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In high school we learned that makeup is evil, and possibly destroyed the Beis Hamikdash. (At least eyeshadow did. It’s pshat pasuk in Yeshayahu or something. Or maybe Rashi says it’s pshat. Anyway, we learned this. I think most high schools do. Did you?)
In seminary we learned that you aren’t supposed to take out the garbage without it.
Actually, we had a teacher in high school who told us about the time her mother-in-law picked her out when she was taking the F train home. Our future teacher was terribly dressed and not wearing makeup, slouched in her seat exhausted after a long day of work. Even so, this Hungarian woman from Boro Park picked her out as the one for her son.
The moral of her story is, never go out looking messy, tired, and without makeup, because your future mother-in-law might be looking at you on the train. (Yeah, I didn’t follow either.)
Anyway, my point is, the messages regarding makeup are beyond confusing. Which is probably why I got a distressed email about it from a younger friend. She had recently graduated high school and was being pressured to wear makeup on dates, but didn’t want to destroy the Beis Hamikdash.
I told her that makeup, like everything in life, is great when used in moderation for the right purpose. Unfortunately, Bais Yaakov doesn’t know how to explain moderation, so makeup must be evil until it’s mandatory.
She was satisfied.
But recently I heard a different explanation, given by a high school teacher. It went like this:
“You have to dress up and put yourself out there so you can get married quickly and stop putting yourself out there.”
In other words, briefly disregard all the rules of tznius that we taught you, in order that you can accomplish a more important goal of getting married, and then go back to being tznius.
(After you are married, everyone knows, you are only supposed to dress up for your husband. We were all told the laudatory story of the woman who put on her makeup and sheitel after coming home from work.)
This story submitted by Esther, who has gone on to have less delicate friendships.
In fourth grade, there was a girl I had a weird friendship with.She did all the “BFF” stuff that I didn’t think about. Not that I didn’t like it, or had anything against it. But she attached a lot of importance to it, while I flitted from friend to friend and didn’t think that made me any less her friend.
I didn’t think I should have to pay for college.
I also didn’t think my parents should have to pay for my college.
So I decided I was going to go on scholarships.
Winning general scholarships is well-nigh impossible. I mean those scholarships that are open to anyone in the world as long as they can write a 500-word essay on why they deserve the money.
Let’s face it: you’re a white, Jewish, upper-middle class, private-school kid and you’re competing with kids who are clawing their way out of the projects, escaping abusive homes, or overcoming severe disabilities. Or maybe even kids who had to run ten miles across the Serengeti to school every day, being chased by soldiers with machetes.
You have nothing to compete with. It’s hopeless.
The way to win scholarships is to compete with a smaller pool than the whole entire world. For example, with students applying to your college only. Or with students studying your major. (Or both.) Or, in the case in question, with students in your high school.
The New York State Lottery gives a 3-year scholarship to a single graduating senior from every school in the state every year. I found this out in 12th grade from my mother’s friend, I think. I definitely didn’t hear about it in school. That’s actually the point of this story.
In order to complete the application, you had to get it signed by your college adviser. I was in Bais Yaakov. I had no college adviser. So I went to the office and asked who could sign my application. The secretary informed me that Mrs. Sharpe took care of these things for the seniors. So I went to Mrs. Sharpe and had her sign my application.
A couple of days later the Head of Chesed walked across the classroom to talk to me.
“I heard you were also applying to the Lottery Scholarship,” she said.
“Yeah. It’s $1,000 for three years. It’ll help pay for seminary and college.”
“Mrs. Sharpe told me about that scholarship.”
I was puzzled. But over the course of the conversation what she meant became clear: Mrs. Sharpe hadn’t told her about the scholarship. Mrs. Sharpe had intended to give her the scholarship. By informing the Chesed Head that the scholarship existed, and not a single other student in the senior class, Mrs. Sharpe had created a zero-competition field for her selected student.
“Well, it’s about community service,” the Chesed Head pointed out. Indeed, the scholarship was called “Leaders of Tomorrow” and the essay was about how you were going to make the world a better place.
If anyone was well-positioned to write about how they improved the universe, it was someone who had coordinated community service for an entire school of 250 students. It was not the slacker student who had passed off helping of her Israeli neighbors with their homework (for pay) as chesed. (That was me. Well, the school-provided options of visiting old ladies and so on were really not my speed. The school didn’t have any chesed options for introverts.)
The gauntlet had been thrown down. May the best student win. Obviously, the Chesed Head thought she was still the shoo-in. But I was determined. Also, I was affronted. How dare Mrs. Sharpe decide who should get the scholarship? Weren’t we all going to seminary? Plus, the three-year scholarship would be wasted on someone who wasn’t even going to college after.
I did win the scholarship, in the end. Based on my work with the Israeli neighbors, I wrote a great essay about the struggles immigrants face coming to America in pursuit of a better life. I noted the language and culture barrier, not to mention the generational gap, that turned harmonious existence frustrating. Everything, from disputing a gas bill to redirecting children from bad company was a difficulty to be surmounted. I wrote — lying through my teeth, but hey, it’s a scholarship essay — that I hoped my college degree would enable me to work with the immigrant population to ease their transition. (To be fair, I’ve donated to literacy centers using money I earned because I have a degree. That counts, right?)
