America's Crime of the Century: Stealing children's youthful innocence

I was reared innocent, protected. My parents and teachers figured I would find things out later, when I was older. Not today's kids. Op-ed.

Rabbi Prof. Dov Fischer ,

Schoolchildren walking with backpacks
Schoolchildren walking with backpacks
I just saw this two-minute cartoon that is being shown to first graders at the $55,000-a-year Dalton School in a New York City posh Manhattan district.

In a way, as an Orthodox rabbi I am happy because it will help persuade more Jews around the United States to send their children to yeshiva parochial school, to stay out of the secular private schools and the American public schools at all costs.

The U.S. was built on the belief that “in G-d we trust.” American values were built on a Judeo-Christian Biblical heritage. The ethics and morality of hard work and of the evil of taking from others what is not ours to have. The morality of the family unit that sees children reared in homes with both a mother and a father. It is especially important for boys growing into adolescence to have a male figure as a role model for waking up in the morning, ideally reciting one’s morning prayers, going to work, and not returning home from work until nightfall, and then doing it again daily except on the Shabbat when we rest as our Creator did.

A Judeo-Christian value structure, as interpreted by America’s Founding Fathers, allowed for freedom of speech, even ultimately made it a secular sacrament of American society, but also expects the personal responsibility to refrain and recoil from speech that is unbefitting. A Cardi B filth like "WAP," which was America’s #1 recording last year and was praised by all the cultural critics, never would have entered the culture over the centuries when Americans were . . . cultured. Rather, that embodiment of trash would be in reform school, her mouth washed out with soap, but that assumes a time when schools are not cesspools and breeders of filth.

Which returns the discussion to that two-minute cartoon.

I grew up as an American boy with all the good and bad things that come in a child’s life. Yes, as a Jew, I encountered several instances of anti-Semitism, sometimes subtle, sometimes frontal and physical. I hated it at the time, but it made me stronger. Nevertheless, it did not define me nor my boyhood. My boyhood was about Mel Allen announcing Mickey Mantle home runs, my grandparents Bubbie and Zeyde spoiling me when my parents were not watching, my Father, Aaron of blessed memory, being my very best friend with the best jokes and funniest stories imaginable, and teaching me that the most important aspiration of a lifetime is not money or fame but the crown of a good name.

My beloved and honored Mother Shirley of blessed memory taught me to be honest, brutally uncompromisingly honest, no matter what. Honest in values and principles. Honest in money. These lessons stuck. I would go back to the grocery store to return the extra three cents’ change I wrongly had been given when I shopped for Mom. She also taught me to eat everything on my plate, not to leave anything over, not a single pea, because there were poor people starving in China and India, and somehow that made sense. I guess.

I grew up with my Mom z"l having two priorities for me: (i) to be a doctor and (ii) to keep my room clean and neat. I dutifully complied with the latter. My Dad z"l wanted me (i) to part my hair with a comb and (ii) to get haircuts when my hair got too long. I dutifully complied with the former.

We watched “Car 54 Where Are You?” as a family, and it was my Dad’s favorite show, so it became — and, Oo! Oo!, it remains — mine. Mom loved NBC’s “Bonanza,” and Ben Cartwright, but I had to go to sleep by then because there was school the next day. My best friend besides Daddy, my next-door neighbor Robby, kept the TV volume in his bedroom extra loud after my bedtime so that, if he kept his window open and I kept mine, I could hear the later innings of the Mets games while “asleep.” Without Robby, it was torture being allowed to stay up only through the sixth inning. That’s like watching a murder mystery and not being allowed to stay up to find out who did it.

I had a normal kid life, obviously modified by the culture and ethnicity of my Brooklyn Jewish world. So it was bagels and bialys, kasha varnishkes and bobka, Chanukah latkes and Purim hamentaschen, instead of Christmas fruit cake, Easter eggs, pork chops, or cheeseburgers. My parents were American born, educated, and cultured, but theirs were emigrants from the Anatevka-like Jewish towns and villages, shtetls, of Poland and Russia, Galicia (Southern Poland, later incorporated in those years into Austria after Partition) and Ukraine and Lithuania.

On Dad’s paternal side they came from a now-invisible-and-disappeared shtetl named something like Wolczinoec in the province of Stanislaw. His dad, my Zeyde Leibele, came to America and, with one of his nine siblings — “Uncle” Itcha — made custom-ordered vests for men who already had two-piece suits . . . until suit makers started manufacturing and including their own vests with their suits. So, instead of whining, Zeyde and Uncle Itcha started subcontracting with suit makers to make the two pieces that would go with their vests. In our family, that is How the Vest Was One.

