How I met the “Big Guy” and learned about Anger Management
Soon after we moved into the house in Judith Road in the suburb of Emmarentia, Johannesburg, my Mom announced that I was going to be sent to Kindergarten. I was four years old. For some reason I had developed a bad dose of what is now called “toddler suspicion “. I could not bear the idea of having to face new kids, new adults and new everything. Perhaps the trauma of the move from Parkview had kicked it off.
“I want to go to Mrs. Marais’s school in Parkview.” I sulked.
“You can’t go there because we don’t live in Parkview anymore.” My Mom cajoled.
“I’ll only go if Linda goes too.” I whined.
Linda was my next door neighbour. She and I were born on the same day and had become best buddies. But Linda’s Mom and Dad decided that she was too young. And so I was dragged kicking and screaming to the Emmarentia Hebrew Nursery School one Monday morning. They tricked me by pretending that Linda was coming with me.
She accompanied me to the main gates on Komatie Road. We got out of the car, I went through the gates and then they were slammed shut behind me. I still remember Linda clinging to the wire fence, waving at me. Getting me to Kindergarten each morning became a major ordeal. My Mom had to arrange a special ruse with my Nanny Monica. She pretended that she was going to be in the playground all morning waiting for me.
“I promise you, your nanny Monica is outside!” The teacher whose name was Morah Tzipi implored. She took me to the side door and showed me that Monica was there. “She’s going to wait for you.” I did not trust her. The other children stared at me. The teachers were whispering to each other.
“Don’t worry as soon as he settles we’ll tell her to go.”
Panic set in! I knew it. They were conspiring against me.
I ran to the door in a state of frenzied fear. Morah Tzipi strode towards me. She opened the door. Monica was still there kneeling on the lush green kukuyu lawn a few feet away from the sandpit. She waved and smiled and my fear subsided. She rose to her feet ready to come towards me to hug me and to reassure me but Morah Tzipi wouldn’t allow it. She signalled to her to remain where she was at a distance.
Reluctantly I took Morah Tzipi’s hand and allowed her to guide me indoors. The charade was repeated several times until I finally settled in to the daily routine. I can still recall the sour sweaty smell of the floor mats that were unrolled each day on the parquet floor where we had to take our morning nap. In the beginning I would not close my eyes. I still didn’t trust my surroundings.
The old decrepit building had once been a private house which was then converted into a Synagogue by the growing Jewish community in Emmarentia. Part of it was then used as a Nursery School. The carbolic smell of the red polished steps made it feel like an institution, a building that certainly wasn’t comforting and cosy like Mrs. Marais ‘s school that my sister attended. Her Parkview Kindergarten was neat and clean and colourful with brightly coloured yellow and blue tables. It even had a ‘jungle gym’ (climbing frame), a tree house, a slide and a pair of swings beneath the tall shady oak trees in the garden. The Emmarentia Nursery School was quite stark by comparison with just a few Eucalyptus trees scattered about the main yard.
My demeanour changed one Friday morning when I discovered the delights of music and the make believe Shabbat with the red Kool-Aid wine and cupcake challot that we called ‘kitkes’.
The piece de resistance was the morning ‘Ring’ when all the kids sat in a circle to play music. Each child was issued with an instrument. There were bugles and xylophones, tambourines, triangles and drums. I started off with the triangle but then quickly discovered the joys of tympanic sound! I learnt how to sling the strap over my neck as I sat with legs astride on the floor, drumsticks at the ready waiting for Morah Tzipi’s signal to begin. What wonderful pandemonium! What noise! What a cacophony of sound as I beat away at the drums in time to the rhythm of the other children.
And then it happened! In my zealous enthusiasm to play my drum, I lifted the drumsticks a little too high and hit myself in the schnozz. My nose began to bleed profusely. Morah Tzipi came running and lifted me up in her arms. She carried me to the bathroom grabbing large wads of toilet paper with which she dabbed my nose.
“Don’t worry Robbie. It was just a little accident. Put your head back and keep still.” But the bleeding would not stop until Morah Helga brought some ice and a wet towel which she placed on my forehead.
