s what I believe makes a bocher learn."
Pincus looked exceedingly reflective and then he said, "I have to think about this, Avrom, "I’ll let you know after shabbos."
Five minutes before Avrom was ready to open the chedar the next Monday morning there was a knock on the door. Shmulka Pincus was standing there with nine boys.
"Avrom," he said, "I have talked to some of my chevra. They had no idea their sons were being beaten in chedar, and they don’t like it neither. So, we are taking our boys to you: If they do not learn, Avrom it is you who will be beaten, by me. Vershtay?"
"Ich vershtay. They will learn, I promise you."
He turned to Pincus and said. "Thank you, It is written that a beaten horse does not pull any better than any other horse. So it is with boys. They will learn I promise you. They will learn."
He smiled and closed the door and then he took a little skip and jump as he followed the boys to the classroom.
Irv Pliskin is a retired advertising agency owner. He is a combat veteran of World War II and an Ex Prisoner of War of the Germans. Married, with three kids, and four grandchildren he devotes his time to writing flash fiction. He hopes, that someday, he may become the Grandma Moses of flash fiction. He lives with his wife of 57 years in Cherry Hill,NJ. Contact Irv.