This essay in remembrance of David Rakoff (1964-2012) was first published in The Forward.
“Since you contacted me, I’ve been thinking a lot more about Bialik,” David Rakoff told me when I interviewed him two years ago for a piece I was writing for The Jerusalem Report. He was referring to Bialik Hebrew Day School, the Labor Zionist day school in Toronto we both attended as children. It was the place that in many ways launched both of us on our professional trajectories—his as an identifiably Jewish writer, and mine as a Jewish educator. But his Jewish and Zionist identities ended up differing considerably from mine, and that’s why I had wanted to talk to him.
I hadn’t seen David in three decades. Back then, I was one of the tallest kids in the seventh grade and he was by far the shortest boy in the ninth. In my mind, I can still see the diminutive David in his class photo, dressed in a plaid flannel shirt and denim overalls seated cross-legged on the floor—the spot traditionally reserved for the shortest kids.
As much as David was ecstatic to have finally grown and put those years behind him, right now I prefer to picture him in my mind as the short and round-faced, but healthy, boy he was, rather than to look online at recent images of him as he became progressively sicker and thinner.
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© 2012 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.