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Edward w Saint-Ivan

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The Big Question
By Edward w Saint-Ivan
Tuesday, August 31, 2004

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Two unrelated real life events shaped this scary story!

Itsach grew up in the Carrollwood suburb of Tampa. His father worked as an electrical engineer at Honeywell. He was the one and only self taught engineer in the Tampa division of Honeywell. However, his father did have an impressive higher education. He finished a Ph.D in Hebrew Studies from The Sorbonne {University of Paris}.
Itsach’s parents were both Hungarian Jews although they had terrible difficulty finding very liberal reform Jews like themselves. They escaped Hungary during the Hungarian Revolution. They also nearly got killed during the Holocaust. They owed their lives to Swedish identity papers provided by Raoul Wallenberg who gave up his own life to save Hungarian Jews from being shipped to concentration camps.
Itsach spent his whole life dreaming about becoming a political scientist. He said to his teacher, Mr. Szponar,
“I want to become a Ph.D in political science and/or sociology.”
“Why do you want to become a political scientist?”
“I have a big interest in Israel’s assimilation of impoverished Jews from Europe and North Africa.”
“What brought you to such an unusual subspecialty of political science?”
“I read in National Geographic about how Israel helps poor Jews get marketable skills and resettle in Israel.”
“Do you plan to teach?”
“Not Really.”
“I want to work either for Brookings or The Rand Corporation.”
“I wish you good luck. You were always my best student.”
Itsach graduated from high school with high marks. He also graduated from Brandies University first in his class. He started a combination masters\doctoral program at a big name ivy league university but was very disappointed.
“I decided to drop out of graduate school.”
Itsach’s mom responded
“What brought this about?”
“I feel offended that most my teachers are clones of Edward Said {Columbia University} and one of them is like Leonard Jeffries {City University of New York}.”
“You shouldn’t be so sensitive. Everybody sometimes experiences anti-Israel and anti-Semitic viewpoints. As a graduate student you should get exposed to opposing viewpoints.”
“I pay big bucks in tuition to get an education. How can my political science research be evaluated by narrow minded anti Zionists?”
“You could switch to a different graduate school but you don’t need to give up on becoming a political scientist.”
“Even if I switch to a different graduate school I will still have to contend with anti Zionist and anti Semitic professional organizations and scholarly journals.”
“Your father and I didn’t raise you to be a quitter.”
“I am sorry you think I’m a quitter but I can’t stand these teachers.”
Itsach followed through with his plan to drop out from the ivy league and switched to The Jewish Seminary of America where he completed rabbinical training. He was later appointed junior Rabbi at a congregation in Tampa, Fl. He became well known for his progressive views and exotic appetite. He particularly enjoyed eating alligator sausage and fruit bat at Hot Rods Barbeque in Lutz. Lutz is just barely outside Tampa and Hot Rods is nationally known for exotic barbeque food.
When Itsach’s parents died, he dove deep into his work. He accepted a part time job at a local grade school teaching remedial reading in addition to being a Rabbi. He also took doctoral classes in Jewish studies and after a year he overcame his parents death. His next big challenge was finding a girl friend.
He decided to join the Ralph Nader campaign against Albert Gore and George Bush. He was deeply impressed by Amy Goodman’s interview of President Clinton on Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now program. President Clinton was arrogant and evasive. Itsach reasoned that if President Clinton couldn’t defend his policies perhaps the Democratic Party didn’t deserve his vote.
An organizer at Ralph Nader headquarters struck up a conversation with Itsach.
“I am pleasantly surprised to see a Rabbi who supports Nader.”
“Why are you surprised?”
“A large segment of the Jewish community disagrees with Nader’s stand on Palestine.”
“I am deeply disappointed that he supports a Palestinian homeland. However, I am even more disappointed in the Democratic parties drift away from liberalism.”
“You mean welfare reform or the death penalty or what?”
“President Clinton’s welfare reform is a terrible assault on illiterate and impoverished people whose only transportation is an inadequate mass transit system. President Clinton’s comments about resurrecting due process in capital punishment are too little and too late for hundreds of people whose lives have already been destroyed. Lastly, I am deeply concerned about war crimes The United States committed in the former Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Columbia.”
“I can tell from your views you will fit right in with us. Are there any areas beside the Middle East you disagree with us?”
“Ralph Nader might raise the minimum wage which shouldn’t have been raised the last time. There are numerous ways to lift people out of poverty without raising the minimum wage. For one thing poor people can’t afford reliable transportation to get to work. Why can’t the government find ways to give poor people a lift? Poverty is also caused by our countries overproduction of college graduates. Why not cut back on student loans and use lottery revenues for anything other then college tuition? Lastly, people at the minimum wage level deserve a tax cut.”
Itsach tried everything to help Ralph Nader get elected. He convinced several close friends to make contributions. He stuffed envelopes and made campaign calls. He even wrote letters to the editor. However, he failed to find a girlfriend and Nader couldn’t overcome the socialist label.
Itsach made an appointment with a financial planner hoping some good investments would make up for his lack of love life. As a coincidence, the financial planner turned out to be second generation Hungarian. Furthermore, Itsach and Heather hit it off right away.
“I want to be sure my investments don’t conflict with my social conscience.”
“As a financial planner, I frequently come in contact with socially conscious investors.”
“I am deeply incensed with companies which benefit from child labor.”
“I am also opposed to the exploitation of children.”
“I hear horror stories on Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now all the time.”
“Oh, you listen to Amy Goodman too. I feel so badly about her being forced into exile.”
“She is the most articulate voice in radio today even if she sometimes gets my goat.”
“Her interview of President Clinton should be heard by anyone who thinks the Democratic Party stands for progressive political policy.”
Heather was ideally suited for Itsach. She graduated from Harvard Divinity School Summa Cum Laude and later studied Nonprofit Management at The University of Wisconsin. She ended up an investment analyst only because she desperately needed money to pay her mother’s medical bills. Her parents were Hungarian Romanians who were active in The Romanian Orthodox Church although Itsach never asked her religion.
Heather had a really beautiful petite body. She worked out every day and made her appearance a priority. Her brown eyes and dark hair were so spectacular that she could have been a model.
