The Time We Tried to Celebrate Yom Haatzmaut

This story illustrates one reason I think Modern Orthodox Judaism and Yeshivish Judaism are two very different strains of the same religion. The other being the approach to history and tradition. This story is from Rose. 

It was sixth grade. We got to school a little early and the teacher wasn’t there yet. We decided since it was Yom Haatzmaut that we’d make Israeli flags to wear on our backs. So we went to the office for colored paper and they asked us who our teacher was. So we named our teacher, Mrs. Isaanman.

When Mrs. Isaanman got in, she was angry, because in the office they asked her what project she was doing that required all that blue and white construction paper. She told us that Yom Haatzmaut was not a holiday that we celebrate.

Then she asked us to start davening.

I asked if we were going to say hallel. Steam coming out of her, nose she said ABSOLUTELY NOT.

She also made us take off our flags.

Our second morning teacher came and we asked if we could wear our flags.

She said she doesn’t really understand the entire story but some say that the reason mashiach hasn’t come yet is because there’s a state of Israel, so she’d rather we didn’t wear the flags in her class.

Since she didn’t issue a strong, blanket ban, some of us left them on.

That’s the only time the words Yom Haatzmaut were ever mentioned in my Bais Yaakov elementary school career.

The Time We Tried to Celebrate Yom Haatzmaut

The Time My Teacher Threw a Bentcher in the Garbage

This story submitted by Elana

My seminary teacher was a… fanatic. She once told us that girls dressing up on Purim was like eating pork on Yom Kippur.

One of her admirers… went to her house a lot to help her with all her many kids.

One day our teacher made this student a sandwich before she went back to seminary. After she finished eating, the student took out a bencher from her handbag and started to bentch. The bentcher happened to be from YU and had the YU logo on it.

The teacher looked at the bentcher, grabbed it, and threw it into the trash.

The student looked at her in shock.

“YU is treif!” the teacher exclaimed. “Their memorabilia belongs in the garbage!”

“But mommy,” her daughter protested, “It’s sheimos. How can you throw it in the garbage?”

“I promise you, anything that says the word ‘Torah U’Madah’ on the cover isn’t sheimos. Ask Totty when he comes home, you’ll see that he agrees with me.”

The Time My Teacher Threw a Bentcher in the Garbage

Why Burkas Aren’t Tznius

This one is from Lyl

When it comes to tznius, you just can’t win. Unless you toe the line exactly and wear what your teachers wear. I remember when the story about the burka-ladies in Beit Shemesh  broke. A teacher gave us a whole speech about how wrong they were, and they were actually the antithesis of tznius, because they were just doing it for attention. And, as we all know, anything that draws attention to you is untznius, even if nobody can tell who you are!

Why Burkas Aren’t Tznius

The Time My Principal Told Me To Disobey My Parents

My principal thought we should all go to seminary, and that meant doing all she could to beg and bully seminaries to take her students. Legend has it that, shortly after giving birth, she called a seminary menahel and said, “Mazal tov! I had a boy! Can you give me a baby gift and take Shira for next year?” 
This story  is from Shevach, a student who also had a passionate principal, but one who took things to the wrong extreme. 
I went to very frum bais yaakov type school in Boro Park, Brooklyn in the 90s. I was a pretty good student.
When we were in 12th grade, the principal went around asking the girls what’s our next year plan, which seminaries are we going to. This was before it became the norm for every girl to go. When it came my turn, I simple told her that I’ll be going into the family business, working in the office during the day and taking some relevant classes at night.
My principal was not happy. She launched a personal crusade to convince me that I should go to seminary in Israel. No matter how many times I mentioned that my parents don’t have the money and my parents need my help in the business or that my mother was simply against sending her daughter for the year overseas before getting married, nothing got her off my back.
So I told her to call my parents.
After a lengthy phone call to them, where my father explained to her how we don’t have the money for it, we barely had enough to make ends meet and pay all the bills, she still didn’t back off! The next day she called me into the office and started giving me a whole lecture on how sometimes parents truly don’t know what’s in their child’s best interests and how sometimes kids have to know that you don’t need to listen to all your parents tell you, just like in the Torah it says that if your parents tell you to be mechalel shabbos you should not listen to them, she feels that this situation is the same, that even though my parents were against sending me to Israel for whatever reasons (financing was one and the main….) this time I should not listen to them, and should go against their wishes  go to Israel for a year.
She got a visit from my father the next day. He completely lost it on her. The whole school heard the yelling that he did in the office that day. How dare she tell me not to listen to parents! How dare she compare a year in Israel to being mechalel shabbos!
I never heard a word about seminary again.
The Time My Principal Told Me To Disobey My Parents

The Time We Didn’t Know How To Talk to a Friend’s Fiance

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  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.)

The Time We Didn’t Know How To Talk to a Friend’s Fiance

The Time We Tried to Figure Out Why a Dance Was Treif and Couldn’t

If you live in Israel and want to see a pretty awesome chareidi women-only musical production, you go to the annual Tzir Chemed benefit play in Jerusalem. This year they sold out about 6,000 seats for six showings, and they are hitting Belgium and London with their road show. Because they’re that good. (Full disclosure: my sister-in-law is a director.)

When I was in seminary, my sister-in-law had a small part in their production of “Olivia with a Twist,” so, even though I had never willingly been to a frum play in my life, I went with a bunch of classmates.

I was impressed by many things about the production: their use of the limitations of the stage, the authenticity of their costumes, and, my favorite, the way they spun Fagin as the Carmen Sandiego of London, including some sly references to the old DOS computer game. (Nostalgia!)

Part of the last bit was a dance in which Fagin (in trenchcoat and fedora) leads a shadowy gang of criminals through London. It was a breathtaking, truly professional dance, complete with the requisite Carmen Sandiego silhouette cameo moments.

