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Jewish World Review August 9, 2007 / 25 Menachem-Av, 5767

Shock Treatment

By Libby Lazewnik

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They wanted to teach the popular kid a lesson. In the end, it was they who mastered it

http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | "Just look at her," Mimi muttered, flipping a ball high in the air.

"She thinks she's really something," Judy agreed.

I nodded sourly. "Well, everyone else obviously thinks so, too. Look at them!"

We looked. In the center of an animated group stood Gali, pretty as a picture, smiling her best and absolutely charming the girls around her. The three of us stood at the back of the room, watching with disapproval — as we seemed to spend most of our time doing these days.

If Gali was the queen of our class, then we three might have been called the court jesters. Judy is tall and lanky, with an earnest, please-like-me smile and big feet that she's constantly tripping over. Mimi, by contrast, is the tiniest girl in the class. Wiry and athletic, she's hardly ever seen without a ball in her hand and has been sent down to the principal's office more times than I can count for throwing it at the wrong time or in the wrong place. A Machanayim whiz she certainly is; a popular girl she's not.

Neither am I — nor Judy. I guess that's what drew us together in the first place: clumsy, good-natured Judy, intense little Mimi, and yours truly, a pale, bespectacled bookworm. If you've got to live at the social fringes, it's a whole lot easier if you're in good company.

None of us was born with that innate charm that makes others cluster around like paper clips to a magnet. But we had plenty of critical ability, we three. We were really, really good at observing Gali in action, and disliking everything we saw.

"She's so stuck-up," Mimi went on, dribbling her ball vigorously on the floor as though to underline what she was saying. "Isn't arrogance an aveirah [sin]?"

"It sure is," I said. "The Lord hates it!"

Judy spoke in her slow, thoughtful way. "I hate it, too. I hate feeling left out."

"You've got us," Mimi reminded her, bouncing furiously.

"And Gali," I sighed, "has got everyone else."

We were silent for a few moments, watching the usual circus in the middle of the room. We'd been having bad weather all week, and all these rainy-day indoor recesses were really getting me down. I'd brought a book from home, just in case I found any free time for reading. And I would have been reading now, if not for my friends. It was bad enough being ignored by the most popular girl in the class; I wouldn't want to make them feel any worse than they already were. We continued lounging at the rear, scowling at the circus.

"Someone ought to teach her a lesson," Mimi declared, as a particularly ringing peal of laughter rang out from the group encircling Gali.

I couldn't have agreed more. "That's right. Someone ought to."

"What kind of lesson?" Judy asked with interest.

We thought this over. With the rain running down the windows in a steady stream and the rest of the class acting besotted with Gali, there wasn't much else to do.

"What she needs," I decided, "is a kind of shock treatment. Something to shake her out of her conceitedness!"

The others liked this idea. "But what?" Mimi wondered aloud. She spun her ball on the tip of her finger, something she's prone to do when thinking hard. (I've often thought that it's too bad she's not allowed to have her ball with her when taking tests; I honestly think her brain works better when there's a ball attached to her!)

"Yes, what?" Judy echoed, as she tried to align a desk that had been pushed out of place at the end of the row, but only ended up toppling it over.

Both of them were gazing at me. I guess, being such a big reader, they assume that my mind works better than theirs. Somewhat to my surprise, an idea popped into my head.

"We could let her know how we feel about her behavior," I whispered.

"You mean — go right up to her and tell her?" Judy asked, awed. She'd righted the desk and was leaning against the wall, which had the advantage of not being liable to fall over if she touched it.

I shook my head. "No. I meant — anonymously. Like, in a note."

"A note?" Mimi said thoughtfully. "How would we get it to her?"

"We could put it in on her desk when she wasn't looking," was Judy's unexpected contribution.

We thought this was a great idea. Two seconds later, we were huddled at Judy's desk at the back of the room (being the tallest girl in the class, Judy always sat in the back) with a page we'd ripped out of her looseleaf.

"What do we write?" Mimi whispered.

I had the pen in my hand. Carefully, in block letters so no one would recognize my handwriting, I wrote, "THINK YOU'RE SO GREAT? WELL, THINK OTHERWISE! YOU'RE A BIT TOO ARROGANT, GALI. WHY DON'T YOU DO A LITTLE WORK ON YOUR CHARACHTER?"

I showed it to the others. "What do you think?"

"I like the part about working on her charachter," Mimi said with approval. "We're not interested in hurting her feelings — just in making her see the light!"