There was the neighborhood bad kid from a few blocks away, Naughty Richie, whom all the mothers on our block wanted to keep their kids away from. (They ended their sentences with prepositions. And Naughty Richie was a rotten kid up with whom they were fed.) Once, Naughty Richie walked onto our block, and neighbor Sally wanted him to stay away from Robby, so she took a bucket of water to her porch and poured it onto Naughty Richie’s head on the sidewalk. That kept Naughty Richie away.

On the other hand, we all were united in common excitement when the ice cream truck came each day. There was Carvel, Mr. Softee, and there was Bungalow Bar. Mr Softee had the neat TV commercials and the jingle. Carvel had the swirling soft ice cream that looked cool on cones. Alas, Bungalow Bar had nothing but a rhyme the kids all chanted: “Bungalow Bar / Tastes like tar. / The more you eat it / The sicker you are.” Bungalow Bar . . . had poor P.R. Had I written for them . . . I mighta bin a star.

I could go on. That was my childhood. I went to movies, usually with my parents, sometimes just “me and Zeyde.” My maternal Zeyde took me to see Stanley Kubrick’s “Spartacus,” which impacted my life deeply, to this day. If Issur Danielovitch (Kirk Douglas) could get crucified by Marcus Aurelius Crassus for freeing the gladiators, how could I be afraid, when I got older, to get arrested for freeing Soviet Jews? Likewise, Otto Preminger’s “Exodus.” If Paul Newman could blow up Acre Prison . . . .

When my Dad passed away from leukemia at his age 45 and my 14, maternal Zeyde started taking me to baseball games twice a year, each time to watch the Mets lose two in a Sunday double-header at the Polo Grounds. Zeyde would daven Mincha by heart at his seat between the two games. Once, a very nice man sitting next to us came back from a restroom break between games and saw Zeyde davening, so he asked me why my grandfather was just standing in a spot, lips quivering and gently shaking back and forth. “He is praying,” I said. The guy retorted: “Tell him it’s hopeless. Roger Craig is pitching the second game. The Mets don’t have a chance.”

Daddy walked to shul (synagogue) with me every Shabbat (Sabbath) morning for worship services. As Orthodox Jews we are not allowed to drive on Shabbat, and those weekly twenty-minute walks were the highlight of my life’s first twenty years until I got to walk my own kids to shul, and then, when they left the nest, my dear precious beloved Ellen of blessed memory and I walked together to shul every Shabbat. Those Shabbat walks, in and of themselves, make us Orthodox Jews the luckiest of people. (Ellen’s first Yahrzeit is June 20, and a special memorial will be conducted on Zoom.)

As I write of my boyhood and contemplate that two-minute cartoon now being shown to first-graders at The Dalton School, I note that I do not write of private male organs nor of physical intimacy with a person of the opposite gender. I was a kid. I was innocent. I will “bet the farm” that your childhood was as innocent as mine.

My parents and my society kept me innocent, protected me. “But how are you going to have kids some day if you don’t learn this stuff in first grade?” I dunno. Somehow, I ended up decades later with four grown kids; the monthly bills for the Parents PLUS college loans, for which I regret having signed, prove it. Not having seen that cartoon in first grade, I don’t know how I ended up with those kids. I do know that a stork did not deliver them; otherwise, today I would be hunting storks to make them extinct. And yet no one taught me about that in school.

Indeed, before there was the Dalton School and Critical Ethnic Studies and Woke Math, who taught anyone how to have kids?

I was reared innocent. Despite being a Jew in 1960’s Brooklyn, educated all my life at yeshiva parochial school, I barely knew anything about the Holocaust from only twenty years earlier until I later was in my mid-teens. Imagine that — no Holocaust museums, no Holocaust nothin’. But how would I ever know about Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Sobibor, Treblinka, Mauthausen, Babi Yar, Buchenwald, Majdanek, or Auschwitz if I don’t learn it in first grade or in fifth grade? How will I know about Jew-hatred? I dunno.

I guess they figured that, like learning about reproduction, I would find out later. Eventually, there would be a Louis Farrakhan, an Al Sharpton, a Rashida Tlaib, an Ilhan Omar. As for Jewish apostates, there would be a George Soros and a Bernie Sanders. Why ruin my boyhood Mets games at the Polo Grounds with Zeyde, my Carvel ice cream sundaes at age six or ten, my nights with Officers Toody and Muldoon, and getting to watch Sally pour buckets of water on Naughty Richie? They decided to let me be a kid. There would be time later for . . . stuff.

O.J. and Nicole was not the Crime of the Century. Nor were Richard Speck, Patty Hearst’s kidnaping, the Boston Strangler, Charles Manson, the Hillside Strangler, Son of Sam, Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, the Unabomber, Mary Kay Letourneau, and various political outrages and assassinations that are unforgivable and outside the scope of this discussion.

Rather, the Crime of the Century is this generation’s governmental and secular educational leaders stealing children’s youthful innocence, leaving no avenue for restitution.