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The Principal’s Daughter: Chapter 4

Yonina Levine

The girls all laugh, rather loudly, Rivky thinks. She’s pleased with their response, but a sidelong glance at her mother sends an uneasy feeling through her

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A t lunch the next day, Rivky is waved at from two different tables. Leah is sitting among some of the newspaper staff and Rivky is about to walk over, when Aliza signals to her from the back of the room.

Rivky smiles apologetically to Leah and makes her way to Aliza’s table, surrounded by girls Rivky had watched with so much envy just the day before.

They all smile warmly as Rivky sits down.

“What have you got for lunch today, Rivky?” Malka asks. Rivky bites her lip. “Ah, nothing too good, just a sandwich.”

The bread is flat and sticky with some kind of paste her mother had slapped on that morning. Rivky knows better than to complain to her mother about her lunches; her mother would point out that Rivky was perfectly capable of packing her own. She usually manages to eat whatever it is, but feels self-conscious in front of these girls, their faces betraying traces of prohibited makeup, each of whom pulls out a Tupperware of brightly colored salad.

“No worries,” Aliza says, and she pushes her Tupperware toward Rivky. “Let’s split.” The girls each nudge their Tupperware toward the center of the table, and one girl offers Rivky a fork.

“It’s like a potluck lunch,” Goldie says. “I’m always bored with my own food.” Soon they are each jamming their forks into each other’s salads, exclaiming how much better the other girls’ lunches are. Rivky hesitates, then quickly joins, spearing thinly sliced beets onto her fork followed by garlicky tomatoes and roasted cauliflower.

“So, Rivky was telling me yesterday how much she can’t stand Parshah class,” Aliza says. Rivky swallows her mouthful of salad. “Oh, I mean, it’s all right, just not great—” “Oh, Rivk, it’s okay,” Aliza says with a wink. “We’re all friends here.”

Rivky fights back a smile. “Well, I do wish someone would tell her that the Internet isn’t a primary source.”

The girls all laugh, rather loudly, Rivky thinks. She’s pleased with their response, but a sidelong glance at her mother sends an uneasy feeling through her. She thinks of the nights her mother comes home, closes her door, and makes a series of phone calls, calls often about teachers. She would turn on a noise machine to ensure that Rivky could barely make out a word. In her last school, where her mother had been an administrator, Rivky had complained about a teacher only to be told, rather sharply, that a teacher was her boss and Rivky’s job was to do her work and that was that.

No, criticizing a teacher — and certainly the way these girls did it — was not something her mother tolerated. But while attacking Mrs. Schwartz’s wardrobe might be pushing it, wasn’t her sloppy and — frankly — lazy teaching something the girls were allowed to condemn? Were they not meant to be educated in school? Stand up for their rights?

“It’s crazy that our parents pay all this money,” Rivky continues, “just so we can do paint-by-number.”

The girls all nod. “Exactly!” one cries. Another high-fives Rivky. “So,” Aliza says, and all of the girls lean in. “We had a thought.” Rivky waits.

“Clearly, Mrs. Schwartz shouldn’t be teaching,” Aliza continues. “We’ve tried to make that clear to her, but you see how she gets. She shuts down any point we try to make by playing the chutzpah card. We need something more.”

The girls are all quiet.

“Rivky, have you told your mom about Mrs. Schwartz?”

Rivky shakes her head. Her mother never wanted to hear complaints about teachers, and anyway Rivky had never felt the need to complain about Mrs. Schwartz. She had never embarrassed Rivky or been unfair. She was someone Rivky pitied, if anything, watching the girls inwardly roll their eyes, knowing that Mrs. Schwartz had to face the same silently calculating gaze that Rivky faced each day. But now she began to see things differently. After all, wouldn’t the school want to know if a class wasn’t being taught well? Schools weren’t meant to be a job gemach.

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