April 13, 2024
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April 13, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

As a child, I always hated that my birthday often came out on Shavuot. True, my mom would make me a festive strawberry shortcake and my friends would come over in the after­noon. However, at these casual parties there were no candles to blow out, no music to play and most important to a kid, NO PRESENTS. So when my 13th birthday was due to fall out on the Sunday after the Chag, I ecstatically planned a real celebration. I also made the mis­take of listening to my teacher, Miss Schwartz about my classmate, Chanie.

Chanie, the new girl in class, totally ruled 8th grade! It wasn’t that she was especially pret­ty or well dressed. It was just the opposite. Chanie was wiry and athletic while we were “girly,” and she seemed older and tougher than the rest of our friends. Mostly, she was a clever girl, a master of the art of manipulation and she totally controlled us. Suddenly our loyalties to each other were tenuous and directed solely to Chanie and her ever growing posse of ad­mirers. If Chanie disliked a teacher then we all misbehaved. When she wanted to torment a classmate, we shunned the poor girl and made her miserable.

Miss Schwartz, our teacher, encouraged us to assert our independence. She assigned group projects and frequently rotated the par­ticipants so that we could make “new” friends. She invited clusters of girls to join her for lunch, each time pointedly omitting Chanie. Nothing worked. One day, Miss Schwartz cornered a few of us in the hallway.

“You understand that you don’t have to do everything Chanie tells you to do,” she scolded. I hate to say this about any of my students but Chanie is a bad influence on you. Why don’t you girls just try to keep your distance from her?

Secretly, I agreed. I was getting tired of doing whatever Chanie commanded. I had my own ideas about how I wanted to spend my time and who I wanted to hang out with and I knew that many of my friends felt the same way. Frankly, Chanie and her crowd weren’t really fun. All they did was complain all the time and bad-mouth everyone else.

So, that June day, I made the decision not to invite Chanie to my upcoming birthday party. If my friends were too scared to stand up to her than I would show them it was pos­sible to defy a bully. Yes, I would do the right thing and serve as an example to the rest of my peers and they would soon follow my lead. I sent out my invitations and counted the days to the next Sunday. Everyone said they were so excited about my party.

My birthday Sunday was a beautiful day and I was dressed and ready way before 2 o’clock, when the girls were due to arrive. When the bell rang at 1:30 I couldn’t help smil­ing. That had to be Flora. Poor Flora, always so glad to be invited that she was inevitably the first to eagerly arrive and the very last to leave any party. As I opened the door she burst in excitedly.

“ Es. Did you hear? Last night Chanie called every single person you invited and told them NOT to come to your party. I didn’t listen to her, of course.” I looked at Flora’s flushed face and murmured. “I thought she might try something like that. But, you know that’s not going to happen, Flora. I’m not worried. My friends wouldn’t do that to me.”

I had known these girls all of my life, they would never snub me and listen to Chanie, a relative newcomer to our group. Flora and I smiled at each other, but a tiny prick of ap­prehension began to form in the pit of my stomach. We sat on the couch talking about school and our upcoming summer plans but our eyes kept straying to the large clock tick­ing mercilessly away on the kitchen wall. 2:00….2:15. They’d start to come any minute now…2:30…3… No one knocked. No one called. The gaily set table filled with brightly colored plates and heaped with candy seemed to mock me. I could imagine Chanie gloating. Loser. If she hadn’t been welcome at my party, she had seen to it that no one else came either. I didn’t start to cry until after Flora left, clutch­ing a piece of my store bought birthday cake.

When I was young, I thought my Yom Tov birthday parties were boring because I couldn’t blow out any candles, listen to music or open some gifts. It took a class bully to teach me to appreciate the most valuable gift of all; the often elusive gift of friendship. Chanie left our school after that year and most of our classmates quick­ly forgot about her. Yet, she taught me an important lesson about how rare and how very fragile true friendship can be.

Estelle Glass, a Teaneck resident, is a retired educator who is now happily writing her own essays.

By Estelle Glass

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