A Hopeful Sound
Written by Robin Kopf
Illustrated By Chloe Gamboa
My name is Avram and I am a Jewish goat, which is probably the worst kind of Jew that you can be, especially living here. My family moved from our native country of Tayish to Osem, because my father wanted his children to live in a country with a larger community of Jews. I did not know then that we were leaving because he did not just want a larger Jewish community, but to live in a country where even our small, mostly Jewish town would be safe from the growing persecution of Jews that was happening in Tayish’s bigger cities. I hardly noticed that the town was getting smaller; I was still a kid surrounded by Jewish goats, and I was happy.
I was excited about Judaism, mostly because of my Bahba, who prayed so joyfully that his bell swung and jingeled while he davened, which angered the Rabbi at shul. When he took me with him to shul, I wanted to pray the way he did, with all of the joy in the world. Things seemed normal to me, even when I noticed that fewer people were coming to shul and my class was getting smaller. This was until one Saturday, at the very moment when the havdalah candle went out with a sizzle, my Bahba brayed with a little too much fervor that we would be moving to Osem. Me and my sisters laughed, mostly because Bahba had completely lost it in his excitement, but I remember feeling excited. Mahma had already been packing for some time.
Of course, there was nothing more that could and would be said. We would be moving and that was final. We would find a new barn, a new school, and a whole new way of life that was different from Tayish. Only, it wouldn’t be new. We would still have the Jews, only they would look different. Bahba reassured us that we would be welcomed with open hooves, but I was still nervous about moving to a new place, with a whole new community of Jewish animals.
I had heard about Osem in school. It was apparently very large and had a very large Jewish community. The Jews came from different countries, but there were mostly sheep, chickens, horses, and goats, just like me. It reassured me to hear about another country with goats in it and I wondered what the goats in Osem would be like. I also wondered about the other Jews: were their customs like ours? Did they eat hay? Did they wear bells around their necks? All of these questions would be answered when we moved, and like Bahba, I was excited to explore a new place, despite my nerves.
We moved to a typical barn in a small town in Osem. The barn was far from the shul and from my yeshiva in the city, but nothing unmanageable. I remember the way my knees shook when Mahma got me ready for my first day of school. I would really learn what other Jews were like and I did not know what to expect. I was slow to get ready and Mahma hurried me while I munched on my breakfast hay. Before shuffling me out the door, she stopped me.
“Avram, this was your Bahba’s bell that he wore to his school when he was a kid. He asked me to give it to you before your first day. This way we can hear you coming home. But don’t be like him and go swinging it around in class. If I hear that your bell got taken away, no one will listen for you to come home and then I will ‘forget’ to warm your dinner hay. Understand?”
I hardly had enough saliva to gulp let alone to answer. “Yes Mahma.”
“Run along now and have a good day.”
When I got to school, I saw lambs wearing woolen kippot ambling around clumsily and a few older sheep with great horns that I guessed were the teachers. I walked up to one of them and before I could open my mouth, he smiled at me.
“Are you lost, kid? The public school is a few blocks that way,” he asked, gesturing with his horns.
“Is this Yeshivat Ben Tzaon?” He saw my kippah, and realized that I was there to go to school. He turned toward another teacher and started whispering just loudly enough so that I could hear them.
“I don’t know what to tell him, the kid says he is Jewish.”
“We have a few other kids in attendance, he can sit with them.”
“We can’t have another goat at this school. The lambs complain of the smell and then the parents complain.”
“We will further discuss his attendance after morning prayers. For now, he will wait in the office.”
After morning prayers, the sheep that tried to send me to the public school returned to the office and hurried me to my classroom. He introduced me briefly to the other students, mostly lambs and a few kids. Everyone stared at me, a few smiled warmly, or what I thought was warmly. I remember how the kids looked at me and then looked back down at the table. I was afraid that they already didn’t like me for some reason. When I sat down with the rest of the kids at my table, the teacher continued the lesson.
“Can someone tell me how we start the Passover seder?” said the teacher. The room was silent for a few moments before a lamb piped up.
“We start by welcoming those in need to come eat at our table.”
In that moment, another lamb bleated, “What if they smell?”
Another lamb at the same table remarked “Or what if their bell is so loud that we can’t hear the seder?”
