Monday, July 02, 2007


Holy Hyrax asked me "How, and why did you stay religious Chana?"

This is complicated but I think it is important, and so I will answer.

This is a difficult post for me to write, and I ask of you to please listen when you read it, with your heart.


I don't know how many of you they hurt.

But they hurt me.

They hurt me so much.

And they didn't mean to hurt me, and that is what hurts the most. They meant to help me. They meant to fix me, as though I needed fixing. They aimed to turn me into another of their cookie-cutter girls, another one who fit the mold, another girl who offered up her brain and mind and hopes and dreams to the altar of God, their God, not a God who truly exists. They aimed to create in me a kind of domestic bliss so that I would be happy with my lot, so that all would be well, for my highest goal is to involve myself with something Judaic, whether it be supporting my husband in kollel or teaching as a Chumash teacher or in some way aiding in the common good. That is my task and that is my purpose, and any deviation from that is problematic.

But I had grown up thinking. I had always been curious, always asked questions. My father had encouraged this. My parents did not even teach me the alphabet or how to read; they let me explore, they let me think, they let me figure things out for myself. And so I have always been curious; I have always asked.

But now that was forbidden. There could be no questions; there could be no asking. There was only obedience. I had to obey. And for what? To whom did I owe this obedience? To men I had never met or seen, men with white beards and black hats whom I was informed passed judgment upon me and found me lacking. I was told that they were the ones who were separate from the rest of us, who were content with their lot living in little hovels with no necessities, with lightbulbs, that they were the praiseworthy and that I, for having a cell phone, for having material possessions, ought to feel guilty. That is how they loved to operate, to force us all to embark upon this quest of self-doubt and of questioning, to feel guilty.

But I did not feel guilty. I would not feel guilty for them!

I felt angry. I felt anger at what they were telling me, the idiocy inherent in it, the way they wanted me to accept whatever they said, regardless of how little sense it made, regardless of how pointless or stupid it was. They never had sources, mostly because they themselves were not well-informed. Mere seminary graduates or perhaps women who only knew what their husbands had told them. They could prove nothing to me. They could only tell me. And why should I accept what they said? Because they told me to. Upon the strength of their word. Because I was supposed to trust them. I was supposed to give up my mind to their keeping, to come meekly along like a docile lamb, to act sweet and baa when patted. All this was who I was supposed to be and who I was decidedly not. But what to do? How to act?

I had learned, due to my exposure in an extremely Orthodox camp, what would work. I can explain to you what it is and how it works, but you must remember- you must remember, if you are in this position, what it costs.

1. Always fight fire with fire. You must use examples from the Torah. You must know Tanakh. You must know Tanakh like the back of your hand; you must be quick, fast on your feet, you must know how to retort. You see, they cannot fight the Torah. If you disprove them from the Torah, you are golden. They cannot contradict its laws, its words. And this is what I did. I gave an example below when it came to the "talking donkey." There are so many more examples, so many more times where I could disprove points from Tankah. And then they were stumped, puzzled, these teachers, and they could do nothing and I had won. I could use anything. They would teach tznius and I would cite the pasuk in Devarim, "The clothes upon you did not wear out, nor did your feet swell these forty years" (Devarim 8: 4.) "But teacher," I would say sweetly, "it appears that the Jews did not wear sandals in the desert. There was a miracle that their feet did not swell up. So they didn't wear covered sandals or closed-toe shoes." The insinuation, of course, was that she was claiming our ancestors had not kept the laws of tzniut, which, according to her understanding, would be utterly impossible. The teacher would turn white. She did not know what to do. I had won-I had won.

It did not even matter whether I was right or wrong. Someone had to defend us. Someone had to speak up, to speak out against this idiocy that we were being taught, this definition of rules and opinions according to someone else's opinion; always without sources, always! If she could truly prove me wrong, good! But she never could. Because she knew nothing, and I knew Tanakh, and I could always bring a pasuk to disprove her. And so, eventually, they would not call on me anymore...

