The Juice and the Mushrooms

One of my favorite classes is the 7:30 to 9:30 class on Thursday nights. Unfortunately it is down to only five students, but these five remain sharp as needles and they are young enough to still be very cute. At the center of the class are a brother and sister around the same age, 10 or 11. Their names are Johnny and Judy. In the back sits a plump, white-skinned boy named Jason. Simon is a new student, and is still speaking in three- or four-word sentences. Lisa is 13 and sits in the front.

Last night a discussion of the word vegetarian led me to mention that Taiwan has a lot of vegetarians because there are a lot of Buddhists. So I had to teach them the word Buddhist too, because the Chinese word for Buddhist doesn't sound anything like the English. And mentioning Buddhists sent me off on a tangent: finally I had listed five major religions on the whiteboard and was asking them to tell me what they knew about each.

Their knowledge is surprisingly wide. That they know about Buddhism and Taoism is no big deal, but they could also tell me things about Islam and Christianity. Not too much, but at least a few things.

"The Muslims believe in the Koran," said Johnny, using the Chinese for Koran.

"They have to pray fifty times a day," Jason said.

"No, they only pray five times," Lisa said. "And they don't eat beef."

I told her it was pork they couldn't eat.

"The Christians believe in Jesus," Jason said. "They think he was a great man, and he helped all the people."

"They don't only think he was a great man," I pointed out. "They believe he was God. God come down to earth."

"Christians believe in the Bible," Johnny said, using the Chinese for Bible. I wrote the English for Bible on the board.

"Now the Christians are fighting Muslims in Jerusalem," Jason said. "They came from England, and they want to take the Jerusalem."

For a moment I thought of the Crusades, and wondered if he was seriously mixed up. But no, he said he saw it on the news. "They are fighting now," he said.

So I started drawing a map of Israel on the board, putting it in its place in a map of the Mediterranean. And I told them that it wasn't the Christians who were fighting the Muslims, but the Jews.

"Who are the Jews?" I asked them.

Lisa knew the answer. And Johnny knew that the Jews believe in the Bible, but that they only believed in the Old Testament.

I asked why the Jews came to Israel from Europe and Russia. Nobody knew why. So I mentioned the name Hitler as one good reason. They started to figure it out, they remembered that people in Europe were bad to the Jews and that the Nazis killed millions. I pointed out that the Jews could read in the Bible how God promised them the land of Israel.

But the Muslims had been living in that land in the meantime. So why could the Jews just come and take it?

"There were more Jews," Jason said. "They won the war."

No, there weren't more Jews, I pointed out.

"The Jews came from Europe," Johnny said. "They had better guns."

Very smart kid. I agreed with Johnny. But what about the Palestinians? I showed them on the map where most of the Palestinians now lived. Were the Palestinians Buddhists?

"No, they're not," Lisa said. "They're Muslims. They're the Muslims that live in Israel."

(Lisa figured out who the Palestinians were, and gave the Chinese translation, even though the 20-something teaching assistant had tried to help me out but botched it: he'd translated my English "Palestinian" with the Chinese word for "Bosnian".)

"Lisa is right," I said. "The Palestianians are mostly Muslim. So in this area of the world, you can see the Jews fighting against the Muslims."

Judy, who hadn't been listening for awhile, looked at me and twisted her eyes.

"What?" I said.

Now she hit her desk and stood up to complain: "What are you saying now, you fool? This is ridiculous!"

"What, Judy?  What's the problem?"

"What are you talking about the juice fighting the mushrooms? You are a crazy man!"

Everyone started laughing, especially the teaching assistant and the other foreign teacher observing the class. When Judy wants to complain, her grammar is usually excellent. She hadn't been listening, but of course she knew I wasn't talking about juice and mushrooms. She just wanted to undermine the discussion.

"But what I'm saying is true, Judy. It's you who are crazy. We're talking about Israel here."

"No, that's wrong. YOU are crazy. First you're saying juice comes from Europe, and wants to go to Israel. That's very crazy! Then you say the juice fights the mushrooms. You should get fired! What kind of juice is that, huh?  Apple juice? What kind of juice?"

She hit her desk again. Jason and Lisa were laughing very hard.

"It's not the juice, Judy. It's the Jews."

"I don't care. You are crazy! I know the truth."

"The mushrooms live in Jerusalem," Jason said, laughing.

"They can make a lot of pizza there," Johnny said.

"Why am I coming to this class?" Judy said. "He is a crazy man! We should leave right now!"

"Leave! Leave!" they were all yelling, pretending to pack their bookbags to go.

This kind of thing happens every other week. Judy or Johnny are usually the masterminds. This was Judy's best joke so far.







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