The Anti-Semite took hold of Zvi's facemask as if little Blum were a six-pack of beer.
Zvi looked past the bully and the jungle gym, through the chain-link fence and up Crocus Avenue, hoping we'd appear, a dozen or more boys, wearing helmets, wielding sticks. How nice if, like an army, we'd arrived.
The Anti-Semite let go of Zvi's mask.
"You Jewish?" he asked.
"I don't know," Zvi said.
"You don't know if you're Jewish?"
"No," Zvi said. He scratched at the asphalt with his stick.
The bully turned to his friends, taking a poll of suspicious glances.
"Your mother never told you?" the Anti-Semite asked.
Zvi shifted his weight and kept on with his scratching. "It never came up," he said.
Zvi remembered a distinct extended pause while the Anti-Semite considered. Zvi thought—he may have been wishing—that he saw the first of us coming down the road.
He was out cold when we got there, beaten unconscious with his helmet on, his stick and gloves missing. We were no experts at forensics, but we knew immediately that he'd been worsted. And because he was suspended by his underwear from one of the bolts on the swing set, we also knew that a wedgie had been administered along the way.
We thought he was dead.
We had no dimes even to make a telephone call, money being forbidden on the Sabbath. We did nothing for way too long. Then Beryl started crying, and Harry ran to the Vilmsteins, who debated, while they fetched the mukzeh keys, which of them should drive in an emergency.
Some whispered that our nemesis was half Jewish. His house was nestled in the dead end behind our school. And the ire of the Anti-Semite and his family was said to have been awakened when, after he had attended kindergarten with us at our yeshiva for some months, and had been welcomed as a little son of Israel, the rabbis discovered that only his father was Jewish. The boy, deemed gentile, was ejected from the class and led home by his shamefaced mother. Rabbi Federbush latched the back gate behind them as the boy licked at the finger paint, non-toxic and still wet on his hands.
We all knew the story, and I wondered what it was like for that boy, growing up—growing large—on the other side of the fence. His mother sometimes looked our way as she came and went from the house. She didn't reveal anything that we were mature enough to read—only kept on, often with a hand pressed to the small of her back.
After Zvi's beating, the police were called.
My parents wouldn't have done it, and let that fact be known.
"What good will come?" my father said. Zvi's parents had already determined that their son had suffered nothing beyond bruising: his bones were unbroken and his brain unconcussed.
"Call the police on every anti-Semite," my mother said, "and they'll need a separate force." The Blums thought differently. Mrs. Blum's parents had been born in America. She had grown up in Connecticut and attended public school. She felt no distrust for the uniform, believed the authorities were there to protect her.