2. You must know what it costs.

There was a time when I was angry, so angry at my classmates for allowing me to be attacked, for jumping on me and refusing to defend me, for letting me get hurt in front of them. I hated them; I hated them so much, because I thought they were cowards. I knew they agreed with me- the majority of them. But they were scared and they kept silent and I could not understand and damned them because they let me take it all; they let me bear it. But I understand now, I understand; I even wrote it in a Writing Memo to my teacher in 12th grade.
    The issue of responsibility is close to me for many reasons, but most importantly, because of my old school. I was the fighter there. I was the one who stood up against my teachers, against the other teachers spouting nonsense, the ones who attempted to make me feel ashamed and guilty for weaknesses and sins I did not and would not possess. My classmates didn't help me. Most of them turned on me. This may all sound overly melodramatic, but please bear with me. The fact is, if we were to claim this issue of responsibility is universal, I would have to blame my classmates for not supporting me. It's like blaming Chief Bromden for being 'cagey" in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, blame the men for turning on McMurphy. But you can't do that. I did it. I definitely was angry at them for a long time. It doesn't help anything. And what you have to understand is that we are not all built the same and we're not the same people. Not everyone has the ability to fight. We all pick and choose our battles.

    It's a hard thing to be committed. I didn't think I'd end up here. I had every intention of remaining at my other school. I stuck it out, I fought, I wanted to win and change the system. Except that's not how things work. You can't always change the system. I don't know whether you realize this, but I am an idealist. I am an idealist with a strange twist of realism. And what I realized at my other school was that I couldn't break the whole system as I was right then, and I had to go away. I had to escape, as it were. So I came here. Now, you may say, "Hey, well at least you tried. At least you tried to fight." That's McMurphy's line when he tries to lift the old water-machine. It shocks the men around him into silence. But here's the thing- I wouldn't blame anyone for leaving my former school, even if they didn't try. I wouldn't blame them because I know what they are up against, what the price is, and therefore I cannot think they are shirking their responsibility by saving themselves.

Most of you have no idea what it cost me, what it cost to fight and speak up and to continue like that, to do this every day, all the time. Some of it was enjoyable, sure. At the beginning, it was attention-getting and fun and somewhat amusing. But then it stopped being enjoyable; it became a necessity, something I had to do. Because people would look to me to do it; they would come to me after class and thank me and I knew I had to do it for them because they didn't have the courage or the ability or the parents who would back them. And I did it, but each day it became harder and each day I died a little more.

None of you really know; the only people who know are me and my parents. They had to go through hell for me when they switched me. When I look at them today, do I just see my parents? No...I see the people who took sh-- for me, who went through hell for me, who had to deal with the insinuations and the comments about their parenting, the bastards who dared to judge them without knowing what had happened or what I had been through. The people who gossiped behind their backs, the people who turned their faces when they saw them, the people who said I would never get married because of this. The very influential and important Rabbi from New York who called my father to ask what had become of me and why he was doing this. So much. So much more than you know. I can never say how much.

Forgive me, forgive me, please forgive me for what I did to you. I can't write this without crying; I am so, so sorry for what I put you through. I never meant to; I know you believe me and I know you forgive me and I know you know what happened but I will never, never be able to stop feeling guilty about what I've cost you and what it still costs you. It hurts me; it hurts that people treated you like that and the way they still do treat you- the letters you received, the comments, the looks. It hurts. And I don't know what to do; I want to defend you, I want to help but I caused it and it is my fault and I am so sorry.

So what the hell happened at my school, you ask? So can I ever describe how much? I don't have the words; I cannot give them to you though I would speak for the rest of my was hell, it was hell, it was hell, but how to depict that hell?

Do you know how important it is to respect the people who are supposed to be religious, to see them as good and upright leaders, to feel like they are people you can emulate? Do you know how important that is? But I couldn't respect them, none of them, except perhaps the one woman who allowed me to think and who loved me for it, my Chumash teacher in eleventh grade. But the rest of them? The rest of them who tried to change it, who tried to f-ing destroy me in order to create this cookie-cutter perfect Stepford Wife, can I ever forgive them? Can I ever see them outside of the manipulative thing they did, the way they played with the minds of the students who trusted them, the way they lied, the hypocrites they were? They saw themselves as upholders of the Torah but they stomped on it with every breath they took; they trod on it and beat it into the ground with every lie they told, with the way they misled us and hurt us and tried to make us feel guilty.

They would lecture us, always, all the time, so that everything that was natural or normal became a sin- everything that is good became false, everything became what it should not have been. I did not talk to boys in that school; I was "good," I never broke the rules, but there were others who did. And these girls were damned and hurt and penalized for it; apparently it is "bittul Torah" to steal the time from a boy; these girls wouldn't receive certain honors because they would dare to talk to a boy outside of school. They encouraged snitching and tattletaling; people would call to say they had seen a girl eating pizza with a guy and she would be talked to and informed of her horrible crime...they would confiscate girls' cell phones and go through them to see if they had boys' names in them. So of course everyone would lie; everyone would simply make the boys' names feminine; there was a code, a new way of behaving in order to get away with this. But this is the least of it...

