Outside on the Inside: Part 3 – The Spying Overture

For part 1 of this series or part 2

One day I got called down to the principal’s office. My principal got straight to the point. “So. What exactly do you and Suri have in common?”

I put on my thinking face, palms sweating, panicking inside. Suri had been a frequent flier to the principal’s office in her first 2 years of high school because of her constant dozing in class and boy issues.  It would not be good to have a lot in common with her. “I would say that it’s not so much what we have in common that keeps us bonded. It’s more that we balance each other out and have the same feelings on the subject of loyalty,” I said thoughtfully.

The principal wrinkled her nose at the smell of this bullshit. “So what do you actually do when you spend time together?”

I put on the thinking face again. “Nothing really. We mostly eat and talk.” This wasn’t too far off, but the subjects of our conversations were not appropriate for principal ears.

The principal’s eyebrows crept together. “Who else hangs out with you?”

“No one,” I blurted out. This was the truth. I mostly heard about people she knew but hardly ever got to meet them.

The principal let out her breath slowly. “Ok. Get back to class.”

It took all of my self-control not to bolt out of there. That would make me look guilty.

“SHIT!” I had just finished telling Suri about my trip to the principal’s office. “We have to lie low.”

“Yeah,” I agreed. “Let’s think of some normal people things to talk about in school. They can’t hear us when we’re walking outside or at your house.”

This was how it went for the next year and a bit, until Suri graduated.

During that time I met her boyfriend. When they had an epic fight and she didn’t leave her room for 3 days, I went to her house with coffee and a bar of chocolate and forced her into the shower like in the movies. When I made out with a guy for the first time, she was the one I called that motzai Shabbos. She was the one who helped me find him again when I felt like making out again.  She was the one who cheered me on as I kicked my principal’s son (a different story). I was the one who got into a shouting match with her about how she should take the SATs. I was the one who paced around my block, full of nerves for her, when she told her parents about her boyfriend.

In later years, I was the one who delicately asked her how she and her boyfriend-turned-fiance intended to live off his meager salary. She was the one who listened to my crying about my first boyfriend when I was 18. She was the one who picked me up again after my second boyfriend.

Still later, she told me that I was right about the SAT. That she felt useless because only her husband made money. That she envied that I was single and childfree. When I called her even later, upset at how fucked up I had become, she reminded me of those blessings.  When her mom died and I worked the night shift and was in school fulltime, I phoned her to apologize for not making the shiva, and she managed a small chuckle when I pointed out that this was a literal shiva call.

I’m not saying that high school was perfect. I’m just saying that sometimes my school had the right idea. She definitely helped me and acted like a big sister.

 

 

Outside on the Inside: Part 3 – The Spying Overture

When Bais Yaakov Prudishness Sabotaged My Seminary Interview

It doesn’t get more ironic than this, I think:

 

The literal translation is “the man knew Chava his wife.” But my teacher had translated it simply as “Adam married Chava.” The following phrase is “and she got pregnant and gave birth to Cain.” I hadn’t questioned the translation my teacher gave us, because it all seemed to make sense – after all, the order of things is marriage and then babies, right?

Rabbi Neustadt clicked his tongue impatiently. “I didn’t ask you to give me the meforshim on the posuk, just tell me the translation of this posuk.”

I just did, I thought. But how do I say that to a rabbi, especially one who’s interviewing me and deciding on whether I belong in his seminary?

https://estherbernstein.wordpress.com/2017/05/01/december-2005/

When Bais Yaakov Prudishness Sabotaged My Seminary Interview

Outside on the Inside: Part 2 – The Rebel Clique

Continuing Ayala’s narrative, which starts in part 1 over here. 

Considering that Suri and I were two previously unconnected weirdoes, the administration was shocked as our friendship lasted beyond the first week of school. We quickly fell in with a group of malcontents from the ninth grade, with a few 11th graders mixed in, who were definitely rebels by any standard. But Suri and I always remained a pair.

We had a lot in common. For one thing, I had been in a coed school before this, and Suri had had a few boyfriends.  I found the other ninth graders’ naivete about boys to be immature, but Suri knew about as much as I did about boy brains. We both were also trying to find some kind of solution to our family problems, while everyone else seemed to be content with constant screaming matches with their parents. In a word, we were more mature and worldly than the other girls.

