NOMINATED FOR  THE 2010 
JEWISH BOOK OF THE YEAR AWARD

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CHAPTER ONE: REITZ


    Mrs. Duminee clutched the Bible to her chest. "Children,” she intoned, “God is speaking to us in these verses. He’s telling us that He wants us to keep our white race pure. That apartheid is good. That, with His help, we will keep the races in this country separate.” Her voice was flat and rough as sandpaper. She stood in front of our fourth grade class, explaining the verses from the New Testament. The single word BIBLE was embossed on the cover of the brown leather volume, and she held the weathered book so that we could all see the word. Each page had a gold edge, which was hard to see, but when the Bible was closed and all the pages came together, it looked like a shiny gold band. Mrs. Duminee’s steely gray hair was tightly pulled back into a bun and her eyes behind the thick glasses looked much too large. She reminded me of a scary old owl. The bright South African sunshine flooded in through the open window. It was October 1956 — springtime in the southern hemisphere — the springtime of my tenth year.

    She continued to clutch the Bible as if it were a protective armor, but it was, in fact, her weapon. Everything we learned about apartheid in those early years, we learned in the name of God. We were never allowed to argue with, or question, God, the Bible, or Mrs. Duminee. Even at the age of ten, I knew that her words were dark and ugly, but I also knew better than to contradict her. I sat chewing on the back of my dark green Venus No. 2 pencil, watching her mouth move, and thinking of all the things I was not supposed to say out loud. I wanted to ask, “Did God really say that?” But I didn’t. I wanted to tell her, “Mrs Duminee, my mother said that Afrikaners like you, who support the apartheid regime, twist the word of God to suit your beliefs.” But of course I didn’t. I kept my silence.


    Each morning our class, like all the other classes, started with a prayer and a Bible story. I was the only Jewish child in the class, in the entire school, for that matter — because my brother was still too young for school. So I had no choice but to join in with the rest of the class. We lowered our heads but I kept my eyes open, as Mrs. Duminee began to pray in Afrikaans, “Liewe Jesus…” The prayer always ended with her thanking God for making us white. I wanted to ask, “Didn’t God make the black people too?” But I knew that if I asked that, I would surely get my knuckles rapped with the wooden ruler...


Chapter 14: The Double Gift and Free Elections


   

     
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