I did not think the way they wanted me to think and so I was at fault- I was told that I had "internal struggles with hashkafa" because I did not conform to the Agudah philosophy. And then the teacher dared to ask me whether I had "problems at home," whether my parents were perhaps convincing me to act this way. She informed me very sweetly that she had once been a member of the Mizrachi party but she had changed, somehow thinking that I would trust her, unburden myself to her, oh, damned liars, how they would think I would trust them! And trust them with what? I had not sinned; I simply had a mind, but that was the sin, that was the crime; I could think and I was not supposed to be able to think...

I ran circles round their heads; they could never outhink me or outrun me- I always had a pasuk, a verse to defend myself, a new idea or a story from Tanakh so they couldn't counter me- I won, but it was not a pleasurable winning, after a time. I could not, could not hear their words of mussar; these words that told me I was low and dirty and that I could not compare to even the pinky of the great gadol hador; I could not hear them and so I would escape; I would ditch the speeches because I could not stand to listen. All that I saw or heard was disgusting.

And then there were the lies, the absolute lies and manipulations to protect the teachers. The teacher was always right; the student was wrong. There is a technique described in The Fountainhead of how to break a man's spirit- "enshrine mediocrity." Assume that you are good at something, that it is not debatable that you are good at it; you are excellent at math. Every teacher before now understands you are good at math; every teacher afterwards understands you are good at math; your f-ing SATS show that you are good at math, but this teacher decides you do not know math. He is afraid of you, you see, threatened by your knowledge and so he makes your life a living hell; he puts the ones who know nothing on a pedestal and spends every class beating you down, unpredictable, and you wonder how you can show him, how you can just prove to him that you are good at math. But he does not operate in a logical manner; he is irrational and reason has no place. There is no way to prove anything and there are no marks; how can you prove that he is hurting you? How can you prove the things he says, the way he looks at you, the way his attitude cuts into your soul? You have no marks; you have no scars but you find yourself wishing that you did; you wish that he would have cut you, you wish that he would hurt you, punch you, just once, just so you can prove it.

But you cannot prove it. You are powerless; you are a mere student, you can do nothing. And the entire administration will protect this teacher; the entire administration will rise up against you and doctor information and lie in order to protect him, the entire Jewish administration will do this and think nothing of it; they do not think it is a sin or wrong; they think it is only the truth. They think it is their right. You can prove nothing, you can do nothing, but you are right and that is what remains to you; you are innocent and they cannot take that away from you. You have done nothing wrong. But you need to be constantly reminded because every day, every single day, they try to make you feel guilty, they try to hurt you, they try to scare you into feeling like you are the one who is wrong and sometimes they succeed, sometimes you walk around thinking that you are insane and the rest of the world is right. Sometimes you hate yourself so're falling and there is no one to catch you, no one to protect you. It is your fault, they say, and you doubt yourself and wonder whether it is but no, no, it isn't, it isn't, so whose fault is it, what can I do?

"As a child, every human being passes through a state of powerlessness, and truth is one of the strongest weapons of those who have no power." (Escape from Freedom, 275)

You have the truth on your side but only that and no one believes you because you are a child, a minor, and you can't prove it. So you are hurt on all sides, hurt from the religious angles and other angles and you are sick, so sick and disgusted by the way they treat you, the way they think of themselves as righteous people when all they do is hurt and ruin you. They are killing people's souls but they don't see it- they are breaking people but they don't care.

You think you're going to die; you're so unhappy and you come home and you are there and all you can do is cry and shout and scream because you are right but no one believes you; they prefer instead to lie and misdirect and mislead, to claim that you are wrong, to claim that you are the one at fault, you are the one to blame.

So what kept me religious? Oh, what kept me religious!

There were my parents, who saw and were disgusted, appalled, who tried to work within the system, as I had, who did everything through the proper channels and finally pulled me out and put me into North Shore. And that, let me tell you, is not as easy as it seems. I make it sound like a walk in the park but it wasn't one. Can you imagine what it was like for a girl who wore the uniform of plaid skirts and button-down shirts, who went to a single-sex Orthodox Jewish school, who never spoke or interacted with boys to suddenly switch to a coed non-Jewish private school with no dress code? You cannot imagine- you have no idea. I went there for my interview and I was trembling because this was my last chance, my last hope, and I told myself that I had better like this school because this is where I was going because I couldn't stay in the other one another minute.