The lambs at their table snickered and a few stole glances at us kids in the back, all at one table, separate from the lambs. It was only my first day, and I knew who they were talking about. It was only then that the kids at my table looked at me. One of them cracked a knowing smile, which comforted me. They had known for a long time too.
When I prayed, if my bell made even the slightest noise, the lambs near me would giggle and a teacher would sneer at me. Eventually, I was told that I was no longer allowed to wear my bell to school. None of the other kids wore bells to school, but mine was special to me. It belonged to Bahba and I feared that Mahma wouldn’t hear me coming home from school if I didn’t wear it. When I returned from school that day, I told Mahma about the bell.
She sighed, “My Avram, I truly thought that here you would be allowed to wear your bell at school, but I was wrong.” My head dropped, and my bell jingled in response. It was a hopeful sound. I started to cry, but Mahma wasn’t finished. She moved my chin upwards so that our eyes met.
“Avram, you are still Jewish. No one can change that about you. All that say you can’t be Jewish are wrong and you must remember that. You were born Jewish and you will stay Jewish.” Her words made me feel better for the time being.
One day, during some free time on the school yard, I was approached by a lamb who trotted over to me with confidence. His face looked innocent enough, which was encouraging, but I was still nervous. My heart pounded.
“My name is Yitzhak. What is your name?”
“You’re new, right?”
“You know, you don’t look Jewish. Where are you from?”
I was not sure what he was getting at. I was at a yeshiva, wearing a kippah. How else should I look? “I’m from Tayish. It’s pretty small, but there are Jews there.”
“Cool! Do you eat hay like we do? What is the bell for?”
His questions gave me more hope than I had since I started school. “We do eat hay! My Mahma says that if I don’t wear my bell, she won’t hear me coming home, but I don’t think she’s serious.” We both laughed. He put on a worried expression as he looked over his shoulder, stepped closer and spoke to me softly.
“Listen, Avram, you seem really nice, but you would be better off if you went home.”
“Home? It’s the middle of the day!”
“No, I mean home home. What was it called? Tase?”
“Tayish.” I wasn’t sure what to say.
“I should be getting back to my friends. Nice talking to you, Avram.”
My mother’s words rang in my head: “AlI that say you can’t be Jewish are wrong.” I didn’t believe her. Yitzhak looked like he wanted to be friends. I thought that if he liked me, maybe then the lambs would stop laughing at me and the other kids. We were never invited to sit with the lambs during meals and the teachers were especially strict with us. When Yitzhak and his friends walked past our table at lunch, they would hurry up, muttering about the smell. One day, a group of lambs threw wool blankets over our heads while we ate because we had so little fur compared to them. One lamb came to our table and asked us what we were doing at a Jewish school.
Bahba still took me with him to services sometimes, but it was never the same. I stopped noticing the joy in Bahba’s davening. He never talked about it with us as kids, but I used to overhear him talking about it with Mahma. Like shul in Tayish, the Rabbi grew angry when Bahba’s bell was too loud, but because everyone else wore bells, he dismissed it. At the shul here, he could hardly stand the looks from the sheep and chickens in the room. They talked about him as they left services, just loud enough so that he could hear. He wanted to pray at a different shul, but he was too dignified. Through his sadness, he maintained the words that Mahma told me: no one was going to shame him out of his Judaism. Whenever he came home and saw his kids, his downturned eyes sparkled with excitement to see his family. At our barn we celebrated the holidays, traditions, and teachings that were dear to him, as if he wanted to share with us what kept him holding on. This kept me hanging on too.
As I grow up at Yeshivat Ben Tzaon, my treatment is mostly the same as when I started a few years ago, but I did learn to ignore it, much like my fellow goats. Not everyone was horrible to us; most sheep learned to ignore us and they went about their schooling pretending we weren’t there, choosing not to notice the way we were treated. I stopped listening to their laughter in services. Instead, I pray louder. No one keeps me from coming to school, even though they try. No one keeps me from praying as loud as my bell would be if I was allowed to wear it to school. No one stops me from studying the reasons why my fellow classmates should not treat anyone the way they do while they read the same book as me. When Bahba and I go to shul together, we still wear our bells, and they jingle when we bow and when we rise up again. It’s a hopeful sound.