With the end of summer, the hibernating school buses (called fondly by some the ‘yellow limousines’) have returned to the road, drawing me back to childhood. Though years, decades have passed, I still recall with clarity the preparation made as the opening day of school approached. Most were standard, but into college, one Lewis rite of passage was a dozen pencils with our names on them, provided by my mother. An annual, end of summer ritual.
Selecting the hip lunch box, of course, was a challenge. Hopalong Cassidy? Zorro? Superman? The clothes shopping at Gimbels on Market Street, where I refused the yearly attempt by my parents to outfit me with a corduroy suit. It was an exciting time as new adventures loomed in the wake of Labor Day and the final BBQ.
I attended Hillel Hebrew Academy, and though it was an elementary school of relatively homogeneous, young Jewish kids, there was a pecking order of popularity that rapidly emerged, establishing strutting rights the very first day.
I was not the best-dressed, nor the smartest class member. It had nothing to do with looks, nor an edgy temperament. Fame came rapidly and enviously to the student with the biggest box of Crayola crayons. We could survive with an eight-pack, but be assured it was a humiliating place to be. If we had the stadium seating, 64-crayon box with exotic, unheard of colors, we were borderline popular. But, if we brought in the 120- crayon box with a sharpener, we were catapulted into royalty. We were the king or queen of the classroom.
Reflecting on those bygone days is fun. Nostalgia is a pleasant, wistful diversion and glimpsing into the silliness of youth is fun. But, most of us have thankfully grown up and are no longer defined by cerulean blue or sienna. Bragging rights, back in the day, were granted by the number of crayons we possessed.
As adults, there must be a new, mature standard. And so, let us be boastful of Torah knowledge. Let us be big shots because of tzedakah. Let us be machers with shul attendance. Let us be the leader of the pack because of our performance of mitzvot and because of our mentshlechkeit. As we enter a new school year and a new Jewish year let us strut our stuff, not because of crayons, but because we have grown in soul over these many years.
Rabbi Shalom Lewis is the rabbi of Congregation Etz Chaim in Marietta.