I already put this up on the ‘net on my previous blog, but it’s relevant, and (imho) it’s classic.
My interview was conducted by a man with a big gray beard.
He wasted no time in getting to dislike me.
The first question he asked, after “What’s your name?” (and then, “That’s a real name? A Jewish name? I bet it isn’t.”) was “What was your SAT score?” He found my verbal to be too high; it meant I read secular literature. Oops.
The next unlikable thing about me was purely my fault; I opened my big mouth and suggested that Henoch Teller uses pretty big words in his books, too. (Maybe I even said “polysyllabic.”)
My Interrogator retorted, “Nothing longer than ‘delicatessen’.” This isn’t true; Teller uses “septuagenarian” all the time. But I was smart enough not to pursue the point.
He then asked me what I like to read and I said anything written well. He pushed for genres. I began listing, “Historical fiction, classical literature, mystery, fantasy—“ he cut me off to accuse me of wallowing in fantasy—was I hiding from reality? “I have 24 hours of my own reality every day,” I answered, perplexed. “Why would I find someone else’s sordid doings interesting?”
It was not a clever reply.
Then he had some issues with my family tree. My grandparents were American? Surely then my parents were ba’alei teshuva? “Nope,” I said proudly. “Religious American Jews back four and five generations.” He came very close to telling me that this was impossible, because nobody except R’ Herman (“All for the Boss”) was religious in the USA before 1930, and, still not getting the pattern of “I’m-right-you’re-wrong,” I attempted, in a friendly way, to set him straight on that score. Bad move.
Then he took issue with my father. Why had he gone to an Israeli yeshiva and not an American one? And why had one of my brothers followed him there? I explained, naively, that the caliber of learning is higher in Israeli yeshivos and my relations wanted to do some serious studying. Bad move. Rabbi-Interrogator went to an American yeshiva after all, and I was casting aspersions on his education. I also admitted that my father cycled through three yeshivos before settling on one he liked, which Rabbi-Interrogator interpreted in a way that I don’t recall exactly but made me temporarily see red.
He didn’t like the high schools attended by my other siblings. He skimmed my aunts and uncles and found them mostly uninteresting. The only person he liked was one uncle, and you could see, as he was asking “You’re related to Rabbi Approved? Fine man, very fine man,” that he was thinking, “How did a fine man like him get attached to a family tree like this one?!”
Rabbi-Interrogator then frowned upon my inability to make sense out of the Ohr Hachaim he asked me to read, despite the fact that he hadn’t previewed it before assigning it and couldn’t make sense of it himself when he took over to show how simple it was. He was absolutely horrified when I tried to provide an explanation by referencing something else I’d studied in high school, harshly informing me that I shouldn’t be thinking on my own.
We parted in mutual disdain. I prayed that I not be insulted with an acceptance. My prayer was answered.