And so I switched- in the second trimester. Do you understand? I had missed an entire trimester of school and I switched- into this entirely unfamiliar atmosphere- and it was going to be either sink or swim and I swam. I swam because of my parents and because of my strength of will but it was not easy and I don't know where the strength came from.

So what kept me religious, you ask? After I had seen all this hypocrisy, these horrible people and their horrible system, after they had tried to break me, tried to crush me, had lied in order to keep me under control? I had no role models; they had all shattered before my eyes. Every one of them was a liar; every one of them was a hypocrite. They were all bastards as far as I was concerned and could all burn in what kept me religious?

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik kept me religious.

You don't believe me? I'm not surprised. I had to find an answer somewhere and I knew it wasn't in the religiosity I had seen; I did not believe in that God, that God who terrorized me and was out to get me, who believed me to be guilt-ridden and a sinner. I knew it had to be in the religiosity my parents practiced, and whether it was my father or my friend who first suggested it, I don't know, but in the middle of everything I was going through, I discovered the Rav.

You can't imagine what it felt like to read these words:
    The emotion of fear, the sense of lowliness, the melancholy so typical of homo religious, self-negation, constant self-appraisal, the consciousness of sin, self-lacerating torments, etc, etc constituted the primary features of the movement’s spiritual profile in its early years….The halakhic men of Brisk and Volozhin sensed that this whole mood posed a profound contradiction to the Halakha and would undermine its very foundations. Halakhic man fears nothing. For he swims in the sea of the Talmud, that life-giving sea to all the living. If a person has sinned, then the Halakhah of repentance will come to his aid. One must not waste time on spiritual self-appraisal, on probing introspections, and on the picking away at the “sense” of sin. Such a psychic analysis brings man neither to fear nor to love of God nor, most fundamental of all, to the knowledge and cognition of the Torah. (Halakhic Man, 74-75)

My God- it was like he knew me. He validated everything I felt; he said I was okay, I was good, as I had always thought. I wasn't a sinner...I wasn't bad. This mussar, all this mussar they had given me; the bile they had poured down my throat and made me swallow- it was wrong, it was wrong! This sense of lowliness is not helpful, no, Rabbi Soloveitchik believed in self-creation, in teshuvah, had one sinned, as a way of recreating oneself rather than hurting oneself and beating oneself up. But he didn't think I had sinned at all, not the way he wrote; he knew me and he approved of me and he thought I was good- and what he wrote made sense. I finally had a figure to look up to and who I could respect, someone who I could understand, someone sensible, someone logical. This was a man who was so positive, whose words were so kind and affirmative, who always saw the angle where we could build, whether it be "recreating the destroyed worlds" or understanding what it felt like to be lonely in the midst of a crowd and how the act of recognition immediately uplifts a person- this was a man I could respect, could love, a man who thought as I did, a man who understood the power of the individual and individuality, a man who understood people and whose very words indicated that. I could feel his good will in what he wrote and it touched me and warmed me and helped me.

I read him while I was at school; I swear it was the only thing that kept me sane. I would come home and could hardly stop myself from being so angry, so upset by what my teachers were doing, how they would beat down the students to stop them from questioning, and I would throw myself into the books; I read Lonely Man of Faith, Halakhic Man and I had to do a project on "gedolim" in eleventh grade. Of course, Rabbi Soloveitchik wasn't on that list but this was a teacher with whom I had a somewhat decent relationship (although we certainly didn't agree on everything) so he let me do the report on the Rav. I read The World of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and was so fascinated I finished the report over Sukkos even though it wasn't due until Pesach- I handed it in way at the beginning of the year.

I knew the Rav and he knew me and he comforted me because he showed me a completely different way of being, just as strong a way and just as profoundly religious, but so much more positive, so helpful, so uplifting, a way to be creative and assertive and strong as an individual, not to beat oneself into the dust. I loved him; I still love him; I really love this man I never met because he helped me so much, and he helped me do what was most important- separate what I saw from the religion itself.

Do you know how difficult that is? I have a friend; she was once told, "You can't judge Judaism by the Jews." But what else can you judge it by? The Torah itself explains "kedoshim t'hiyu," you must be holy. We are to be a light onto the nations; we are supposed to demonstrate religiosity- the Rav writes that the only way any one sect of Judaism will rise above the other is when the leaders of that sect are moral, pious and truly knowledgeable- in the widest sense of the word. That is how we judge- we must have role models and people we respect. And I had none...I had my father and mother, my parents, but where were the others, where was this religiosity of theirs? Everyone I had seen at my high school practiced a disgusting, perverted version of Judaism, a religion based entirely on fear, subservience and obedience, a religion that forbade me the ability to think or question, a religion rooted entirely in the opinions of those I knew nothing, who lied and who hurt me and so many others in the name of their God...

