And a few had been top students at one point, but then something happened.
Anyway, the staff and student body are primarily comprised of Sephardim, even though it is not a Sephardi institution and even though they accept any boy of any background whose needs are suited to what this yeshiva can provide.
At one point, an Ashkenazi boy from a Yiddish-speaking environment came to join my son's class. This boy was also from one of the more structured and sheltered Chassidish groups.
The Yemenite rav of that year's class warned my son and his friends to treat this new boy nicely, no matter how strange or different he seemed to them.
And different he was.
Even his name was different. As "Finkelshtayn" (not his real name, but very similar in flavor), he stood out among Suisse, Alchadef, Tuito, Siman-Tov, and Chajaj.
Because Finkelshtayn mostly knew Hebrew from books, his spoken Hebrew was proper and formal, and not casual and peppered with Arabic slang like the Hebrew of his classmates. (Note: A large degree of the Arabic slang is because the boys have grandparents whose first language is Arabic.)
The boys were also bemused by Finkelshtayn's insistence on slathering himself with sunscreen (SPF 38!) before going on boating excursions and class trips to the sea.
And, unlike the other boys, Finkelshtayn didn't enjoy loud Mizrachi-style music, nor did he feel compelled to spray himself with Axe's Black deodorant bodyspray as if it was DDT and he was a giant mosquito.
But the boys accepted him as their own, despite his peculiarities.
Yet unbeknownst to Finkelshtayn, Sephardi males hug each other. And if you're an exuberant Sephardi male, you hug exuberantly.
In fact, Moroccan minyanim here in Eretz Yisrael have a custom on Shabbat to kiss all their fellow congregants after Shabbat Arvit (Evening Prayer) and also often at the end of Shabbat Shacharit (Morning Prayer). And why not after Shabbat Mincha?
Nobody seems to know....
Anyway, when the boys first used to go in for a hug, Finkelshtayn tried to cringe away, saying, "No, no, that's okay; a handshake will do...."
But nothing doing, Finkelshtayn. You're with Moroccans now (along with a sprinkling of Persians and Yemenites) and you WILL learn to hug. Kol Yisrael achim, after all.
After graduation, my son turned to me and demanded, "Do have any idea how long it took to teach Finkelshtayn to hug?"
"No," I said. "How long?"
"A long time!" My son grimaced. "And even now, he's only willing to accept a hug; he won't actually give one." He stood up to demonstrate. "When Finkelshtayn meets one of us, he stands out at a distance and stretches his arm out all the way to shake hands. Then we have to grab him by that arm and reel him in for a hug!" My son thought for a moment. "But at least he's able to accept hugs now. He used to protest the entire time, and now he just nods and smiles and says, 'Okay, okay' like he hopes it's almost over. But still, he's improved."
So in the end, despite their differences, they all adjusted. And even if they didn't like or understand each other's cultural peccadilloes, that didn't stop them from liking and appreciating each other.
Sinat Chinam Disclaimer: Not ALL Sephardi bachurim drench themselves in Axe or listen to loud Mizrachi music or compel Chassidim to hug them, etc. This post describes only a certain type of bachur within a certain milieu. No offense to all the fine, upstanding Sephardi males who use roll-on deodorant and sunscreen, listen to Avraham Fried at a low volume, and display their achvah with a simple handshake, etc.