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The Rumor Mill

I didn’t know it was wrong to say things about other kids. I didn’t know that in Judaism, it was up there with murder. 

Mark Schiff is a comedian, actor and writer, and host of the 'You Don't Know Schiff' podcast.

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Mark Schiff
Mark Schiff is a comedian, actor and writer, and host of the 'You Don't Know Schiff' podcast.

Like most schools, mine were rumor mills. There was no social media but kids talked and were cruel.  When we heard things about other kids, not knowing if they were true or false, we rolled out the filth anyway. I didn’t know it was wrong to say things about other kids. I didn’t know that in Judaism, it was up there with murder. 

Here’s the slogan: “Rumors Hurt People.”   Now that I know the extent of the pain it can cause, I have regrets.  

When I was growing up, most everyone had a mother and a father, but then there was Nat. Nat was the one Black kid in our school and as far as we knew, Nat had no parents. He lived in the Brooklyn Industrial School Association and Home for Destitute Children, which eventually changed to the Brooklyn Home for Children, and later Forestdale. The home was once an orphanage and didn’t mix their kids with the local public-school kids. At some point, they mixed us all together. 

Most, if not all of us, didn’t know any Black kids and knew less about Nat. What we did know was Nat was amazing at punchball and had lightning speed. But he could go from laughing to very angry in a second. If angered, his fists would quickly spring into loaded position. 

None of us ever went to visit Nat at his home nor do I remember Nat ever coming to any of our homes. We knew where he lived and when we would walk past someone would say, “That’s where Nat lives”. But beyond trying to peek through the fence, we never went in. 

I imagine it was lonely for him.  And it must have been hard for Nat seeing all of us, mostly white Jewish kids, dressed well and going back to our nice homes even though some of these nice homes were hell for a lot of us and possibly worse than Nat’s situation. But he didn’t know that. 

There were rumors that many of the kids that lived at the Home were bad kids. Dangerous kids. We assumed Nat was one of those. We never knew that, by us spreading this rumor, it also made us dangerous kids. We never knew how we might be hurting Nat and others in the rumor mill. Those rumors made us all afraid of and keep a distance from Nat. 

Once, one of the teachers made Nat an assistant school crossing guard.  A coveted position. The guards got to wear a white plastic strap across their chest with a shiny tin AAA badge. Nat looked cool and was proud of his job.   One day, one of us got into an argument with Nat.   He was incredibly upset at us, took the plastic strap off his chest and threw it at us. Because of the freezing temperature, when the plastic belt hit the ground, it broke into a dozen pieces. Nat was responsible for the belt. He had to return it in good condition or pay for it. He lost the crossing guard job, the one job that made him feel special. After throwing the belt, all I remember was Nat running back home. If it were me, I’d have been crying. 

I am not sure most of our parents knew of Nat.  Nat was simply not “one of us”. And I know he knew it. How could he not?

A year or so later, when we all moved on to Junior High School, Nat disappeared from school. Did he get sick? Did they locate a parent of his? None of us have any idea how his life did or did not turn out. When I speak to my classmates and Nat’s name comes up, we all hope Nat has had a good life.  I hope Nat found the love he deserved.

I know how much rumors hurt me as a kid. Nat, wherever you are, I am truly sorry for my part in the rumor mill.

Loshon hara (evil speech) is one of the areas I have gravitated towards correcting in my life. I know how much rumors hurt me as a kid. I know how people saying nasty things about me felt and made me cry.  Some are with me to this day. Nat, wherever you are, I am truly sorry for my part in the rumor mill.


Mark Schiff is a comedian, actor and writer, and host of the ‘You Don’t Know Schiff’ podcast.

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