After several months of seeing Heather, Itsach found the right moment to propose. They were guests at an expensive elegant restaurant on Clearwater Beach. Oysters on the half shell were accompanied by blackened catfish with chocolate moose for desert.
The view was spectacular. Itsach and Heather could see the sunset over the Gulf of Mexico. After the sun went down, they saw comets shoot across the dark sky. They decided to get married.
________________________________________________________________________
Tampa Catholic High School wasn’t the most prestigious high school in Tampa. It wasn’t Tampa Prep or Jesuit or Berkeley. However, Cortez the only son of two migrant workers felt deeply honored just the same.
Faculty members of Tampa Catholic respected students unlike any other school Cortez ever attended. The Priests and Nuns dressed in clerical garb. Even lay faculty showed the deepest devotion to a religious education. There were no dirty words or jokes at the expense of God.
Tampa Catholic also respected students by being consistent. Every day started with the pledge and morning prayer. Final examinations also started with prayers. Even the green pants and white shirt which most students hated showed students respect. Poor and rich, black and white, pious and atheist, the uniform applied to everybody. Even the tiniest uniform infraction wouldn’t be waived for the teacher’s son.
As the son of Jewish parents, Cortez expected to be converted. It was the exact opposite. The most devout teachers tried the hardest to teach students about other faiths. They even devoted a semester to church history which didn’t leave out the crusades.
However Cortez became frustrated very soon after he experienced being in awe of Tampa Catholic. Cortez ran afoul of the huge buorocracy Tampa Catholic kept in place to deal with misbehavior and bad grades. Cortez’s parents were deluged with paper work.
Tampa Catholic needed a big bureaucracy because they admitted way too many juvenile delinquents and poor students. Tampa Catholic students cheated, had sex, and used drugs more then one would expect in a Catholic school. Cortez went through five years of junior high school and never once experienced a bully. Tampa Catholic had tons of bullies and disciplinary problems. One hot shot even set off a fire cracker during a lecture.
People who are ignorant about education say bullies and homework are in every school. Nothing could be further from the truth. Some of the most elite schools in the world hardly ever assign homework and also keep students too busy to misbehave.
A University of Michigan education scholar recently did a study about schools around the world. To his complete surprise, he found kids in Japan have the least homework compared to five other countries.
Furthermore, students with spare time have certain advantages over students with huge amounts of homework. They can work part time or take up a musical instrument or volunteer or work out in the gym.
Cortez’s problems could be attributed to geography almost as much as anything else. Tampa Catholic’s campus covered a lot of ground for four grades. Cortez was so concerned about being late for class he didn’t go to his locker between classes. He carried all his books with him in a suitcase. He looked totally ridiculous.
There was an infraction for everything. Being late for class, skipping school, a missing belt, and insubordination were among Cortez’s numerous violations. Cortez’s mom wasn’t exactly thrilled with Cortez.
“I want to know why your teachers are always complaining about you?”
“I fell way behind. Three hours of homework turned into four and then even more.”
“I don’t understand what caused you to fall behind in the first place. You have plenty of time to complete your homework.”
“I spend two hours just going to and from school. School takes up another six hours. Even if someone doesn’t fall behind there is three hours of homework per night.”
“You should try everything in your power to catch up. You could get by on two hours of sleep a night.”
“I feel depressed and stressed. I feel guilty that I let Tampa Catholic down.”
“I don’t give a dam how you feel. I want results. You should be an honor student. How far are you behind?”
“I fell so far behind I can’t catch up. I’m in deep trouble in three classes.”
“If you come home with a D I will tan your ass. I bought a new belt for the occasion.”
“Its too late for a D in three classes. I already failed.”
“You will be put up for adoption. I already have the paperwork. I just need to sign it. You are a total disgrace.”
“Why would you do something so awful?”
“My money could be better spent then on a looser like you.”
“How could you better spend your money?”
“I could adopt a kid who gets good grades and will one day support me.”
“I feel like a used car getting traded in.”
“That’s a bad analogy.”
“You mean a human being has more worth then a car.”
“No. A used car can be sold for its parts even if the car doesn’t work. What good are you? I want to spend my money on a winner.”
________________________________________________________________________
Itsach’s congregation was as angry at Itsach as Cortez’s mom at Cortez. They couldn’t understand how could he marry a non-Jew.
Paul Stern Chair of Trustees at Itsach’s congregation said,
“I am deeply disappointed you decided to marry a non-Jew.”
“She is Romanian Orthodox by birth but atheist by belief.”
“That’s even worse. A non-Jew has God in common with us. An atheist has nothing in common with us.”
“Heather has something in common with us more valuable then that. Have you ever heard of Raul Wallenberg?”
“I read Wallenberg used his position as a Swedish diplomat to save Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust.”
“Heather’s grandfather was executed into the Danube River by Hungarian Aerocross {Nazi Sympathizers} for his membership in Wallenberg’s underground.”
“I don’t care if she helped Moses part the red sea. If you don’t get a divorce you will be removed as the leader of our congregation.”
_______________________________________________________________________
Cortez slammed the door to his parent’s house so loudly it broke the adjacent glass. He left the house in a deep rage. He wouldn’t go without a fight. Mom had no right to pressure him. Being a slow learner didn’t amount to justification for being kicked out of the house.
Cortez met some friends at an interstate overpass. It was dark outside and there were no streetlights. They threw rocks over the bridge hoping to just miss cars. Nothing seemed to compare with the sight of rocks breaking before the headlights of oncoming traffic.
Cortez fantasized who was occupying the car behind the headlights. He loved seeing rocks break apart. He loved taking his mind of his problems. The more he threw the more daring he got. How close could a rock come without hitting a car? Cortez’s friends egged him on. Cortez could feel his adrenalin pumping. He was nicknamed ‘the rock thrower’ by his friends.
Cortez didn’t pay enough attention just one second. It was one second. It was only second. A rock smashed Heather’s windshield and killed her instantly. Cortez went from ecstasy to agony in less time then it takes to eat dinner.
Sometimes if you drive down I-75 late at night you might see Heather’s ghost walking on the shoulder searching for acceptance.


