Story submitted by RC.
I had an interesting childhood.
Through third grade I attended the modern orthodox, co-ed day school in my community.
During third grade my parents had some kind of lightbulb moment and decided that we needed to be in a frummer environment. Mind you, my parents were (and are) wonderful, but at the time not so well versed in the minutiae of each school in the community. I was also the oldest child, so they did all their experimenting on me.
So, for fourth grade they moved me to the smallest, most insular school in the community, which was even more yeshivish than our city’s Bais Yaakov. It was awful.
I was a bit of a weird kid. I was quiet and read during recess and bit my nails and didn’t come from a super frum background and was definitely a little bit “nebby” and may have cried for hours when my goldfish died.
I was blessed with lots of extra tutoring, both inside and outside school. Every Thursday I had to go to my teacher’s house to learn Chumash and practice Rashi. We learned while she made potato kugel. I still associate her with my dislike of potato kugel. I got so mad at my mom one night because she made me go to tutoring when I was supposed to be at home giving out candy to the Halloween trick-or-treaters.
Then there were all the new tznius rules I had to learn. In my previous school, I wore a uniform but my elbows and ankles were not under the direct scrutiny of anyone. Now, elbows and ankles were banned.
Bobby socks? Uummm no.
Jean skirts? I think not.
Attempting to blend in, I became the proud new owner of an entire closet full of clothes from The Tznius Shop. I bought a velvet Shabbos robe. I so desperately wanted to fit in, that I ignored the fact that the feeling of velvet makes me want to scream and I didn’t understand the purpose in a Shabbos robe.
And then to top it off there was Yiddish class. Yiddish class. 16 years later I blame that school for my dislike of Yiddish. Is that unfair and immature? Sure. But the 8 year old still living inside this 24 year old won’t get over it.
So back to Yiddish class. We had a formal class twice a week while our main teacher peppered the rest of our hebrew classes with Yiddish words and phrases. From the very first lesson I remember thinking, “There is no way I’m going to learn Yiddish. Nope. Just not going to happen.”
That was my first time just not trying, or even caring, in school. I worked hard in all my other classes, but there was something about that Yiddish class that made me desperately want to rebel. Maybe it was the only thing I felt I had some control over.
To this day I still don’t know how to count to ten in Yiddish. For years it was a point of pride that I could count to ten in four foreign languages (for the record, Japanese, Hebrew, Spanish, and KiSwahili) but not the dreadful Yiddish.
Fast forward to a few weeks before Pesach. Our Hebrew teacher decided that we all needed to memorize the mah nishtana (four questions) in, you guessed it, Yiddish. I nodded seriously in class, then went home, laughed about it, and promptly threw out the paper and didn’t give it a second thought.
Almost every day for a month she gave us the opportunity to recite it for her. Her dire warning was, “don’t wait until the last minute banos!”
Every day for a month I lied and said I’m not ready yet, can I please have a few more days to practice. My procrastination drove her crazy.
Finally, on the very last day of school before Pesach break, as we were lined up to leave the class, she looks at me and says “so Chaya, it’s time to recite the mah nishtana”.
I look at her blankly.
She tried prompting me.
I gave her the first three words and continued looking at her like an idiot.
In exasperation she asked me, “Did you even practice?” And in my most innocent Bais Yaakov voice I said “Of course I practiced, Mrs. M.”
It was a flat out lie, and I was so proud of myself. Then she tried having me recite it in Hebrew. Of course I couldn’t. Why should I memorize something when I can read it straight from the Haggadah? I’m pretty sure she was shaking and almost crying in rage from my impudence. Such horrific disrespect had probably never happened in her classroom before.
As a last resort, she told me to call her over chol hamoed to say it over the phone. I said sure. I left for break skipping down the hallway and gleefully thinking about how I was going to be in Israel in two days and there’s no way I would be calling her and boy was I happy that I managed to pull that one off.
Story by RC.