The only other girl who liked reading was very wary of new people and never trusted anyone all the way. I could talk to her, but there was never the warmth that I felt with Suri. Suri was all heart, a force of nature, able to spin multiple boys, and always able to find the right clothes at the right prices.

But then… the concept of taking the SAT and going to college was foreign to her. School was literally one big nap for her — I would often peek in her classroom window when I “went to the bathroom” and see her out cold — where she recharged for her nights.

Instead of doing homework, she was always babysitting, hanging out and flirting, or chilling at a random person’s house. Sometimes she’d go into Manhattan to meet up with friends.

All of this was completely exotic to me. Sure I was “rebellious” in that I didn’t cave to the pressure to become an aidel maidel, but at heart I was a nerd who loved books and music. I worried about my grades, and so I studied.  My parents were also much more alert than her parents were, so I had a harder time sneaking out to hang out.  I didn’t have people to babysit for.

I was also starting to understand that the boys I had known from my coed school, mostly nice and awkward boys who would treat girls nicely, were nothing like these guys my new “cool” rebellious friends knew. These new guys had problems and did not treat my friends nicely. I wanted a boyfriend who was like me, but I couldn’t find one in my new set of friends, and my optimism was flagging.

Despite all of this, I was definitely Suri’s new best friend. She would laugh and hang with anyone, but I was the one she told her true thoughts to because she knew I could keep my mouth shut.

“What should I tell him?” she would ask, dangling some poorly spelled text message from some loser in front of my face. “Does this shirt hide my stomach? My mom called me fat again.”

Sometimes we would talk about more serious matters. “My father confiscated my phone and I am so scared that some guy is going to call. I want to be able to be open with them, but they would never love me like this.”

Sometimes she would freak out about how people in the rebel clique wouldn’t invite us to all of their “chills” and parties. “They aren’t our true friends.  They just want to be my friend because I know guys. I don’t know what I would do without you.”

Our little group was prone to frequent infighting and power struggles. One girl flirted with another’s boyfriend. One girl stole another’s cigarettes. One girl told another about her makeout session, and then a few people found out. Trust issues were always at the forefront of every fight, and everyone except Suri felt that I was not trustworthy because I didn’t party enough, so they couldn’t accumulate enough dirt on me to counter all of the dirt I had on them. Additionally, I was from a different elementary school, so I was unknown.

They also found my ideas about attacking the status quo to be weird. I was advocating classroom diversions that involved asking tough questions to teachers, to make our classmates think about the disconnect between their desires and what they were being told to do. I was pressing the group to actually explore the non-yeshivish world beyond the inside of some greasy pizza place.

As time wore on, I began to speak out more vocally against the guys they hung out with. I was arguing that if we allowed these guys to be such assholes to us, we were just going to be rewarding them for bad behavior. I argued that we should focus on ourselves first and try to find nice guys somewhere else, but that we first had to stop all of this fighting amongst ourselves or we would have no one to turn to if a guy hurt us.  This branded me as a narc, a sellout, a closet frummy who disapproved of their hanging out with guys.

As this drama reached its peak, Suri also sharply diverged from the group by getting a real boyfriend. When I had first met her, her average relationship lasted about 6 weeks, but that midwinter vacation she met “a great guy.” I had rolled my eyes, since they had all been great guys, but when it hit 6 weeks and they didn’t break up, I started to pay attention. This new boyfriend was a college freshman who was not involved in all of this high school bullshit.

Without ever discussing it, the group decided to kick us out, but we had already left.  This solidified our existence as a unit. The administration watched as we would have hushed conversations that always stopped when they got close, but yet they could never find us with the other bad kids on Avenue J and M or smell pot on us.

Part 3 will be available at this link when it goes up next week. 

Outside on the Inside: Part 2 – The Rebel Clique

Outside on the Inside: Part 1 – The Silver Lining

Ayala reflects on her high school experience as a decided outsider — but not quite a rebel in the mainstream sense. (Is there such a thing as a mainstream rebel? Anyway…) 

It was a scorching bright August day that had me lazing around in bed and wearing sunglasses indoors.  I was 14. High school started in five days. I hadn’t picked Bais Yaakov, but I was going, reluctantly, with no intention of coming out the other end a cookie-cutter Bais Yaakov maidel. The house phone rang (because it was 2008), and the caller ID showed a strange name and number. I picked up.