Author’s Note:
This story is based on two unrelated events.
First of all, my father Andor Szentivanyi worked side by side with Raoul Wallenberg in Budapest, Hungary and Wallenberg was a hero of the Hungarian Holocaust.
Second of all, Julie Laible died on March, 28 1999 when a rock thrown from an I-75 overpass in Florida slammed into her windshield.
This short story appeared in the September/October edition of Dreampassage.Com




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Reviewed by George Liebermann, M.D. 6/23/2008
Your remark that we have so much in common, disables me in writing a review about your short. I only could says that it is unique in its way, very different from anything I ever wrote and am too familiar with the happenings in Budapest, including Wallenberg, to view it as a fiction. I am very detached from Judaism and have hard time to relate to anything common with it. I wish I could have been more helpful,
George
Reviewed by Shane Ward 12/12/2006
What a fascinating story. I liked it very much, however (and not that I offer criticisms generally) if I have one criticism at all I felt that the ending was a little abrupt. I felt it needed a little more suspense. Please forgive the comment but, as I may sometimes be accused of having a flare for the dramatic'I look for the ways in which I could try to put my audience on the edge of their seats. May I offer an example of what i mean...

'In another time and another place, maybe I would not have read this story with so much interest. Then again, in another time of course, I would not be cremating my wife's mother in two days time.'

The above happens to be true and, coincidently, I am a non-Jew married to a Jewish lady. I could have mentioned in a more simple fashion that her mother died recently and we were going to her funeral on Thursday but the whole sentence fails to encourage the emotions that such an event should bring. Likewise, sudden revelations need a little suspense before the punchline for the punchline to have the desired effect.

I loved the story - and you tell it well. It is a very good, well structured piece. The twist at the end is also a good one and yet, in my humble opinion I must add, you could have taken just a little more time - just a couple of extra sentences for suspense perhaps - to reveal the twist that should leave the reader feeling a cold shudder down their spine.

I particularly like the clash of belief systems and how it affects those who integrate and those who feel they cannot; pretty topical at the moment I would say.

I look forward to seeing more of your writing.

Shane Ward

Not that the following would improve my writing in any way but I was born in the same London town as Alfred Hitchcock (Leytonstone, East London, right next door to Stratford where the 2012 Olympics will be held). He was a master at suspense; most people would know what was coming but he kept you waiting for it anyway. It is a skill worth aiming for if you want to write this type of story.
Reviewed by Karla Dorman, The StormSpinner 5/9/2005
An engaging, compelling read; well penned! Not related, yet somehow connected--BRAVO!

(((HUGS))) and love, Karla. :)
Reviewed by Nickolaus Pacione 9/1/2004
Oh my god, you are back and good to see you are kicking some ass again. It is almost like when I first debuted on AuthorsDen -- it was your work and Dondiego's scaring the crap out of people. It is good to see you are posting once again.
Reviewed by Shirley Cheng 9/1/2004
This is an intriguing read!


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