I Escaped, But Only Just - Part 7: Mixed Blessings
School offered little respite - apart from the chance to play the piano in the main hall sometimes. Early on, I became locked in a cycle that usually began with someone teasing me and ended with me losing my temper. I would get frustrated and hurl objects around or rip the buttons off my shirt, largely because I didn’t have adequate skills to articulate frustration. During a needlework lesson towards the end of my first year, three boys in the class kept provoking me until I reached for a wooden item and hurled it at the window. Fortunately, the glass didn’t shatter.
I turned 13, which meant I no longer had to attend the Cheder classes on Sunday mornings. But I still went to the Synagogue every Saturday and spent most of Sunday hiking in the countryside with Robin and our parents.
Robin and I had tended to get overexcited at the Synagogue during our younger years, disrupting the Chazon's excellent singing by shrieking out in delight, and we'd disrupted countless Cheder classes with our behaviour, resulting in our receiving a reputation for being unmanageable.
In spite of the negative reputation we'd earned, our Rabbi often bestowed upon us the great honour of ascending the Ark (Aron HaKodesh) on Saturday mornings. This would take place about fifteen minutes before the conclusion of the service, during The Hymn of Glory (Shir HaKovod) and it required two people - one to open the heavy curtain, the other to shut it. I always felt apprehensive in case I ruined the task and brought disgrace on my family, but that never happened.
The Ark held an air of mystery all year round. During major religious festivals, a strange but fascinating procedure, known as the Blessing of the Priests, occurred there. It started with four notes sung like a fanfare, then a drop in volume followed by the opening Bracha. Three men, descendants of priests, stood at the front of the Ark and chanted in response to a readers' prayer, the priests’ heads covered with prayer shawls. For some reason, the priestly chanting used to remind me of a couple of food mixers chomping away. At times, it sounded as if the priests were crying (although they weren't). The congregation had to avoid looking at the Ark and the priests during the Blessing. To look, some people joked, would bring about divine retribution.
'Don't look,' my older brother Brian would whisper. 'Or you'll go blind.'
I'd always try not to, but curiosity invariably would get the better of me and I'd sneak a quick glance.
I could always worry about divine retribution later.
And some big problems were in store, anyway - regardless of divine retribution.