Today I was invited Maimonides Academy, here in Los Angeles, to visit one of their classes and talk about The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden. It was a sixth grade class, boys and girls, and every one of the children had read, no devoured, the book. I was nervous, not knowing how a group of sixth graders would respond to a boring, middle aged writer. But the kids were excited and curious and just bursting with questions about story-telling. One of the children asked me why I wrote the book. For one brief second I hesitated. I wanted to say something about Ariel, about his love of fine literature, about his love for America, but I looked at the fresh, expectant faces of these children, so alive with wonder and possibility, and I decided not to tell them about my son who died. It just did not seem like the right thing to do to them. Instead, I talked about my desire to write a new Jewish American narrative, one in which the love of Torah is a central element of my characters’ lives and not something to be discarded in favor of a seductive American culture. The kids got it, they understood that I was talking about the creation of a new kind of Jewish hero. At the end of the class, I signed copies of my book for the children and promised to come back when the next Hebrew Kid book is published.
Leaving the school, I passed children in the school yard; they were running, tumbling and shouting like little puppies. I remembered the very first day I took Ariel to school. After leaving him with his class, I stood outside the school grounds and spied on him in the yard. I stood there and I cried because I felt like I was abandoning him to the larger world. I cried because I realized that no longer would I be with him every moment of every day.
“We all have to grow up,” Karen said to me.
“Yes,” I allowed, “but does it have to happen so darn quickly?”