At the National Mall

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Let me tell you about a Boy Scout named Grossmann. We met in the second grade, and until the day we graduated from high school, Grossmann received weekly lessons from a private tutor who drilled him in advanced biology and chemistry. His parents believed that their son was destined for a brilliant career as a scientist, possibly a forensic investigator with the FBI.

This kid had memorized half of the periodic table of elements by the time we joined the scouts, and he could calculate the atomic weight of a water molecule too, but he’d never been a candidate for patrol leader or even assistant patrol leader.

If you had to bunk with Grossmann on a campout, you got pretty good at pitching a tent all by yourself because you’d probably be pitching that tent in the rain or in the dark and always without his assistance. Grossmann could hand you tent poles and that’s about it.

He never had an easy time at school or in the scouts either. You could just sort of tell that he was always going to be the victim, and the oldest scouts in our troop figured it out very quickly once they learned that Grossmann was Jewish.

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I watched it happen on our troop’s spring trip to Washington D.C. in 1993. For three nights we camped at a Marine Corps base outside of Annapolis. We shared breakfast with sailors and hungry grunts each morning. We visited the Senate, the White House, the FBI headquarters, and Chinatown too. On our last day, we reached the National Mall where cold March winds swept from the Lincoln Memorial down to the base of Capitol Hill.

The oldest scouts were too frozen to complain until they spotted Grossmann. He had purchased a souvenir pack of postcards and for whatever reason promptly asked the street vendor for his money back. I never saw the transaction, but it was the senior patrol leader who removed his cassette player headphones and said: “Don’t be such a friggin’ Jew.” The other scouts agreed and chorused our senior patrol leader: “Don’t be such a friggin’ Jew.” Grossmann retrieved his three dollars regardless, and I cannot remember whether or not we climbed to the top of the Washington Monument.

We got chewed out by our scoutmaster at the next troop meeting. Grossmann and I never spoke one word about it, but I’ve often wondered if he still remembers this very brief episode of juvenile anti-Semitism, right there at the base of the Washington Monument with the Lincoln Memorial visible in the distance.

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