It was the name of the entire minority.
There are Blacks, there are Hispanics, there are “The fearful ones”.
Like the shittiest gang name ever.
They looked around at a country full of Jews, established to protect themselves in an anti-Semitic world, and decided to become a minority in a country of minorities.
The most oppressed amongst the oppressed.
Committed to living in fear, they elevated it to an art form.
In the way the avoided eye contact.
In the way they declared declarations on the black and white posters they pasted to the walls of their neighborhoods.
In the way they lit dumpsters on fire at the first sign of threat.
If it existed, they feared it.
They feared man – who might come to draft them into the military at any moment.
They feared God – who might smite them into eternal damnation for eating a crumb of leavened bread on the wrong day of the year.
Most of all, they feared themselves- weak, unpredictable, fallible as fuck, with perverse sexual thoughts that were just ready to pounce at moment’s notice.
You are proud to be part of the fearful ones, because your parents told you they were proud, “card carrying members”. You too, want to carry a card.
So you wear the uniform with pride – black fedora, black suit and white shirt, worn over the woolen Tzitzit you wear for extra God points.
The perfect Middle Eastern attire – fashionable yet functional.
But you aren’t very good at it.
It was like other people knew how to do it, while you had read about it in a book. Except there was not even a book on the subject.
Being charedi is like a choreographed dance, like a complex mating ritual minus the mating; but there were no lessons offered and you had missed the rehearsals, so the best you could do is trip over your feet until the klezmer ends.
Everyone knew that Borsalino hats were all the rage and there you were still wearing a Bertolini like some sort of nerd.
Everyone got the memo that square buttons with pink stitching was the coolest shit, but you thought that all style and all color was still banned, like it had been yesterday.
Everyone understood the great insult that Rabbi Koplevitch had committed against Rabbi Eisensthaltz by calling him “Zatzal” instead of “Tazukal” in his Hamodia Op-ed, but you didn’t understand why there was now a need for armed guards around Kopelevitz’s Volvo.
Your entire worth revolved around what institution you were enrolled in. And yet the admissions process was like a ballet of informal avoidance.
You didn’t apply to a school. You hung out around The Rosh Yeshiva’s hovel at 2:33 when he was known to see people for four minutes.
After three days of waiting, you gained an audience with the esteemed 82 year old, and laid your case as to why you were a perfect candidate for his illustrious academy of knowledge.
He has Parkinson’s, so you don’t understand a word he says as he mumbles into his beard, but his second in command conveys to you that no, you haven’t made the cut.
But he says it in Aramaic, so it stings less.
That’s what the man towering over you wants to know. “Just Mai, in God’s great universe, is Hai?” You’re not sure yourself and therefore you stare blankly back at him.
Then finally, it hits you.
This is his seat. You’re sitting in his fucking seat, and he’s asking you, with grace, tact, and subtlety, what in the hell you are doing that for.
You are doing that for as to have a seat to sit on, because the Mir Yeshiva is notorious for not having any of those. You had thought, wrongly, that since you’ve been sitting here for three months without a hitch, that you finally had it figured out.
However, this has been this man’s seat for 20 years. And as the verse sayeth, “What are three months in thy eyes, God, compared to 20 years?” King David was a wise man. A wise man indeed.
And so, you move on, on an eternal quest to find a place to sit, while wondering Mai, actually, is all of Hai.