Jeff Pearlman

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The 5th Grade Militant Jew: II

My 6th grade class—starring the lovely Barbara Gardineer, one of my all-time favorite teachers. I’m the drunk kid with the bad haircut—second row, third from right.

One of my old Mahopac chums, Vanessa Taback, reminded me of a follow-up to the Ms. Hart holiday concert episode.

A year or two later, a bunch of local parents petitioned Lakeview Elementary School, literally complaining about the one Chanukah song tossed our way. In one of the truly remarkable idiot moments in Mahopac, N.Y. history (and, Lord knows, there have been plenty), the protesters said that the concert included too few songs that truly celebrated the spirit and meaning of Christmas. Of course, we had  NINE Christmas songs and a single Chanukah song, so, hey …

Anyhow, the local newspaper ran a story about the debate, and I actually wrote to the editor, insisting the complainers were narrow-minded dolts from Planet Zeebob (Actually, I just invented the planet right now). The paper ran my letter, and a few days later I received a lovely note from the pastor of our local church, complimenting my tone and maturity. Somewhere, in a photo album, I still have that piece of paper. It’s a cherished part of my youth.

Alas, not much in my town changed in the years I lived there. Kids still threw pennies at the Jews. My closest friend, an African-American lad, had two crosses burned in his yard. For some reason, race and religion seemed to matter—so much so that, when a black family purchased a house about 1/2 mile from mine, the residents of the street submitted a petition, asking they not move in.

And then we all gathered in the auditorium to sing about Jesus.

PS: It wasn’t until junior high that I had my first blatantly racist teacher; the one who—during a lesson—explained why blacks can’t ski or swim, and how it was sorta wacky the way Jews burned in the ovens.

  • michael

    i grew up nonreligious to a fault and sang in a boys choir.

    if you can believe it, i sang all of those hymns without realizing there was any religious meaning to them, or what that meaning might be.

    i was in my twenties before i put it all together. divergent paths of information, i guess.

  • Kirk

    Were these Christmas songs religious Christmas songs? Or more along the Jingle Bells route? I know it is trivial, but if they were religious Christmas songs that parents wanted more of, then I don’t blame you.

    When I was a teen, my dad put up a stink because there were too many religious Christmas songs in the Christmas programs at my school, citing the separation of church and state as his reasoning. The school board was stupified that one of the local Lutheran ministers had a problem with so many religious Christmas songs being performed…

  • JMW

    Dude
    Your haircut isn’t any worse than anyone else’s. What gives?

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life