The scholarship was great — it helped cover part of my higher education. But even better was giving the finger to Mrs. Sharpe and her pet scholarship recipient.
(This was over a decade ago. I doubt Mrs. Sharpe would be able to get away with this kind of thing in the modern age of internet.)
My friend likes to remind me of this one whenever she feels like making fun of “how frum you were.”
For the record, I’m not ashamed. Until I was 20, I had barely spoken to a man who wasn’t related to me. I had been taught that making eye contact or appearing too interested in what a guy was saying was flirting. Our teachers warned us about the plague of young couples sharing Shabbos meals, because his wife talks to her husband, and they’re all talking and laughing together, and next thing you know everyone is jealous of everyone else’s spouse and marriages are in shambles.
Bad things happen when you talk to men you aren’t married or related to.
So when my modox friend Shana got engaged to her high-school boyfriend in seminary and decided to introduce him to her Bais Yaakov friends in the Central Bus Station on motzai Shabbos…
I mean, is there any clause in the previous sentences that isn’t treif? High-school boyfriend. Introduce to female friends. Central Bus Station. On motzai Shabbos no less. This was a terrible idea!
Seriously, I have Bais Yaakov friends whose husbands I could barely recognize on the street. Why would I need to know them? Why would you introduce them to other women?
Besides, we were equivocal about our feelings regarding this match. Obviously, no relationship involving a high-school boyfriend could last. We had it drilled into us that teenagers were incapable of making clear-headed decisions regarding members of the opposite gender, so anyone you crushed on in high school was, by definition, a Bad Idea. It made much more sense to wait until you were older and could pick a guy based on a paper shidduch resume and a few hours spent sipping drinks in a hotel lounge.
But, being good friends (and also feeling guilty about missing the vort) we showed up to that pit of tuma’ah, the Central Bus Station on motzai Shabbos.
In some ways it delivered on its reputation and in some it didn’t.
Sure, there were girls I recognized, wearing jeans under their skirts, hanging out with boys. But they were the girls from summer camp you expected to own a pair of jeans and a boyfriend. And honestly, they weren’t doing anything but eating pizza together. As scenes of horror go, it was fairly innocuous.
Besides, there I was as well, eating pizza with a guy. Granted, it was three of us and one of him, and he was appropriately engaged to Shana, but…
It was profoundly uncomfortable. Was I supposed to look at him when he spoke? Respond to him when I had something to say? Wouldn’t that be flirtatious? And then he might notice there were other women in the world and jealousy and relationship shambles would follow. That was a fact.
So we focused our attention on Shana instead, chatting with her about engagement and wedding plans, and her poor fiance got the cold shoulder. Sometimes, to be inclusive, we’d give him a sidelong glance. Eventually, he stood up and walked away, leaving us to it.
I felt relieved.
Shana felt embarrassed.
She and her husband still laugh at me for it.
(For the record, my husband and I hosted them for Shabbos recently. No spouse-swapping or other improprieties ensued. Another side point: All Shana’s sisters also married their high-school boyfriends and have remained married for, on average, a decade so far. So much for that theory.)
When I was in 7th grade we had a teacher who was probably still there only because the principal was afraid to fire her. She was in her upper seventies for sure, and her teaching style was a cross between Catholic nun and child-hater. We would regularly get lectured on how kids had no respect these days and were terrible in every way, and it wasn’t like this even twenty years ago, let alone when she was a upright and obedient little girl.
These lectures could take up a full 30 minutes, and completely eclipse Chumash class. But the next day she’d move on to the next perek as if she actually covered her material the day before, and then test us on it. If anyone tried to point out that she hadn’t actually taught the chapter, she would yell at them about how kids have no respect these days, etc.
Wash, rinse, repeat.
In 4th grade, we had a brand new Hebrew teacher. I mean, obviously she was brand new to us, but she was also brand new to teaching. She was a little bit awkward and mercurial, as brand new teachers can be, and the class tortured her mercilessly. Several times throughout the year they made her cry. (I’m leaving myself out of it, I didn’t even participate in group hazing activities.) The principal offered to relieve her of the position if she wanted, but she had the guts to see the year through to the end. I respect her for that. A classmate whispered to me that she had to; she had no choice: her teaching salary was the only thing supporting her family.
When I was in 9th grade, a classmate had a sister in 12th grade. It was a “thing” because this sister was much beloved by the principal, and my classmate was, therefore, the exact opposite. When we hit 11th grade, that older sister was back: but now she was teaching 9thgrade.
I remember being perplexed. This sister had exactly three years of education on me; five on her students. Was five years really all it took to learn enough to teach? Did all my young teachers know that little more than I did?