“I’ll take him to the Shul.” I heard Morah Helga say in her strange accented English. I was somewhat apprehensive as she carried me in her arms and placed me on a row of wooden chairs immediately opposite the Aron Kodesh. She sat with me with my head resting on her lap. Then she got up to leave thinking that I had fallen asleep. I was not happy and began to whimper.
“Don’t be afraid darling.” She reassured me with her hypnotic voice. “Dis is ver G-d lives and He is going to look after you. Just rest my darling. I’ll be back in a short vile and then you can join the Shabbat Abba and Ima for more songs. If you are good then maybe next veek you can be the Shabbat Abba!” She chucked me under the chin and left. I lay there terrified in the half gloom of the Shul. I looked up and saw the deep maroon coloured velvet parochet of the Ark with its magnificent gold embroidered Magen David and lettering. This was probably the front door to G-d’s House I thought.
‘ I wonder if He’s at home’, I mused. And then I saw the Ner Tamid,a deep dark ruby coloured light burning in a silver lantern suspended from the ceiling just above the Aron Kodesh. I lay there mesmerised and mindful of Morah Tzipi’s instructions to keep my head back. And then a strange thing happened. A feeling of peace and calm settled over me and I drifted off only to be woken by what I thought was G-d’s voice calling me.
“Robbie, Robbie …don’t be afraid.” I sat bolt upright and banged my head on the back of the chair. “It’s only me .” Morah Helga smiled. “Vee almost forgot about you. You slept so nicely and look your nose has stopped bleeding. Your Nanny is here to take you home.”
“But what about the Shabbat Ring?” I cried.
“Don’t vorry darling. You can vait until next Friday. Come. Let’s say goodbye to G-d.” With that she led me to the Aron Kodesh and we both kissed the Parochet. “Now you can tell the other children that you met G-d.” She kissed me on the forehead and ushered me out of the Sanctuary. I kept looking back at the Aron Kodesh with a sense of great pride.
Despite settling in to the Kindergarten routine, I was not a very sociable child.
I did not seem able to connect to the other children. My great joy was digging away at the gravel in the sandpit where I relished the idea of making perfectly formed sand cakes that I wanted to take home to show to my parents and sister. One day as I was intensely engaged in my favourite pursuit , I was disturbed by another child. It was none other than the blonde-haired blue-eyed David S who dared to invade my territory.
“You can’t play here!” I scowled. “Go away! I am playing here!” He ignored me and reached for one of the plastic trowels. I stared at him. There was something about his head and face that I did not like. His head was triangular and seemed bigger than the rest of him. His skin was too white as if he’d been filled with too much milk. He smelt of something sweet like baby oil. I stood up and warned him again.
“This is my sandpit! Go and play inside!”
“It’s not your sandpit!” He mewled back at me. “It’s everybody’s sandpit.” I felt a sense of rage and indignation rising within me. I stamped my foot.
“It’s not your sandpit!” I yelled again. “I was here first. Now go away!” I screamed. He turned his back on me and leaned over to take the small blue bucket that I had used to make my sand cakes. Thus all wars begin – food (sand cakes) and territory. I reached for a weapon and found a piece of wood that had clearly been wrenched from an old orange crate. I lunged forward and attacked my enemy. Unfortunately for him there was a rusty nail sticking out of the piece of wood. The nail pierced his skin and the back of his head began to bleed quite badly. He let out a terrible scream. I soon found myself in the office in front of Tzipi and Helga. I had crossed the reddest of lines. They kept me there until my mother came to collect me.
“We have a duty to protect the other children Mrs. Hersowitz.” I heard Morah Tzipi explaining to my mother.
“I’m shocked.” My mother replied. “He is just not like this. He has never done this before.”
At home I got a terrible scolding from my mom and a good ‘hiding’ from my dad. I remember feeling ashamed and embarrassed as I was sent to my room. It took a few days for me to realize that if I wanted to go back to Kindergarten I would have to play by the grown ups’ rules.
Thus began my long journey of discovering G-d and Anger Management.
Robert Hersowitz is a writer and business coach. Born and raised in South Africa he has lived in Switzerland, Holland and the UK. He made Aliyah in 2014 and now lives with his wife, Annie in Jerusalem