The Times My Teacher Tried to “Convert” Me to Her Brand of Judaism

This story is from Henna, who is still a practicing Orthodox Jew. I didn’t ask what narrower label she identifies with. Because, you know, who cares. 

I am a Lubavitcher (as is my family) who grew up in a very Litvish community and went to a very Bais Yaakov-y high school. When I was in 12th grade, my mechaneches enthusiastically and frequently had me in her office. I was always an expressive and well-behaved student, so I suppose it was a pleasant soapbox experience for her.

I was planning to go to a Lubavitch seminary, and my mechaneches, who knew she could not dissuade me (although I’m sure she wanted to) instead oh-so-subtly questioned my abilities to live where I did and actually be Lubavitch, which was always hilarious.
Every time she did this I would counter politely by telling her how lucky and blessed I think I am that I’m exposed to so many types of Jews and how balanced I think it makes me B”H etc etc. She always looked at me a little sadly. Like she was losing me.

One day she said, with that sad, sad smile, “Henna, I think about you a lot.” (Here she paused, to let this sink in, and I obediently ducked my head demurely and tried to blush.) “I think about,” she continued, “the fact that you’re going to a different seminary than all of your friends, and how it’s like–you’re going down a different path of life than them. You’re going one way, and they’re going the other.”
I couldn’t believe she was so shallow to think that I make friends based on what minhagim they follow. My best friends are still from high school. Anyway, it always made me laugh.

At the end of the year she decided to impart her wisdom to me: “Henna, I don’t know if you realize how lucky you are that you’re Lubavitch and yet you’re exposed to such a different way of living — you get to see so many forms of Yiddishkeit.” I had literally been trying to tell her this the whole year.

I still don’t understand how I was so disillusioned but maintained that good-girl persona. *clap self on back*

Something that always bugged me, even in high school, was how narrow a definition of acceptable Judaism my teachers believed in. They just couldn’t fathom that there could be more than one Right Way, or that diversity was a good thing. 

The Times My Teacher Tried to “Convert” Me to Her Brand of Judaism

3 thoughts on “The Times My Teacher Tried to “Convert” Me to Her Brand of Judaism

  1. Esther Bernstein says:

    I think the concept of “shivim panim” was useful to some teachers for its metaphorical adaptability but not for its literal application.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. DF3 says:

    Esther said it well. They’re OK with Shiv’im Panim La”Torah about an issue that isn’t controversial, like whether apples with honey on Rosh HaShana is a valid minhag. As soon as an issue has “political” hot buttons attached to it, like example, whether child molestors should be reported to the cops—after all, rabbis/Jewish community leaders never do any internal policing, they go to consult the rov, and his word is the only word. Not surprisingly, the rov’s only word is almost always not to call the cops.


  3. shana says:

    I don’t see how you can make such comments when you don’t know the whole story. You don’t know what the teacher was really concerned about, and why she was trying to dissuade her from a certain choice. maybe she was worried about certain friends who were going with her, or the place where the seminary was. How can anyone assume, without knowing the teacher’s explanation?
    And that line about not calling the cops it is totally untrue, as I can attest from a close relative’s traumatic experience. It was the Rabbanim who urged under all circumstances to go with the law and have the perpetrator arrested.
    Generalizations in general are unhelpful and often dangerous.

    Liked by 1 person

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