So I turned to texts. I have always relied on texts and texts were my guide; I enrolled in TI and took Modern Jewish Philosophy. The class opened my eyes to so many ideas I was unaware of and that so many are still unaware of- Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch writes, for instance
    "Hence the Jew will not frown upon any art, any science, any culture provided only that it is found to be true and edifying, and really to promote the welfare of mankind. He has to taste everything by the unimpeachable touchstone of his divine law; whatever does not stand this test for him does not exist. But the more firmly he takes his stand on the rock of his Judaism, the more fully he is penetrated with the consciousness of his own Judaism, the more ready will he be to accept and gratefully appropriate whatever is true and good in other sources according to Jewish standards; in whatever mind it originated, from whose-ever mouth it issued, he will always be ready, as the Sages say "l'kabel ha'amet m'mi she'amarah" to receive the truth from him who spoke it. Nowhere will he ever sacrifice a single thread of his Judaism or trim his Judaism to the needs of the time. Wherever the age offers him anything consistent with his Judaism he will willingly adopt it. He will in every period regard it as his duty to pay due appreciation to the age and its conditions from the standpoint of his Judaism, and to make use of the new means provided by any period he may be able to make the old Jewish spirit expand in new beauty and may perform his duty to it with ever-renewed vigour and loyalty." (From "Judaism up to Date," page 223)

and that was me. That was me; I have always been fascinated by so much that is secular but it only aids and enhances my Judaism and I was taught that what was secular was bad; I had to fight these teachers who had never even read or viewed the magazines or shows they said were bad; there was no logic- no respect for reason, for the intellect, none whatsoever! Only opinion, only respect for idiocy, for stupidity...there was so much I learned.

But I was still disgusted. I was so disgusted by Judaism and by Jews that I couldn't associate with any of it. I went to North Shore and threw myself into my secular studies and I took my courses at TI, but anything overtly Jewish- to study Chumash, Navi- any of that- on my own; I wouldn't, I couldn't do it. I did not open a Chumash for two years- I couldn't. I opened it to learn with my tutor or prepare for her, perhaps to write, but simply for the sake and joy of learning- I kept my distance, I kept away from everything Jewish; it was too close and the association was too negative- I couldn't touch it. I couldn't come near to it; it sickened me so much. Everything Jewish for me was tinged with ugliness.

What happened?

They healed me.

Yes, at North Shore, at my non-Jewish coed non-sectarian independant private highschool, they healed me.

I was more a Jew at North Shore than anywhere ever before- because I chose to be a Jew. No one would ever know what I did or didn't do, no one would know if I ate that chocolate chip cookie- and I wanted to! because everyone else was. No one would know but me, and I didn't have to tell anyone; no one would tell on me. I could do anything I wanted, anything at all, whatever the hell I pleased, and nobody would care or know except me and God. And so every day was my choice. Every action was mine, every decision was mine; it was now that I would find out whether I still wanted to be religious.

And I did.

I was the Orthodox Jew at North Shore; I had a status equal to that of a Rabbi. Whenever there were questions, I was the one they would come to to resolve the debate. And so I was in many very tricky situations, times when I had to answer truthfully but still give over that Judaism is a meaningful, vibrant religion- as I believe it is, true Judaism, not what I was taught, not what was given over to me. And I did this. In my every action, my every attitude, I strove to show how I was similar and yet different from them and I won their respect and that is what mattered. I even made friends there- I was so, so happy.

I could make a divide between what I had been taught and what was true. I decided that it was not Judaism that was flawed; it was those particular people, those horrible, abusive, lying hypocritical people. Their Judaism, the ugliness they practiced for a religion was flawed- not the religion itself. It was they who had been cruel and hurt me because they were misguided; they who were at fault, but not Judaism, because I believed in Judaism and still do and I believed in the Judaism that Rabbi Soloveitchik described, that "romance with the Creator," that ability to be a creator, to be uplifted and holy.

But even when I intellectually understood this, I could not emotionally respond- all things Jewish still disgusted me and I could not come near to them.

So they healed me at North Shore. They healed me every day, those teachers, teachers who shone with love and warmth and who gave of themselves, who respected and praised me and who were kind. These were people who respected my ability to think and was pleased when I disagreed with them or proved them wrong, who loved to learn. They loved me- that is the truest way of putting it. They gave me all of themselves; they gave me what I needed to trust them and to trust myself and to finally be.

