"Shame two innocent little boys, just because they have brown skin? That’s okay with you, and with everybody in the kehillah?”
"Your son is hanging around outside with the Africans,” Weissberger informed Yanky during the short break between Erev Shabbos Minchah and Maariv.
“Africans?” Yanky was bewildered and perturbed. These days, the streets were full of Sudanese immigrants looking for work, and their presence made him a little nervous, especially after hearing Bugi’s descriptions of their late-night activities. But the yeshivah didn’t employ any of them, so what was Weissberger talking about?
He went out to the courtyard of the beis medrash and looked around. No Sudanese in sight. Weissberger had said “your son.” Which of the three boys was it? Not Bentzi — he was home with Raizele. Eliyahu? Nachumi? Yanky was about to go back inside and ask Weissberger for clarification when his glance fell on Nachumi. He was standing near the fence, talking with two Ethiopian boys around his age. They were frum Jewish boys, with black yarmulkes on their heads and peyos grazing their cheeks. Yanky knew who they were; a few days ago he’d heard about the chareidi Ethiopian family that had moved into the neighborhood, and he’d seen the father, with a beard and peyos, in the Zichron Moishe shtiblach.
So what on earth was the problem? Yanky turned and walked back inside.
“Nu, did you get him away from them?” Weissberger asked.
“Why should I get him away from them?”
“Oh, come on, Kleiner. What do you know about where those kids came from and what they have in their heads? How can you know what kind of influence they might have on your son, what kind of inappropriate words they might teach him? It’s very important to keep our children’s chinuch pure.”
“To keep their chinuch pure.” Yanky repeated. “For some reason it seems to me that a few words of slang in Amharic are a lot less harmful to my son than racist attitudes, even if you share them in Yiddish.”
“They just moved in, they live right near us,” Nachumi said as they walked home.
“Uch,” said Eliyahu.
“What did you say?” Yanky gave him a penetrating look.
“Their skin is all dark! And Nachumi was talking to them like he’s their friend.”
“I am their friend,” Nachumi said innocently. “They’re nice.”
“No, they’re not.”
Ribbono shel Olam, what are you supposed to say to a racist who’s walking beside you, and he’s your sweet little son?
“Their names are Avraham and Shimon,” Nachumi chattered on. “Everybody was standing there looking at them, and a few of us talked to them. And then Meirke Weissberger’s Abba came out and said to us, ‘Kinderlach, geits arein in kitah. Redts nisht mit zei.’ And then everyone went inside, but I didn’t. And then Avraham asked me what that man said to us in Yiddish.”
“What did you tell him?”
“I told him the man said, ‘Children, come inside, we’re starting Maariv soon.’ ”
“You’re a good boy.”
But later, at home, Raizele said she thought Yanky was making a mistake.
“You can’t just let a child play with anyone he meets,” she whispered to him in the kitchen. “And if Weissberger called all the boys inside, Nachumi should have gone inside too.”
“And shame two innocent little boys, just because they have brown skin? That’s okay with you, and with everybody in the kehillah?” Yanky leaned on the kitchen counter. Why was he the only one whose soul cried out against this unfounded prejudice? He thought of Rebbe Nachman’s tale of the tainted wheat that caused madness. Was he the only one who hadn’t eaten it — or the only one who had?
(Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 797)
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