The Yemen cobbler’s son - Part 1

“I am sorry Master, but pi is equal to 3.141 not 2.5.”

Master Greenberg stretched himself as high as he can and looked down at the little twerp who dared to interfere in the morning’s math lesson. All the other children had their eyes downcast, copying furiously into their notebooks the sums from the blackboard. Their teacher liked to rub out what he written down within a couple of minutes. He felt that it not only encouraged their memory capacities but also kept the class quiet.

“Oh, is that so David HHHHamadi!. And where would a Yemen boy learn what pi is equal to ? It is not as if your house is overflowing with books, now is it? Children yes, but not books. I doubt that either your mother or father can read,or has even held a book in their hands… “

“My father often holds and reads from the Torah.”

“And where in the Torah does it say that pi is 2.5,hmmm?”

“Pi equals 3.141. And It is not written in the Torah. I have worked it out myself. One merely has to divide the circle’s circumference by its diameter. Or you can use Archimedes’s method of…”

Yonatan, David’s younger brother who shares a bench with him in their small classroom, let out a soft sigh. How come his brother always has to argue with their teacher? Anyone with eyes in their head can see the red blotches creeping up on their teacher’s face from underneath his stiff collar.

He sticks his finger up in the air: “Umm, teacher, may I have permission to speak?”

Master Greenberg looked down at the younger brother sitting next to his nemesis. They look like copies of each other. Both of them have dark hair, dark skin and dark eyes and those primitive extra-long pyots. Most of the Yemenites of Tra’ab street have learned by now to dress like Westerns but the Hamadi children, male and female are all dressed in a striped jallabyaa and go barefoot. At bit ironic if you know that their mother is a seamstress and the father is a cobbler..!

The schoolmaster allows himself a small smirk and then answered the younger brother.

“Yes, Yonatan what is it?”

“Teacher, Rabbi Teitelbaum has asked if we could leave a bit earlier today to prepare for our Torah readings. Moshe,Yossi and I have our bar mitzvahs soon and the rabbi is really busy lately because of those people who died from malaria. He said that David could help us go over our portions but only if it is okay with you.”

Master Greenberg was at a sudden loss for words and for a minute there was silence in the class.

“This is true Moshe and Yossi?” 
The two boys quickly nodded their heads, they were just as anxious as Yonatan to leave the tense atmosphere in the schoolhouse. 
“Have you taken your notes?”

Another quick nod from all three. The schoolmaster prided himself on his secularity but he still knew better than to go against the wishes of the unofficial leader of the town.

“Go then. Take that insolent brother of yours and go and practice to read your ‘holy book’. The rest of us ‘uneducated heathens’ will just try and continue our studies.”

“You don’t always have to save me from Master you know” said David as soon as they stepped out into the bright late morning sun. The schoolhouse with its thick walls and high windows was an oasis of coolness in the hot Israeli summer and the four boys had to shield their eyes against the glare.

“I wasn’t protecting you from Master, I was trying to protect the Master from you” replied Yonathan.

David gave a little smile. “You really shouldn’t. The man is an idiot”

“He is also the only teacher that we have.”

“Yes,” added Moshe, “and just how important is it to know if pi is equal to two or three circles? He taught us all to write and read and do our sums. That is enough, no? Nobody needs to teach me that I’d rather eat two instead of three of my mum’s famous apple pies!”

David said nothing but rolled his eyes at Yonathan who in return grabbed his older brother by the shoulder and pushed him along. “Come on guys, let’s go for a swim first. The Torah says that there is no end to books and too much study will make you tired! Besides, it is too hot to even think.”

— — — -

“Tell Master tomorrow that I am not coming to back to school.” David said to Yonathan later that evening as they were getting ready for bed.”

“But what will you do instead?”

David shrugged. “Help Ima and Abba. That idiot has nothing to teach me anymore.”

Yonathan secretly agreed with his brother but was still apprehensive about their teacher’s reaction.

“He is just going to torture one of the other kids you know. And none of us is really smart enough to stand up to him.”

“Well, it is a good thing then that you are still going to school. But you are going to have to realise that you cannot always save everyone, Yonathan. Now go and sleep, you will need all of your wits tomorrow for the idiot.”

The second part of this story is found here.

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