"That's right," Judy said piously. "All we want is for her to be nicer. Less stuck up..."

I nodded. "Well, let's see if this does the trick. Shock treatment."

Mimi was skeptical. "It's not likely to make much of a difference. People don't change when you tell them the truth about themselves. Mostly, they just try to defend themselves and go on being the way they were."

"Well, no one can say we didn't try!" I said, folding the note and waiting for my chance to slip it onto Gali's desk.

My chance came sooner than I'd expected. Just minutes later, someone burst into the room. "Guess what? Miss Stringer's engaged! Everyone's dancing in the halls!" And, listening closely, we could hear happy voices singing, and the stamp of lively feet.

In a flash, the classroom emptied out. Everyone rushed out to join the fun — except for the three of us at the back of the room. We tiptoed up to Gali's desk, amazed at the good fortune that had made our job so easy.

"It's almost as if we were meant to do this," Mimi whispered.

"We are," Judy said virtuously. "Someone has to teach that Gali a lesson."

I said nothing, being occupied at the moment in placing the note in the exact center of Gali's desk.

Then the three of us hurried out of the room after the others. It would have looked suspicious if we were the only ones not there. We danced along with all the girls celebrating Miss Stringer's engagement (well, Judy didn't so much dance as go around tripping and knocking into people) until the bell rang and it was time to return to class.

We held our breaths as we trooped inside. Gali went over to her desk, flanked as usual by a couple of her closest friends trying to get in their last few seconds of talk before the teacher walked in. Gali saw the note and picked it up, curious. She opened it. As I took my seat, I kept my eyes riveted to her face.

She read the note once, quickly — and then a second time, more slowly and with widened eyes. A look of dismay crossed her face. The teacher walked in then, so her friends had to move away to their own seats before they could ask her what was wrong. I saw Gali crush the note in her hand and sit down slowly, as though her mind were a million miles away.

I looked at Mimi, two rows down, and winked. She winked back. Then I risked a quick swivel in my seat to catch Judy's eye at the back. She was gazing at Gali, a rapt look on her face.

The deed was done. All that remained was to see how Gali would take it.

She took it hard.

Our next break was at lunchtime, but Gali didn't seem to have much of an appetite.

Drifting as close to the "inner circle" as I could, I overheard her telling her friends about the note. They were outraged. They told her to ignore it. They said that it was mean and had obviously been intended to insult her.

"No," Gali said in a low voice. "I can't ignore it. What if it's true?" She turned to the girl standing closest to her. "Do you think I'm arrogant?"

"Of course not! You're the sweetest girl in the world. Never mind what the note said. I just wish I knew who wrote it. I'd tell her a thing or two!"

Another friend said staunchly, "Whoever thinks you're arrogant has holes in her head.

You're a great girl and a great friend. Just forget this ever happened — that's my advice, Gali."

But Gali, it seemed was not prepared to take this advice. All during lunch, Mimi, Judy and I watched her struggle just to smile. She was very quiet, and her usual lively air was nowhere in sight. Her friends kept trying to cheer her up, but though Gali pretended to be cheerful — for their sakes — it was clear that her spirits were pretty low.

My friends and I looked at each other solemnly.

"It worked," Judy said.

"Yeah. She's taking the note seriously." This from Mimi.

"I have to admit, I'm a little surprised," I remarked. "I wouldn't have thought she had it in her."

My friends were looking as puzzled as I.

"Well, we should be happy, right?" Judy asked at last.

"Thrilled," I said quickly. "Our note obviously did the trick. Gali seems to have come off her high horse."

"I wonder if it'll last?" Judy again.

"We'll see tomorrow," I said. For all we knew, after a good night's sleep, Gali might be back to her old tricks.

But one look at her face next morning told me that Gali hadn't had a good night's sleep.

She seemed more dispirited than ever. As I sat at my desk preparing for class, she came over and gave me a shame-faced sort of smile.

"Hi," she said. "How're you doing?"

If I'd have been any more surprised, I'd have fallen out of my seat.

"F-fine," I stammered. Did she know?

"We hardly ever have a chance to talk," she said, with her sweet smile. "There always seems to be so much going on."

Going on around you, you mean, I thought. Aloud, I said, "Oh, well, that's okay. I'm always here if you want me for anything."