And I loved them. I still do- how can I ever repay them? How can I ever thank them for what they did, the love they showed me, how I learned from them? For I didn't only learn the material they taught but how to teach; I understood what was wrong and what was flawed; I finally grasped what had happened at my former school- I understood. So much good will and positivity was showered on me that I glowed with it and everyone who saw me understood that I was happy, so happy to be there.

And then it came to choosing a college and I swore to my father I would never, never go to Yeshiva University. I remember that conversation; we were in front of the computer downstairs and I was angry because I had learned never to trust a Jewish school, not my elementary school or my high school and I was certainly not going to go there for college. He had tears in his eyes; his voice broke because he saw what they had done to me, how they had hurt me, the ugliness that was in my voice when I spoke about the school, how I immediately dismissed it and assumed it would be the same as all the others.

They left it up to me.

My interview at YU was ugly- it was an interrogation, not an interview. They were suspicious of me, this girl who had attended a non-Jewish school and did not appear appropriately contrite for having done so. They were not kind. And I left the school and swore that I wouldn't, wouldn't go there because they were the same as all the others and I would hate them, too.

But I went there.

Why did I go there?

Because I really do love Judaism; I do, I love its color and vibrancy and its texts, the ability there is to learn and grow and to question. In true Judaism all that applies- it is only in a false, twisted version that people get so hurt, are exposed to these horrible people- and I craved that true Judaism, this interaction with people I could respect and who would be similar to me. I was scared, you have no idea how scared, to go there, and I wept my heart out when I chose it over UChicago but I went and you see how it has been and how I am happy.

But I understand you- all of you- who have been hurt by this religion and by the people who are its supposed leaders. I understand you who have been treated miserably, who have been attacked or punched down or lied to, who have been manipulated and treated shabbily, who have been betrayed by the people you were supposed to respect. I understand the emotional abuse you endured, the verbal abuse, the sick way in which they tried to use you; I understand the disgust you feel. I understand all of this and that is why I do not, cannot judge you, because I was you- I was exactly like you- so disgusted, so appalled, so hurt and angry by what happened to me.

And I understand your decision, those of you who leave after this, who go "off the derech," even those of you who claim that your reasons were intellectual. The majority of the time, you had a negative experience with the religion that led you to look for the intellectual basis- I am not judging you; I simply know it to be true. You think I didn't look? I looked...I understand you and I am so sorry for what happened to you; I apologize to you from the bottom of my heart for the way you were treated and the way you were hurt. I could kill these people who hurt you, just as you could. But it is not the killing that will teach them- you know that as well as I do. They are misguided; they believe they are right- the most dangerous people are the ones who believe they are right. So we must show them they are wrong, all of us, by living the example we want them to emulate, by being all they were not. You will do it your way, irreligiously and happy, I hope happy, I so want you to be happy- and I will do it mine. But we want the same thing, me and you. I was you. I am you at times- you think this is gone? This hatred? This disgust? No, it is not gone; it surfaces at times- there are times where I cannot think; I am so sick with fury and anger at the way they destroy people. I have met them, these people who were so hurt by them, and I see how they have been hurt. I have also met the others, the ones who went through the system and were brainwashed and come out of there holding the whip out to their captors, begging them to whip them. I see this and I am sickened and I know it is wrong and we must fix it- we must change it- and we will because this is too horrible to allow to happen again.

For all of you who were hurt or perhaps those of you who are being hurt where you are now- I am sorry and I will help you if I can. If you need someone to talk to or just someone to tell you you aren't crazy, you aren't alone, you can always write to me- I believe you, I understand you, I know what you are going through- I know what it is like, how they play with your mind and how you feel like you are at fault when you have done nothing. I believe you, do you hear me? I believe you.

We will change this, all of us. We will change it by being what they were not, by being giving and by not being scared, by allowing the questions and being willing to listen. Just this, even this, small as it may seem, is so much...

I accept you as you are; I don't give a damn whether or not you're religious. I accept you as a person who was hurt and who did what he thought best to get himself out of a situation where you were being hurt. There are too many of us; there are too many people I have met who have had this happen to them and we need, we need to stop it.

I am so sorry. I apologize for them all, on behalf of the people who do not know they need to apologize because they have no concept of what they have done.

I love you.

And I hope you're okay.

Because I am lucky enough to be okay, or somewhat okay-
and that is what I want for you.


Ezzie said...

You're right, this *is* the most important post you've ever written.

Anonymous said...

Chana,you are more than OK.
You know who you are.The bastards you had for your teachers @Templars hide behind the numerous lies,but the lies will catch up with them sooner or later.....That's a given!!!

