I f he’d been alone, Shimon would never have agreed — but his father is standing right there and it’s impossible not to see the hopeful expression on the man’s face. Shimmy growls something in response to the invitation. The words aren’t very clear; I assume it’s a refusal.

Grateful to have survived making the gesture for my father’s sake, I don’t notice Shimmy following us to our study corner until I see Pinchas Gutman beaming at me from half behind one of the pillars in the beis medrash. We take our places and Chaim passes me the Mishnayos. Shimmy doesn’t sit with us, but he doesn’t leave either.

I read the first mishnah aloud. Chaim reads it after me, and then Shimmy, who is pacing back and forth like a caged lion, repeats it after him. I cover the page and try to say the mishnah from memory. Chaim corrects a few words and then I listen to his recital with only one mistake. All the time I’m thinking about Shimmy Gutman and expecting trouble, but so far so good. Now it’s his turn. He doesn’t even try to peek at the open sefer, just reels off the mishnah without a single mistake.

Wow! I think. Not bad. In class Shimmy never participates, so I had no idea the guy even knew how to learn. Actually, I always assumed he must not be very bright, so I’m taken by surprise at how easily he memorized the mishnah. Chaim reads slowly and clearly, then it’s my turn. We do a few more. Mr. Gutman motions for Shimmy to sit down, but he doesn’t. I’m just getting into the limud, it’s a good feeling, when I notice Shimmy’s face.

For as long as I can remember, Shimmy Gutman has been angry, with a capital A. He has this perpetual chip on his shoulder, and when he’s really furious, his face contorts in a scary way. Anybody stupid enough to laugh at this strange twisted expression will quickly find himself bruised if not bloody, and they’ll never make that mistake again. I’ve learned to be on the alert because if I see that look on his face I run first, leaving questions for later.

So that’s why I keep glancing over at Shimmy, just in case something sets him off, and that’s how I unintentionally witness a completely different expression. For a fraction of a second, Shimmy’s face is a picture of terror. The fear in his eyes is so powerful that I instantly jump up and turn to look behind me, sending my chair clattering to the floor. I was afraid of seeing those two Arabs again, but the door is closed and there’s no one except us in the beis medrash. (Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 695)