In the frum community, it is perfectly normal to send your teenage boys to dorm in high school, where they do things like spray their initials on the wall in deodorant and light it on fire. Most people are completely okay with this.
But the idea of sending responsible, 18-year-old girls to spend nine months studying in Israel freaks people out. As a result, seminaries feel obligated to provide a high level of oversight. This, in turn, obligates their students to develop high-level obfuscations for their activities.
What struck me, in seminary, was how widespread “misbehavior” was. Even the aidelest of my fellow students confessed to me that they’ve hitchhiked, eaten in the Central Bus Station motzai Shabbos, given a vaguely truthful excuse for being out past curfew, or otherwise bent and broken rules.
On one trip, I actually got to see it happen.
Our school did not, that year, require cell phones. As such, a few of us didn’t have. But many schools did and do make them mandatory.
During Pesach break, I planned a trip to the Golan with four friends. Three of us did not have cell phones.
“How will I reach you to make sure you’re okay?” the dorm mother asked.
“We’ll be fine,” I sighed in exasperation. I had I had maps and print-outs of everything down to the last detail. Well, except a few details. But you have to leave room for some adventures.
“Well, I’m concerned. How are you planning to get around?”
“There’s a mini-bus service in parts of the Golan,” I informed her. “Also, you can get taxis.” None of these were how we planned to get around, but that didn’t matter.
“Well, I need to be able to reach you in case of an emergency,” she persisted.
“Puah has a cell phone,” my friend interjected. Puah was one of the most aidel girls in the school, and she was the fifth in our party. She had a cell phone, and she would answer it. And she would never do anything untoward. The dorm mother was satisfied.
So there we were, fingers out on the side of the road in the Golan, our second day away from the dorm, and Puah’s phone rings. It’s the dorm mother.
“Oh no, what do I tell her?” Puah panics.
“Not the truth,” we answer.
“Are you girls having a good time?” the dorm mother asked, trying not to sound as invasive as she was obviously being.
“Yes,” Puah chirped. So far, easy.
“Where have you been?”
“Well, the first day we went to Tel Dan, and to the Kibbutz Ayelet Hashachar.”
“Yeah… Bad4 knew someone there. She gave us a whole tour.”
Well, Bad4 knew someone there after that Someone introduced herself at a bus shelter and invited us over to check it out. It had been a fascinating tour and personal account of how an American teen in the 1960s wound up in the Golan on a kibbutz, ending with cookies at the Someone’s house, but it would be a stretch to claim that the Someone wasn’t a total stranger.
“Where did you guys spend the night?”
“Bad4 has cousins in Chispin.”
That much was true. Technically second cousins once removed, but everyone is a cousin in Israel. The cousins had even been so kind as to order Mehadrin pizza all the way from Tiveriah for us. They pitched a tent in the living room for us to sleep in, and left us to babysit their children while they went out for the night. A win-win all around.
“It sounds like you’re having a great time. What’s the plan for today?”
We all exchanged relieved glances. Puah was doing a great job. No fear.
“And how are you girls getting around?”
“We… well, um,” Puah looked agonized. She rolled her eyes desperately at us. We shrugged, palms up. She beseeched the sky and then blurted out, “We take taxis!”
Now we all exchanged astonished glances. Puah, first in line for Most Aidel Girl of the Year award, had lied to the dorm mother to protect us from administrative nosiness. Which meant that… yes. Even Puah thought the administration was wrong.
Puah hung up on a satisfied em bayit and turned to us, ragged. “A taxi is a car that picks you up in one place and drops you off in another, right?” she blurted out. “I mean, it’s practically the same thing! You don’t know the driver! The only difference is whether you pay!”
“Yes,” we reassured her. “It’s the exact same thing. The only difference is whether you pay.”