But, that’s kind of how it works. No, not kind of. That’s how it works. The qualifications to become a bais Yaakov teacher are minimal, especially if you’re teaching limudei kodesh. The idea is that maybe a degree in history is useful to teach history, but what degree would help you teach Chumash?
Um, well, an education degree, maybe?
Perhaps, with the salaries being offered, requiring an educational background is too much. But if that’s the case, a rigorous in-service training program and the willingness to fire the incompetent would be, well, nice.
That said, I have to pay tribute to my 7th grade science teacher.
For some reason, the school couldn’t keep a science teacher for more than a month or two. In desperation, they brought in a CPR instructor for a bit, and then a second grade Hebrew teacher who gave us optical illusions and sat and chatted with us for hours on end. She told us the administration kept getting on her back to teach science, but she was a substitute teacher, and wasn’t going to risk classroom decorum by actually trying to teach.
Finally, they yanked a former teacher out of retirement. She clearly needed the cash; she had three maternity outfits and a lone, threadbare sheitel. But she had an infectious enthusiasm for physics that piqued my lifelong interest in How Stuff Works. She taught us why airplanes fly, how washing machines get the water out, and about metal expansion.
Also, I won the paper-airplane distance race (if you leave out the girl whose airplane went out the window).
She left after only two months to have her baby and we all mourned. But she left me with an indelible thirst to learn more physics. (It isn’t covered in most Bais Yaakovs because it’s “too hard”). Finally, one summer in college I took a book out of the library and taught it to myself, and then switched my major to engineering.
I have no idea what her name was or where she came from, but she is one of the few Bais Yaakov teachers of whom I have only fond memories.
This story comes to us from the writer of FrumGirlMusings blog.
It was my first year of high school, and I was miserable. The school I was in was totally not my type, all the girls there were from a different part of town, different minhagim, and different standards. I was quickly thrown in as an outcast.
It was midyear and we were in middle of a chumash lesson and my phone started vibrating in my bag on my floor. Girls began to cover for me — you know making noise and starting a discussion. I put my foot on my bag muffling the vibrating a bit, and somehow I managed to get my phone off of silent mode. Now it it was ringing loudly.
There wasn’t much anyone could do to block it out, but my teacher was sweet and ignored it. But after the anonymous caller had called 3 times, she had enough.
“Leah, please give me your phone.”
I did as she asked and waited nervously for after class, when I would get my sentence. My school was pretty lax about phone usage — were allowed to have phones – but in class they had to be off. I hoped I wouldn’t get in trouble because I left it on.
After class I went up to my teacher, Mrs. Kinesburg. I noticed she had been looking through my phone, which is typical of high school teachers although it’s a bit annoying. Most girls I knew whose phones were caught were able to slip out their sim card before they handed it in, or had a passcode. I had neither. I was okay with that since I knew I had nothing to hide-or at least I thought I did.
“Leah, is everything alright?” she asked.
“Yeah, everything is good, great, dandy…ummmm am I in trouble? I honestly just forgot to turn it off,” I asked a bit nervous.
“That’s fine, everyone forgets sometimes. But I’m just wondering if there’s anything you want to talk about. If there’s anything going on you can always confide in me.”
Now I was really confused. I don’t have text messaging, and I don’t know any boys….so what was on my phone that was making her talk like this?
“I’m perfectly fine. Nothing is going on.”
“Well, I mean…this guy called you like seven times. I want you to know I won’t share it with anyone, but if you are talking to guys…” she trailed off.
“But I’m not!” I said. “I don’t talk to boys!” I glanced down at my phone that was on her desk under her hand, which its contacts and layout was in my more native language — Hebrew — and saw the name of my caller — my best friend Hallel.
Now for those who don’t live in Israel, there aren’t really nekudos on anything and Hallel is a very rare name, very few people have even heard of such a name. But there’s a popular boys name that uses the same letters in Hebrew — Hillel.
I was staring at my phone until I realized what Mrs Kinesburg was thinking.
“OMG, Mrs. Kinesburg, honestly it’s not a guy. It’s my best friend. Her name is Hallel, it’s a real name, I know you probably haven’t heard of it, but it’s a real name. She’s not in this school cause we went to different high schools but she’s a real girl, cause she has a real girl name…a rare name.” I was stuttering.
Mrs. Kinesburg didn’t look like she believed me in the slightest. I began to sweat. “You have a friend…and her name is Hallel…and this is a girl name you say?”
“I promise! You can call my mom! There’s a real girl named Hallel and I’ve known her forever, she’s a girl, a real girl, and she’s my friend, and she is not a guy, I don’t have guy friends, why would I have guy friends? I have my friend Hallel and she’s my friend and a girl and she has a real girl name,” I stammered.
“Ok I believe you, I would never call your mom to ask,” (Her face didn’t look like she believed me at all) “But if there is any problems, or anything you wish to talk to me about, I am always here for you.”
I nodded my head, took my phone, and got out of there as fast as I could.
I switched out of that school a month later, but I now I look back to this and laugh. The Bais Yaakov system is crazy, tough, depressing, and annoying. But it can be freaking hilarious sometimes.