Great post!

Anonymous said...

Chana, I have a lot of respect for you.

I have been wondering for a while if you would ever write this post. It's very powerful and must have taken bravery to write.

Jewish Atheist said...

Wow. May you leave your mark on Judaism. The world will be a better place if you can bring about some change. And you will undoubtedly do so just by staying and confidently being yourself, trite as it sounds.

I will state for the record, though, that I loved my high school, that my rabbis and teachers were, with a few exceptions, good people whom I liked and respected. I honestly didn't leave because I was hurt -- I was hurt only when I was already leaving, and then I was hurt because my peers couldn't understand and didn't want to know. But even then I wasn't hurt like you were hurt.

I think, looking back, that Judaism just never spoke to me. I read secular novels and I saw truth. I read Stephen Hawking and I saw truth. I read the Torah and saw only stories from thousands of years ago, containing truths yes, but it was not truth in the way that I was told it was truth. I looked around the world and saw that what was good was not always halakhic and what was halakhic was not always good.

Anonymous said...

Chana... With all due respect, I think this post demonstrates why your blog can be so frustrating. Far be it from me to deny the pain you endured- believe me, I know how deeply teachers can hurt.

But you don't always have to be right. You don't have to "fight fire with fire." Your teachers did not always have to be wrong when you clashed with them. I honestly see nothing beautiful or satisfying about arguing needlessly with authority. What did you gain from it?

There are many things in our world that are confusing or galling. Many 'fundamentalist' beliefs/minhagim that we find absurd or insulting. But I've come to think that it isn't really worthwhile to worry about what others choose to do, even if it is right in front of you. At the end of the day, you chose to think, and to be the person you are- that is all you can do. No amount of arguing the merits of sandals is going to change their opinion of the subject or of you. The only thing I see it causing, for the most part, is hostility, anger and vindictiveness.

I know that you are not a passive person, and this attitude would not come easily to you. But it may be worthwhile to consider why you always felt so affronted by these teacher's statements.

Respectfully remaining anonymous.

Holy Hyrax said...


Its not like these teachers are passivly telling these students their opinions and that they can go check out sources for themselves, they are teaching that THIS is Judaism. Its tyranny, and you gotta fight tyranny. Perhaps even some of these teachers can be taught something. You never know.

talmudita said...


This is amazing and important and so so good and sweet. I respect you so much for leaving, for coming back, for healing, for telling other people about your story.

May we all benefit from your courage and strength. May our fire be mixed with water and earth and air, and may we be microcosms of shalom.

Anonymous said...

Let me commence by stating that I have been a fan of this blog since day one. You have allowed us readers a window into the intricate mind of a young teenage Jewess. While I agree that the current Bait Yaakov system molds its students in a certain way, there still might be some rationale for the school’s system.

Please contemplate this: Would you want your children to continue in the Jewish faith? Suppose one would want to become a Christian. Or a Buddhist. Or a Muslim. Suppose they tell you that Judaism is stifling them? Wouldn’t you want to guide them in what you believe is the true path in life? If your child would want to move to Bnei Brak and learn forever would you try to persuade him not to?

Obviously, every person believes that their system is the best. Your teachers at Templars are no different in this regard. So you were able to show them up in your knowledge of Tanakh? That is an unfortunate fallout of their upbringing that has focused more on child rearing and mothering than book knowledge.

Every child should be allowed to dream and find their niche in life, but as parents we try to guide them in our time-tested path that we have trodden and believe is the truth. Would you allow your child to run into the street to retrieve a ball? Of course you realize that you can’t just let children figure it all out for themselves.

As for the shoe example in the desert, I think that tzeniyut depends on a person’s culture. The Modern Orthodox Jew of Teaneck would not be affected by the same level of dress that would offend the Meah Shearim Jew. In the ancient Arabian culture, shoeless was the norm, and we can not bring “proofs” from bare feet of that era to today.

In any event, keep up the great blogging, as you have made many of us think - which is what life is all about. I hope that my post will make you think and reconsider some of the harshness you have from your former school.

Chana said...

"Would you want your children to continue in the Jewish faith? Suppose one would want to become a Christian. Or a Buddhist. Or a Muslim. Suppose they tell you that Judaism is stifling them? Wouldn’t you want to guide them in what you believe is the true path in life?"

Not if it hurt him this much.

More importantly, this was not "guiding." This was forcing. This was forcing untempered by compassion or by love, merely attempting to mold me into something I was not.

