July 18, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

The Most ‘Wonderful’ Time of the Year

Lisa has been on the faculty of an area public elementary school for almost 30 years.

Over the years, “Miss” Lisa, as she is known at her school, has seen children grow into adults. She has worked with many colleagues and has worked out her needs as an Orthodox Jew with a handful of principals who have come and gone. She has been, over the years, the only frum Jew to work at her school. Typically that means explaining that she’ll work overtime during the spring and fall months so that she can leave early for winter’s earlier sundowns.

At least two of those principals were evangelical Christians who knew exactly why Lisa had to leave early, or who my wife didn’t need to explain Sukkos or Shavuos to. They knew and gladly let her get home in time.

Which brings us to this time of the year.

It’s a time when many of Lisa’s students and faculty colleagues typically bring in Christmas gifts. Over the years, Lisa has received more than her share of tree ornaments. She even received a blue glass sphere with the word “Shalom” painted on in gold paint.

She’s gotten gift cards that run the gamut from treif eateries such as Bob Evans to Cracker Barrel to Denny’s, and chocolate cakes, liquored candies and every variety of cookie that have nary a hechsher to be found. Oh, and this is also the time of year when various pharmacies and big-box stores mark down certain beauty products that haven’t sold very well. They make perfect gifts for the teacher. Who can go without their verbena mint-scented body lotion or their sweet violet extract body cream, or even that vanilla-nut body lotion? These lotions have sat in our guest bathroom in pretty baskets waiting, or pleading more likely, to be used by a guest or relative. Check the under sink cabinet; you can help yourself to many, many more. Please take them.

She also typically has that one conversation a year with a disbelieving 8-year-old who looks with a stunned, big-eyed, almost tearful face when they say, “You mean, you don’t celebrate Christmas?” No, it’s not something Lisa brings up in a defiant “I observe Chanukah and don’t you forget it” way. She merely responds when a child or teacher asks her specifically about whether or not she’s purchased a tree yet and how big it might be. Let’s see, how many tefachim is our tree?

Typically, Lisa will bring Godiva chocolates or any other kosher candy she can find, to leave with each colleague and faculty member.

She shies away from the staff holiday party, which is usually held at someone’s home and involves bringing a covered dish meal. When we lived in Michigan, Lisa’s principal wonderfully ordered for us a kosher triple-wrapped piece of chicken and string beans in some sort of brown sauce while her colleagues feasted on a roasted pig with an apple in its mouth. That was my first and only in-person view of that particular main course. I can’t get that one out of my mind.

What I also can’t get out of my mind, though, was a plate Lisa received from a third grader who had written in green-inked long-hand: “A hundred years from now, it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove…but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child. Thank you, Miss Lisa.”

Then the boy wrote “Love Josh,” and drew a yellow-markered sun on the plate.

We knew that the quote has been used many times before and can easily be found via one’s search engine of choice.

But there have been others, mostly notes with personal thank yous on them, from Lisa’s children and/or their wonderful parents.

The plate, and the notes, her modesty keeps her from sharing.

You see, Lisa comes home almost every day with a story about how a child smiled for the first time in her class or how a little boy figured out he could read. She’s been there to see these stories of small children learning sometimes in their own unique ways. I’ve listened to these stories for 30 years, and they never grow old.

These are her gifts. They aren’t given necessarily in December, but happen at any time of the year.

The notes and the plate are in a special place where she has her keepsakes.

The love her schoolkids give back to her.

Well, she’s carried those around in her heart and mind for all these years. They are, she’ll tell you, “blessings from Hashem.”

It’s true, and it’s beautiful.

But really, what are we going to do with all of these bottles of scented body cream?

By Phil Jacobs

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