Recap: Ruchama is accused of writing an article for the school paper that she never wrote, and the dean threatens her and puts her on probation. She has a seizure and decides she wants to quit college.
Chapter 30: A Hard Decision (Ruchama)
That night, my parents had to go out. My head was still throbbing. I had an uncomfortable, spacey feeling, and fear was gnawing at the pit of my stomach. The twins had an assignment to write essays. My mother usually helped them with their homework.
“I can’t do it. I need Mommy,” Tovah whined.
“Do you want me to help you?” I asked.
“Yes, please,” they both chimed together.
We sat together at the kitchen table.
“So, what do you have to write about?” I asked.
“We’re supposed to write about courage,” Tovah said. “We have to list three things about what courage means to us.”
“I can’t do it.”
I fought hard to concentrate. “Courage,” I said. “Okay, let’s brainstorm together. What takes courage? Let’s come up with a good list of three things.”
Tovah frowned. “Writing this.”
“Yeah. Good. What else?”
“Meeting new people.”
“Okay, what else?”
Tovah paced back and forth. “Sticking to something hard and not giving up like learning to ice skate.”
Yeah, that did take courage.
I wondered if I had enough to finish writing my paper and to stay at a college where everyone saw me have a seizure.
Then we composed her second sentence that included the three ideas we’d brainstormed. I helped her come up with examples for her three body paragraphs, and then we worked on her conclusion.
After she wrote the last sentence, Tovah reached over and hugged me. “Thank you, Ruchy. You’re the best!”
Next, I helped Shaina with her courage writing assignment.
Later that night, I began writing an article as a rebuttal to that false article in the paper. I needed to write it.
By Ruchama Bennett
I was slandered. I was accused of writing something that I never wrote.
In Judaism, there is a concept called guarding your tongue. There are specific laws about how to use your gift of speech in a proper, moral way. The laws of lashon ha’ra include many different specific prohibitions. The worst type of lashon ha’ra is motzi sheim ra (slandering). Saying something negative that is not true about someone is a terrible sin.
I have been accused of writing a heinous article with violent ideas, and I never wrote it. I was then put on probation at the university, based on this slander. This is so wrong and so unjust.
I sighed and typed my name on the article. I’d written it for myself.
I lay in bed wondering what to do. So many thoughts raced through my head. How could I go back on campus now that everyone had seen me have a seizure? What was wrong with me? Was there something terribly wrong with me? And then there was that article that the dean thought I’d written. He wasn’t willing to hear my side or believe I wouldn’t be part of some violent radical group.
Still, I wanted to finish the bell tower paper. Rita Schwerner had been so happy to know I was writing it. Edgar Rae Killen was still not convicted for master-minding the murder of three heroes. Two of them were Jewish. How could this injustice be allowed to continue when I could at least write about it?
I finally fell asleep at four in the morning and dreamed about a man shouting at me that I was not allowed back on campus, and a group of people staring at me and pointing.
In the morning, I woke feeling groggy and headachy. I recalled the seizure on campus and felt my cheeks flame. I couldn’t go back there. No way.
I would have to call the college and withdraw from the classes. I felt embarrassed to do that and a little sad. I had enjoyed the journalism class. I did like the seminary and was surprised to realize I liked the friends I had met at school, even if they weren’t exactly like me. It didn’t matter.
I wanted to finish the semester, but I couldn’t. Not with that seizure in public and that awful meeting with the dean and his accusations against me. It was all a message from Hashem. I had to leave.
That night, I told my mother that I had decided to leave Queens College for a while.
My mother was quiet. “Are you sure you don’t want to give it some more time?”
“No, I’m sure.”
“Did you make an appointment with Dr. Garfield?”
“It’s for next Wednesday,” I said.
Thinking of that made my stomach clench. I was so scared of what he was going to tell me.
My mother kissed my head. “It will all be all right,” she said. “I’m davening for you.”
I told her about Vivian and about the article that I was accused of writing and then the probation.
My mother’s face paled. “That is so horrible. I can’t believe that.”
“I wish you could change your mind and…”
“Please, Ima. Please don’t ask me to do that.”
She put her arm on my shoulder. “Okay, Ruchy, I won’t say anything else about it.”
I called Ella. I wanted to let her know that I wasn’t coming back to college. When I phoned, I got her answering machine. I left a message. I knew that was a cowardly way to do it, but I felt relieved not having to talk to her. I consoled myself, thinking we hadn’t been friends that long. She probably wouldn’t miss me being there that much.
That night, as I was getting ready for bed, I noticed something that made my heart jump. I saw Yonah Hartstein’s journal. I fingered the worn brown cover. The journal felt like an accuser asking me to explain. Why didn’t you finish the paper, it seemed to say? Why didn’t you do something to bring justice?
To be continued…
Susie Garber is the author of Denver Dreams (a novel, Jerusalem Publications, 2009), Memorable Characters…Magnificent Stories (Scholastic, 2002), Befriend (Menucha Publishers, 2013), The Road Less Traveled (Feldheim, 2015), fiction serials and features in various magazines including A Bridge in Time – historical fiction serial (Binyan Magazine, 2017). She writes for the community column for the Queens Jewish Link and she writes the Queens page for Hamodia. She works as a writing consultant in many yeshivos and she teaches creative writing to students of all ages.