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Commentary — Eat Worms or Get Beaten Up: A High School Dilemma

The Principal, Rabbi Stan, called me out of class. He was 50 and balding with tufts of bright red hair encircling his head. When I entered his office, Ms. Lunfeld, his aide-de-camp, and Coach Marcellino, the gym teacher and head of discipline, were also present. I sat down at a long wooden table across from the three of them.

“I didn’t do it,” I told them. “We have evidence from Facebook that mentions your name,” Marcellino said. “Does it say I bought alcohol?” “Well, no, but if you didn’t do it, you must know who did.” I did know, but I was not going to tell them. “If you don’t tell us,” Rabbi Stan said, “we’ll treat you as the culprit, and you’ll be suspended.” For a long time I just sat there. Coach Marcellino glared at me. In our Health 101 course, he told the girls we should all lose 10 pounds by year’s end. And Ms. Lunfeld had once told me that feelings didn’t matter because they aren’t real…

The authority figures I was supposed to respect were acting like high school-ers themselves. I felt like a kid on the playground being told to eat a worm or get beaten up. I was terrified. But there was no way I could give up my classmates.

“I’d like to call my parents,” I said.

Rabbi Stan smirked. “Okay, I’ll call your parents on my phone,” he said, “explain the situation and then you can speak to them.”

When my father answered, Rabbi Stan identified himself and asked that my mother join the conversation too. He explained what had happened, and he said he knew my parents would give me the right advice.

Rabbi Stan passed me the phone. “Arianna,” my father said, “this is crazy and unfair. Under no circumstances should you name names.” My mother said, “Arianna, you tell Rabbi Stan that this behavior and the situation they are putting you in is entirely inappropriate.”

“I can’t,” I said. “I can’t say that to him.” Rabbi Stan sensed things were not going his way. He insisted I return the phone. And as he listened to my parents’ objections, his face grew redder and angrier by the second. His brow furrowed.

Rabbi Stan finally reached his breaking point: “McCarthy-like tactics?” he yelled. “McCarthy-like? How can you say that? Do you think McCarthy let people call their parents!?”

My father told me later that he said, “McCarthy let them have lawyers.”

My mother, the therapist, intervened, suggesting alternative ways for Rabbi Stan to handle the situation. Advice, he later took — gathering the juniors in a room and simply asking them who did it. The culprits eventually fessed up.

And in the process I realized that authority figures are fallible. They’re ruled by the same emotions and fears as the rest of us. And just because someone has power over you, doesn’t necessarily mean they deserve it.

BACK ANNOUNCE: Arianna Skibell tries to always critically question authority. Though sometimes, she still calls her mom and dad for help.

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