This is from Esther, who now limits tooth wiggling privileges to dentists.
If there’s one rabbi I remember with fondness, it’s Rabbi Goldstein. When he moved to California, when I was in high school, I think, the whole community felt the loss. He passed away a few years after that.
He was the principal in charge of the younger grades – first through third grades. He was always smiling, always gentle and soft-spoken and always had time to crouch down next to a girl who needed a little extra attention, with his flowing white beard, his sparkling eyes, his long black frock.
There were many traditions Rabbi Goldstein instituted. One was the lunch song, which I find myself singing in my head every so often, especially when I’m in a rush and the train station is so crowded I can barely move:
Walk walk walk
Do not run
Take it easy and
Have a lot of fun.
If you run,
You may fall,
And tumble over like a ball,
So when at home
Or at school,
Remember this important rule.
He would stand on the stage at the front of the dining room while we were eating lunch and lead us all in a chorus of the song. Every day. And every day, all those little high-pitched voices joyfully sang along.
Another tradition of Rabbi Goldstein’s probably would have gotten him in trouble if he were in any school except a Bais Yaakov. But it was another sign of his genuine caring for us. We were at the age when our teeth were falling out. It’s exciting, that first loose tooth, that moment when there’s an empty space, when you walk around with an awkward wide grin with your lips positioned just so, to reveal your gummy gap. Rabbi Goldstein would be available once a day, during morning recess, for any girl whose tooth was about to fall out. He would wiggle it and pronounce it ready, or say one more day, two more days… If it was ready, he would pull it out.
I remember at least one girl being the hero of the day, showing off the tooth that Rabbi Goldstein had pulled out. It was worth more than any tooth fairy could give, to treasure the tooth that Rabbi Goldstein pulled out.
I’ve had this fond memory for ages. When I mentioned it to some friends recently, they were horrified and asked lots of questions about hygiene. No, I don’t know if he washed his hands before he took the tooth in two fingers and wiggled it.
Even writing it now, I’m trying to make it sound the way I remember it – a beautiful moment – and it sounds … wrong. And that’s the funny thing. Because it was a beautiful moment, and it is a beautiful memory.
Is it completely absurd? Absolutely. But Rabbi Goldstein was a sweet, gentle, loving man. And though the expression of it, pulling out girls’ teeth, is pretty much unique to Bais Yaakov I’m sure, that sweet, gentle love was real and genuine and a memory worth treasuring.