On the bus home, we reviewed our favorite moments. We kept coming back to the dance, which had impressed us so much. It was not your typical bais Yaakov play dance. It was just a different level of dance. It was beyond anything you’d expect from a frum choreographer.

A few days later, via the gossip grapevine, we heard that the play had come under fire from the chareidi tastemakers – because of that dance.  Immediately, debate raged in our group about what made it objectionable.

“It was just too good,” argued one friend. “Frum productions aren’t that good.”

“It was the music,” someone else suggested. “Maybe it was too dark and heavy.”

We argued for a week. Then, somehow, we wound up in the office of a nearby seminary with some girls I didn’t know watching a bootleg DVD of the dance. We’d watch it once, rewind, and watch again, arguing the entire time about what was wrong with it.

There!” someone shouted, freezing the screen. “Right there! See how she moves her shoulder like that? It’s not tznius.”

We rewound and watched the shoulder-wiggle half a dozen times, trying to see that half-second move condemning the entire play.

“It’s the police siren at the end. Sirens are like, a rap music thing.”

“It’s the glorification of crime. That’s not a frum ideal.”

And finally, after about thirty minutes of rewinding:  “Why are we watching this over and over again if it’s banned? It’s obviously not appropriate. We just have too much timtum halev to realize why.”

Anyway: The choreographer quit the production team in disgust, and the company was saved from being put in cherem.

Fast forward to when I’m in college, and a great secular pop musician dies. The nation mourned. My classmates argue over what his  greatest works were.

“I’ve actually never heard any,” I confessed.

WHAT?”  the horror in the room was palpable. Immediately, laptops went on, YouTube was accessed, and I was sat down in front of the music video for Thriller.

And then I understood.

I understood why the dance had been so polished, and I understood why an American choreographer had slipped it into the production, and I understood why none of us aidel maidels recognized it.

What I didn’t understand was: how were those super-frum Israeli tastemakers so familiar with the works of Michael Jackson?

The Time We Tried to Figure Out Why a Dance Was Treif and Couldn’t

Why I stopped Raising My Hand but My Friend Never Did

I never raised my hand in school. It led to some fairly predictable report card comments. “Bad4 is a wonderful student with a lot to share. Or, we think she does. If she’d participate maybe we could find out.”

It never seemed to occur to them that I didn’t participate because I had nothing to share.

The truth is, I didn’t participate because I long ago decided that the teachers were inadequately prepared for what I had to share.

It started in first grade. I remember it clearly; like all major disillusioning moments, it stands out in sharp relief.

We had gotten our Chumashim and were learning the first pasuk in Bireishis. The teacher asked us why Hashem had started the Torah with creation, instead of jumping to the first mitzvah. She answered herself by saying that it was to tell the world that everything on earth belonged to Hashem, including Eretz Yisroel, which he could give to whomever he chose, and he chose Benei Yisroel.

I saw the hole in that right away. I didn’t want to embarrass the teacher by pointing it out to her, but as she went on and on in that vein, I couldn’t resist. I raised my hand.

“But non-Jews don’t believe in the Torah,” I said. Meaning: obviously, whatever the Torah said wasn’t going to convince them to give us Israel peacefully.

“But we know it is,” the teacher responded.

I wasn’t satisfied. She had said it was to tell the world who Israel belonged to. It didn’t help if only we knew it was true.

But I didn’t have the guts to challenge a teacher twice in one day, so I saved my question for the Shabbos table. My father had a more convincing answer. I think he said that it’s important for Jews to be strengthened in their belief because they have to defend themselves against the world. Or maybe he pointed out that most of the nations fighting over Eretz Israel are Abrahamic religions that accept the Torah. Anyway, I was satisfied.

Incidents like this one weren’t hard to come by. First-grade teachers do not prepare lessons with logical rigor in mind. So before first grade was over, I was disillusioned with the abilities of teachers to answer challenging questions. I knew the answers were out there; my father had them. But the women standing in front of the classroom obviously didn’t.

So I stopped asking them.

Instead, I brought my questions home, where I couldn’t be dismissed until I was satisfied.

I was born with a shortage of faith, I suppose. Devorah never lost her faith in teachers, and she was the biggest asker ever. She once derailed a Navi class for 35 minutes asking about avodas zara. It got really boring for the rest of us. We realized that the teacher didn’t have a good answer, and were ready to move on.

But it never occurred to Devorah that the answers might not exist. So she kept asking. Eventually, the teacher admitted that she didn’t have an answer and could she please just go on with her lesson? We were falling behind the curriculum.

We were always falling behind the curriculum.

Clearly, questions were not factored into lesson plans. So teachers would ask Devorah to come speak to them after class instead. She always did. She would ask and ask until they had to run to their next class. If they made the mistake of suggesting she come back after the next class, she did.

Teachers were also always promising to look things up and get back to Devorah. They hardly ever did. They were busy people, preparing lessons, grading tests, and caring for children. They didn’t have time to answer the difficult questions of a lone student seeking the truth.

Because nobody else seemed to care. We had all decided that the answers either existed or didn’t, and we didn’t particularly care what they were. It didn’t matter, once you had decided. Except for Devorah. She wanted to know the answers, not just believe in them.

Somehow, with all the runaround and lack of answers, Devorah never lost faith that the answers were there – she firmly believed that the teachers simply hadn’t had a chance to look them up.

I spoke to Devorah last week, and she said she was still strongly disappointed by the way teachers “didn’t think it necessary to keep their word.” Ouch.

Devorah’s ability to ask met its match in our 11th grade Mussar teacher’s ability to answer. More about that next week.

Why I stopped Raising My Hand but My Friend Never Did