Columns - 2010

    Harry Plotzer and the Prisoner of Ashkenaz

    by Doug Brook
    Southern Jewish Life columnist

    Harry Plotzer was a highly unusual boy in many ways. For one thing, he hated the summer holidays more than any other time of year. For another, he actually wanted to do his homework for his bar mitzvah. But he was forced to do it in secret, in the dead of the night. And he also happened to be a kabbalist, a soon-to-be third-year student at the Hogschwartz School of Mystics and Kaballah.

    Harry was turning thirteen and wanted his bar mitzvah, but his aunt and uncle with whom he lived, would have none of it. They never liked Harry, having raised him since the evil Voldybbuk killed his parents in Harry's infancy, and left Harry with the six-pointed Scar-of-David on his forehead. So on Harry's thirteenth birthday, he got nothing except a visit from his least favorite aunt, who never said anything good about his parents.

    Harry ran away to Diyainu Alley, a small, hidden realm where kabbalists roamed. It wasn't much, but as they'd say, "it's enough for us." There he finished his summer studies, met his friends Ron Wiesel and Harzione Granger, and had his bar mitzvah at last. They soon returned to Hogschwartz for the fall, but under a dark cloud with word of the escape from prison of Shibboleth Black, who was rumored to be after Harry.

    Black had been held in Ashkenaz Prison, where kabbalists and mystics are punished by forcing them to live unlike anything they were used to, like normal, unmystical Ashkenazi people. Nobody ever escaped Ashkenaz Prison, and those who ever were released were never the same again.

    To protect the school and Harry from Black, it is surrounded by fearsome beings, De Mentors. Known mainly to those of bar mitzvah age, they loom largely, say little, leave much to your imagination to determine, and can make you feel like they've sucked your very soul out of you if you let them down. Harry proves particularly susceptible to De Mentors, because he had his bar mitzvah without their help.

    Harry is befriended by the new Defense Against the Dark Schwartz teacher, Professor Lou Ze'ev, who he is shocked to see wolfing down a potion provided by Harry's nemesis, the surly Professor Snake.

    Harry is forbidden from the students' visit to nearby Hogsfeet, a village where pigs magically chew their cud in addition to having split hooves and are thus kosher only there. This meant that students must have a permission form to be allowed to go. Having no parents, Harry had no parental permission form either. But Ron's brothers Fred and George give Harry the Mamzer's Map, which shows a secret passage Harry can take to Hogsfeet under his father's Cloak of Invisibility.

    While sneaking around Hogsfeet, Harry stumbles onto a group of professors talking about how Black is after Harry because he helped Voldybbuk kill Harry's parents. Yet mysteriously, Harry receives a new broomstick allegedly from Black, and Professor Lou Ze'ev starts teaching Harry how to fight De Mentors, despite them allegedly being there for protection. Lou Ze'ev teaches Harry the Patronize Charm, with which he can talk down to De Mentors enough that they'll leave him alone.

    Meanwhile, in Divinity class, Professor Trelawnsky provides her seventy-third prediction of Harry's imminent doom. Harzione, who has seemingly been in two places at once all year, quits Divinity, deciding that Trelawnsky is a fraud and that she prefers the objectivity of facts and books. Despite seeming to be everywhere all year, Harzione has not been as present because Ron was upset about her cat Crookshnook eating his pet rat, Scammers. The giant Haggid tries to get the three to reconcile and while they're at his house, Ron finds Scammers alive and well.

    As Ron, Harry, and Harzione leave Haggid's house, they encounter a large black dog that they've seen before. The dog drags Ron off under the Whomping Willow, the source of the liveliest lulav leaves in all the land. Ron and Harzione follow them through an underground passage that leads them to the off-limits Geshrai-ing Shack. Upon arrival, Harzione lets out a geshrai as they see the black dog transform into Shibboleth Black.

    Harry disarms Black with his charm, and prepares to kill Black to avenge his parents. But Lou Ze'ev enters and disarms Harry, then carries on with Black like old friends who never served together on a synagogue board.

    Lou Ze'ev and Black explain that Lou Ze'ev is a werewolf, kept tame by the potion from Professor Snake. They were all Hogschwartz students with Harry's father, and they all became ani-maggids, people who could "tell any story" by transforming into animals. Professor Snake appears, but Harry disarms him and knocks him out before he can reveal anything that would make the story end sooner.

    They tell Harry that Black was his father's best friend and was framed by that rat Peter Pettijew, who was working for the evil Voldybbuk. Allegedly killed by Black when he allegedly killed Harry's parents, Pettijew has actually been hiding for years as Ron's rat, Scammers.

    Lou Ze'ev forces Pettijew back to human form, and forces a confession out of him, clearing the black mark from Black's name. Pettijew admitted he himself had betrayed his friends, Harry's parents, to Voldybbuk. As they return to Hogschwartz, the full moon turns Lou Ze'ev into a wolf. Black becomes the dog again to protect Harry, and De Mentors swoop in to capture them.

    Harry tries to save himself and Black by using his Patronize Charm, but fails. Out of nowhere, Harry sees a large Patronize Charm drive De Mentors away just as he passes out, his last thought being that maybe he wouldn't be in this trouble if he had spent more time on his bar mitzvah speech.

    Harry awakens to learn that Black is about to be executed. The multi-generational Professor Dorledor, who doesn't quite look himself anymore though nobody seems to notice, suggests that they use Harzione's secret time-turning device to go back and save Black. This device is how Harzione was able to actually be in two places at once all year, the time this added to her life thus explaining why she's seemed to grow up faster than the others. Or maybe it's just because they're boys and she's not.

    Harzione created this device after discovering the secret message hidden in the music and lyrics of Cher's hit song, "If I Could Turn Back Time."

    Harry and Harzione go back in time just enough to save himself and Black. Harry discovers that he's the one, this future-gone-back Harry, who created the Patronize Charm that saves himself, the non-future-gone-back Harry, and Black from De Mentors. Harry discovers that his Patronize Charm, like his father's, is a large stag. Harzione insists that Harry stop horsing around so they can return to their real present, as opposed to this past-present, and free Black before he's executed. Harry agrees, vowing to never let time travel be part of his adventures again because it can make you go cross-eyed trying to keep up with it.

    They free Black in the nick of time, and he flees into hiding but vows to keep in touch. Black is Harry's godfather, the only family Harry has left. Lou Ze'ev leaves Hogschwartz because, despite nothing happening the entire year and no impact whatsoever on his work, some parents believed that he was a threat to their children just because of what he is. As is typical, the school acquiesces rather than stand up to the few loud, complaining parents for anything like fact or integrity.

    Harry joins everyone on the Hogschwartz Express heading home for the summer. Harry receives a letter from Black saying that he's fine, that the broomstick was from him, and enclosing a permission slip for Harry to visit Hogsfeet next year without having to repeat his cloak and stagger routine.

    But before leaving, Harry met with Professor Dorledor one last time who, as usual, imparted some parting wisdom to Harry. "See? You should have worked more on your bar mitzvah speech."

    Doug Brook is a writer in Silicon Valley who will soon present the fourth Harry Plotzer tale: Harry Plotzer and the Gabbai of Fire. For more information, past columns, other writings, and more, visit For exclusive online content, such as the latest Harry Plotzer episodes, become a fan at

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.