“Can I speak to Ayala?”

“Who are you?” I asked. “I am Ayala.”

“My name is Suri. I’m in 11th grade. I’m your school big sister.”

This was news to me. “We get big sisters?”

“Yeah.”

I digested this news. If everyone got a big sister, then everyone probably vied for their relatives and friends, and getting a stranger like me was getting one of the undesirables. Suri must not have any relatives or 9th grade friends.

I sighed. “Can I be honest with you? I’m really not that excited to go to this school. I don’t think I’m going to fit here. Don’t take it personally if I don’t seem super-happy at orientation, and please don’t try to change my mind, ok? Let’s just find my locker and textbooks and skip the pep talks.”

There was silence on the other end. I figured that I had scared this annoying peppy person away. Only, now I was starting to get scared that she would tell other people about my outburst. I wiped my palms on my sheets, regretting my poor impulse control.

Wahooo!” Suri cheered. I started, falling off the bed. “I also hate it here. I was afraid you would be an annoying normal person!”

“Oh my God.” My heartbeat returned to its normal rate.  “I feel so relieved!”

“Me too! I felt like how was I really supposed to bond with you if I couldn’t tell you anything about myself?”

The next hour passed by pleasantly as we discovered that we both spoke to boys and felt extremely constricted by our parents and neighbors, but that we both avoided smoking and drugs, so we existed in this weird middle zone between “good girl” and “rebel”. We both liked to look pretty and have adventures, and felt that our peers were too cautious and had no sense of fun.

Sadly, she didn’t know who the Ramones or Weird Al were, and she didn’t like reading much, but no one is perfect. I had an ally. It was no longer just going to be me standing out among everyone at school. Suri might even have friends who were also different!

I leapt out of bed, galvanized, slathered on sunscreen, and sprinted off to the library to stock up on my usual assortment of trashy novels, young adult novels, and non-fiction.

To be continued at this link, when it goes up in a few days. 

Outside on the Inside: Part 1 – The Silver Lining

Jane Austen and You

I’ve noticed that Bais Yaakov students are powerfully attracted to Jane Austen novels, and I’ve always suspected it’s because of the resemblance our lives have to Regency lower-aristocracy; the standards are high, the means are low, the desperation mounting.

Am I right? Why do you like Austen? How does or doesn’t it resemble your life?

What other books should be in the Bais Yaakov genre?

Jane Austen and You

The Time My Mother Called the Rabbi Listed on the School Letterhead

Here’s a funny one from Rose about the need to have the right names listed to garner community approval. 

In sixth grade we had this awful English teacher that we didn’t like. She had us read a book called Wringer by Jerry Spinelli, which was about wringing pigeons’ necks. I read the first chapter and complained to my mother about it. The people in it were pretty awful to each other (as well as the pigeons.)  My mom read the book in one night and said “You are not reading this book for school.”

She decided not to fight this with the low ranks, and went straight to the top. So she called the (big, local) rabbi whose name was on the school letterhead. She read him passages and said that he was on the Halachic board, what did he think?

He said “What school?” She named it. “I’ve never heard of this school. Are you sure I’m on the letterhead?”

She confirmed it was true.

“What’s the number? I’ll say that in this day and age you can’t make a girl read a book that her mother doesn’t approve of.”

The principal was kind of upset. She said they had read passages to a rabbi and he said it was okay. Obviously, that was a different rabbi. Not the (very prestigious) one listed as their Halachic Board.

I got to read a different book “Among the Hidden.” The principal graded it because the teacher refused to have anything to do with my book report.  The principal noted on my report that it was a great book – one of her favorite – and a great book report.

My friend also wanted to read “Among the Hidden” and wanted to have a second book discussion with me. She didn’t succeed. Because her mother didn’t call the rabbi. The teacher made a speech about how you can just move past the icky parts and get over it. So she did.

The Time My Mother Called the Rabbi Listed on the School Letterhead