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The Nerd's Dance

The Nerd's Dance

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My friend and I walked to the school bus. We talked and joked, as we did every day. We weren't the coolest kids in school. In fact, we were probably the least cool kids in school. Me, a Jewish dark-skinned kid whose parents came from another country. Him, a poor kid with no father and a mother who drove the very school bus we were about to get on.

As we walked down the hill from our condominium, I looked up and saw the "cool" kid. In third grade, "cool" usually means "bully," and this was no exception. I sighed, and braced myself, hoping that I wouldn't be attacked with the usual attacks: "Chinese," "Four-Eyes" etc.

But this time, things seemed different. He looked at me without malice. As if we were friends. He said, "Hey, man, how's it going? Wanna wait for the bus together?"

The cool kid, asking me to hang out? Awesome. Things were finally looking up for me!

As I walked up to him, he looked over my shoulder and at my friend.

"Um, not with Brad..."

I looked over at Brad. He already looked crestfallen, as if he had guessed what I had decided before I even had a chance to realize what was going on. And it was then that I knew what he was thinking was absolutely correct.

Today was the first day of my life. Why waste it on a nerd?

It's really amazing how I still regret that day and remember it so vividly. I still can't believe how quickly I ditched one of my best friends just to be cool. Just to be accepted.

I still remember looking at Brad as I walked away, with just one quick peek over my shoulder. I still remember how I felt when I saw his face. That moment of regret, and a quick hardening of the heart.

As it turned out, becoming cool was apparently not as easy as I thought it was.

The bully had just been using me to hurt Brad. It didn't take more than a bus ride for my "friend" to make it clear that I was a nerd and would always be a nerd.

And Chinese.

I've always been fascinated how much our early experiences in school and life can effect us for so long. Most of us who have been in similar situations have at some point decided we would do anything to be the cool kids. We would transform ourselves. We would be new people.

Considering my extreme nerdiness, this took a while. But, for at least a little while, I was able to fool people. In high school I started listening to Pink Floyd and drinking. That helped. In college, I drank more. That helped more.

Eventually, I even started writing poetry, grew dreadlocks, and convinced a few girls to date me. I was a romantic artist. The ultimate refuge of the nerdy college student.

Since I've come to Israel, I've started to realize something. I'm slowly becoming a nerd again. My dance moves are jerky again, thanks to the ridiculous chassidic dance moves. I would rather study than go out partying. When I do go out, I'm nervous in front of girls again. I'm almost scared of them!

It's middle school all over again. Oy.

Recently, in a desperate attempt to up my coolness factor, I decided to watch the movie Dazed and Confused in order to at least live vicariously through the cool kids depicted in the movie.

The movie follows different groups of high school students on their last day of school in Texas in the year 1976.

Usually, when I'm watching the movie, I am cracking up to Matthew McConaughey's creepy old-man lifestyle or smiling at the antics of the stoner kid. Basically, all the archetypes we remember from high school.

And then, all of a sudden, as if out of a bad dream, came this character. I had forgotten all about him. For all the times I had seen this movie, I happened to overlook him. I never really paid much attention to him. But this time, I couldn't. This time there was no ignoring who and what this guy was.

He was a nerd.

And, like most of us nerds out there, he was practically crawling out of his skin. He was trying to figure out life. Realizing he didn't want to be an ACLU lawyer and that all he really wanted was just to live ("I want to dance!").

And when he finally decided to live and go to a party he got beat up.

And that's when it hit me.

The actor playing him was Jewish. Later in his life, this guy would play in a movie called The Hebrew Hammer. His name is Adam Goldberg, for crying out loud.

This guy, this guy was all of us. He was who we Jews are. More accurately, us Jews will always be him. The nerds, the ones that are out of synch, the ones that are crawling out of our skin.

We try to fight our inner Goldberg-ness with every inch of effort that we have. Because we see the party. We see the cool guys, the football stars, and we want to be like them. We want to be them. We want that life, we want to be a part of that rhythm. We want to dance.

But we can't. Jews just can't dance.

Jews are an unnatural force in the world. An energy that defies the spiritual physics of the universe. When we try to join the party, we get beat up. When we try to dance, we just look like big dorks.

And sometimes... sometimes, when we try too hard to forget who we are, people can get hurt. I hurt poor Brad for just a few minutes of coolness. Brad, who happily agreed to be a nerd at my side. I sacrificed him so that I could feel "accepted".

It was a third grade mistake, but I kept making it throughout my life.

The truth is, we can cover ourselves with as many cool clothes, as much dreadlocks, tattoos, and do everything else to fit in with the world around us, but we will never be able to hide that inner Nerd. That essential Ugly Betty-osity. It will be as obvious as the thick-rimmed glasses on our faces.

Being a nerd is tough tough business. As is being a Jew. We have to do a lot more work than the rest of the world. We aren't happy to just go out and party. We feel the drive, as much as we may fight it with drinking, smoking and any other distraction we can find, to reveal our nerdiness to the world. Sometimes, people call us Chinese.

But when that nerdiness is accepted, we will finally realize the power of being nerds. We will realize, just as every nerd from Einstein to that kid who everyone cheated off of to Bill Gates did, that being a good dancer isn't the most important thing in the world. That dancing to the beat of our own niggun can be the most powerful beat anyone will encounter.

The nerd's time is coming. Let's dance.


Elad Nehorai is originally from Chicago and now studies at a yeshiva in Jerusalem.
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Zilpa via chabad.ca March 5, 2009

Great Article. Funny, sad, but too true. What about the places where Jews have an unwritten code: Do Not Be a Nerd, but nevertheless, You Should Act (somewhat) Jewish...that really hurts...especially the 3rd & 4th generation...most confusing of all. Better to be a nerd, far, far better, healthier, and good for the world, too. Those who hate nerds will eventually fail, unless they see the pristine beauty of Nerdiness. Reply

nerdette? February 4, 2009

i love this article such a delight to read. rings true and funny too. Reply

simona January 18, 2009

nerdette like yeah! Reply

People travel around the world searching for it. They starve themselves for it. They scream, they cry and they beg for it.

“It” is that little thing called meaning. Truth.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could just bang two rocks together and find It? What if we could save money on airplane tickets and seminars and find that meaning in our own lives?

Join me on my journey through the infinite without even resorting to a midlife crisis.
Elad Nehorai is an alumnus of Arizona State University and Mayanot yeshiva. You can find Elad wandering around America, gallivanting around Israel, or getting lost in the clouds. His favorite things to do include reading, writing and conversing with G-d.