It was hard for Benny to sit without squirming while waiting for the menahel to speak. Rav Davidson turned his executive chair around to face the boy, leaning toward him with an expression of displeasure. “What’s going on, Neiman?” 

Against his will, tears welled up in Benny’s eyes. He bit his lower lip to keep it from trembling. Never having been called to the principal’s office before, Benny knew he never wanted it to happen again. 

“I asked you a question.” 

Benny studied the scratches in the desk, mumbling, “I’m sorry.” 

“You’re sorry?” The menahel tilted his head to the side. “What exactly are you sorry about?” 

Benny felt like he was burning. His face flushed, and the stupid tears began to spill. 

“Do you know why you are here?” It was hard to hear Rav Davidson when he spoke softly. 

Benny shrugged. 

“I hear you’re falling behind in Gemara, you’re late to class, and your homework assignments are often missing. This is not the Binyamin Neiman I know. What happened?” 

Benny raised his eyes briefly to meet the menahel’s. “I can’t talk about it.” 

“You leave me no choice. Things can’t keep going on like this. I’ll speak to your father.” 

Benny’s head jerked up. “Please don’t!” 

“Nu?” 

“It’s worse for him than it is for me.” 

Rav Davidson stroked his beard. As an experienced judge of character, he knew Benny was a good boy. “Can you get your act together without me talking to your father?” 

“Yes.” 

“One chance only, Benny Neiman! I’m following up. You must come to cheder on time, with your homework assignments. Shall I arrange for an avreich to learn with you after cheder?” 

“No, my Saba will help me,” Benny promised. 

The menahel stood. Lifting Benny’s chin with the tip of his index finger, he peered deep into the boy’s eyes. “I’m here if you need someone,” he said gently. “I’ll always try to help.” 

“Thank you, sir. May I go back to class now?” 

Leaving the office, Benny ran straight into his rebbi. “Whoa!” Rebbi Alberstein caught the boy’s elbow before he fell. 

“Selichah!” Benny blushed scarlet. 

“Mochalti,” his teacher replied with a bemused smile.