This was definitely a different country. Here the kids, when they dropped a book, didn't kiss it when they picked it up, the way we did in Hebrew school. Shocking. And everyone seemed so cold and distant. Then the bell rang and I went off to wait for the bus. I knew just where to stand but it didn't come. I waited and waited and ...
Then another lady was talking to me. She, too, was dressed nicely, and she was saying school wasn't over after all, and it was time to go back. I hesitated. She said she'd spoken to my mother, and knew just what I was supposed to eat and what wasn't kosher. And when we got to the big empty, light-green room with the benches, one of the big ladies came out from the kitchen and set down a cheese sandwich - made with strange, soft white bread - and a little carton of milk. I don't think I'd ever seen one that small before, and everything tasted wrong. We never used mayonnaise on anything but salads at home.
But it was good after the first bite. Hunger is the best sauce. The taste of it remains in memory, strange and assuring at the same time. It was a different world, all right, but not a threatening one. I was being looked after.
American immigration legal and illegal may now be at its highest point since the early 1920s. Not just in the South but throughout the country, American schools will face much the same challenge my teachers did with me.
How will they meet it? One student at a time. Because, as in all education, the outcome will depend on what happens between one teacher and one child. The memories each of these children will have as adults are being formed now.