She smiled again, and moved on to say hello to someone else. I noticed that she was targeting the less popular girls in the class. Her route naturally led her to Mimi and then Judy, both of whom looked as astonished as I'd been to be greeted by the class queen. By the time the bell rang, Gali had made the rounds of all the girls she usually had no time for. Her face, as she took her seat, seemed to be a little more at peace. The tortured look was gone from her eyes — the look that said she'd spent sleepless hours thinking about her character, as our note had suggested...

Mimi and Judy were by my seat the instant the bell rang for recess, eager to talk over this latest development. But I wasn't in the mood for talk. My answers to their comments were so short as to be almost non-existent.

"What's the matter with you today?" Mimi finally asked, with a frustrated twirl of her ball. "You're acting weird."

"I feel a little weird," I said slowly. "I need to think."

"Think about what?" Judy asked.

"Stuff," I said briefly, and was saved by the bell from saying anything more.

The truth was, I was feeling more than just "a little weird". I was in shock.

In my room that night, I thought it all over. I didn't want to think; I'd much rather have buried myself in a good book and pretended that I'd never written that note to Gali.

But I had written it. All three of us had been in on the plan, but I had been the mastermind. We'd told each other that we were doing a fine thing in "teaching her a lesson". But was it really such a fine thing? Had our sudden desire to teach the Torah's lessons to our classmate come from a good place... or the opposite?

It took me a full evening of hard thinking — hard and painful thinking — but I finally got my answer. And I can't say I liked it much.

"Let's face it," I told my friends as we perched on some big wooden blocks in a corner of the schoolyard next day. The sun was finally shining and we were able to escape the classroom for a precious fifteen minutes of fresh air and different scenery. "We were wrong."

"What about?" Mimi asked. Her ball flew straight up in the air, only to land neatly back in her cupped palms.

"About Gali. About writing her the note."

"Why was that wrong?" Judy wanted to know. She'd shot to her feet as she spoke, only she lost her balance and ended up staggering into me. When we'd both caught our breaths, I said, "It was wrong because we got it wrong. We were acting out of wrong motives. We told ourselves that we were trying to teach Gali to be a better person — but was that really why we wrote that note?"

"Well, why then?" Mimi demanded.

"Simple," I said with a sigh. "We were jealous. Terribly, horribly jealous. Of Gali."

My friends digested this in silence. In a small voice, Judy said, "Even if we were jealous, that doesn't meant that being arrogant is right." She'd sat down again and was looking upset.

"But Gali isn't arrogant. You can see that by the way she reacted to the note. A really arrogant person would have laughed it off — would have used it to get even more attention and make fun of whoever had written it."

Mimi nodded slowly. "I guess you're right. She behaved really nicely when she came over to me yesterday. So friendly and sweet. I was hardly jealous of her anymore after that."

"Me, too," admitted Judy.

"That makes three of us," I said. "And you know what? Just because Gali's been blessed with the kind of personality that makes people like her, that doesn't mean there's anything wrong with her. She doesn't just act nice. She is nice!"

No one disagreed with me.

The silence stretched. All around the schoolyard girls were playing, laughing, calling out to one another. The circle around Gali was as animated as ever, only this time the sight didn't hold as much of a sting. People — like bees — are drawn to honey, that's all. Maybe, if I tried being a little sweeter myself, I'd also make more friends...

"What do we do now?" Mimi asked in hushed tones.

"I don't know," I said. "But we probably should do something. We may even have to go over to Gali and confess what we did."

"Do we really have to go that far?" Judy asked. She didn't look very happy at the notion.

"I don't know," I said again. "Why don't we talk to Teacher, and ask her?"

"But then Teacher will know what we did," Mimi pointed out.

"G-d already knows what we did," I said firmly. "I don't know about you, but I want to make things right again. I want to do real teshuvah [repentance] — whatever it takes."

"Whatever it takes," Judy repeated solemnly.

Mimi gave one last twirl of her ball, like a soldier's final flourish before going out to meet the enemy. Only, we'd already met our enemy. It was us. Or rather, the part of us that was so jealous it had made us see things all wrong and do something we never should have done.

I looked at my watch. "There's still ten more minutes to recess. We could talk to her now."

Mimi and Judy stood up. Miraculously, Judy didn't trip over her own feet this time.

Mimi's ball remained tucked under her arm. I adjusted my glasses on my nose. Then the three of us went in to face the music — and to do whatever it would take to wipe the slate clean make things right again.

Shock treatment.

JewishWorldReview.com regularly publishes uplifting and inspirational stories. Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

Libby Lazewnik, the highly acclaimed juvenile author, writes weekly for the Monsey, New York-based Yated Ne'eman. Comment by clicking here.

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