Would I like my child to become Christian/ Buddhist, whatever it may be? No, not if I believed Judaism were true. Would I love him any less? No. Would I struggle to force him to accept my Judaism? Absolutely not.

People must treat others with respect. They must respect different paths within one religion. They must respect their ability to think and to feel. This is what I needed at my school- a bare modicum of respect. For someone to look at me and think I was okay, not force me to be as they wished to "save" me.

More importantly, the moment a Rabbi lies to a student and her parents in order to save a member of his administration who has done something cruel and wrong is the moment he loses my respect. The moment they choose to doctor information and manipulate facts in order to smear me and discredit me is the moment that all goodness is gone. There is no good intent there on my behalf; there is only the desire to save their own reputation.

As for anonymous 12: 48,

You seem to be advocating for sitting quietly by while teachers attempt to force ideas down our throats, saying that this is the one true Judaism and anything that differs is wrong.

Perhaps you can explain how that is healthy. I can't conceive of how you could think it is.

jewish philosopher said...

Channah, my understanding is that for several years you had a difficult time in school because your teachers were more strictly religious than you are.

I hope you will not be insulted, however you are probably going to have to cope with problems in life a little more painful than that. I wish that was my biggest problem.

Chana said...

Jewish Philosopher,

Learn to spell my name.

And before you dare to judge me or inform me that I'll need to cope with problems "bigger" this one, I would like to see how you would have handled it.

The betting is that you, and the vast majority of people, would have broken into pieces.

I hope you don't go to abused children and tell them "sweetie, grow up. You'll cope with problems bigger than the fact that Mommy betrayed you, hurt you, derided you and yelled at you all the time. I wish that was my biggest problem."

Because that's exactly what you've just told me.

The Hedyot said...

Chana, very powerful and eloquent post. It speaks to me very much, although I have to admit, I wasn't blessed with your strong convictions which were backed by the considerable knowledge you had acquired, and the strong support of your parents. I didn't stand up and fight against all the twisted distortions like you did. I was actually probably one of those timid bystanders who was secretly cheering you on, but due to my insecurities, publicly sided against you in order to maintain my frum street cred. I'm sorry for that. I was weak and spineless, and, in some ways, as much an asshole as the individuals in charge. But I recognize the hypocrisies which you speak of, the forced conformity, the demand to acquiesce to those greater and more knowledgeable than we could ever hope to be, the inner torment of being told that who we are at heart is something fundamentally wrong, at odds with how God wants us to be. Good for you that you managed to retain the positive aspects of Judaism and filter out the undesirable detritus that has been tacked on to it over the years. Maybe one day I'll be able to do that. For now though, Judaism is mostly irrelevant and meaningless to me, and I'm glad that I've been able to pretty much put it behind me.

Anonymous said...


I know how these teachers teach. I know that they can be rigid and intractable and utterly against accepting ideas that deviate from their own. But that is not tyranny. Difficult though it may be to endure, at the end of the day, you can go home and do, say, wear and think whatever you please. Arguing with these teachers in order to prove them wrong is pointless- they will never conceed that, especially if they see the argument as intentionally disrespectful. Which really they are almost certain to do no matter how you approach it, as they don't want you questioning in the first place.

Chana, l'kol zman v'ais. I don't mean that you should *only* sit quietly. A classroom setting obviously allows for give and take between students and teacher. But I see no point in fighting a lost battle. Bottom line: it is almost certain that they will never agree with you, for a whole host of reasons. Make your points respectfully and let it go.

As for health, I see this as healthy on a number of levels. First, one must learn to accept in life that others have opinions they oppose. It is an iron-clad rule of life. Secondly, one learns the limits of their sphere of control. On the most essential level, you can only change yourself, and you can certainly NEVER change those who do not wish do be changed. Finally, one has to come to terms with the fact that they may not know everything, and may not be on the correct side of every argument. Even the ideas most appaling to you may have glimmers of wisdom within them.

Chana said...

"But I see no point in fighting a lost battle."

This is the difference between you and me.

I was not fighting this battle for the teachers, to change the teachers. I was initially, but I soon learned it was pointless. I was fighting this battle for myself, to preserve my own sanity. And I was fighting it for my classmates, who needed me to and were unable to do it on their own.

It didn't matter whether the teacher conceded the point. It mattered that someone stood up to them, that someone opposed them- it mattered because the other kids in the class saw and realized there was more than one point of view.

It mattered for everyone else in that classroom.

There are girls in that class who I know I helped- because they told me. And I helped them just by protesting, for fighting for us. The teacher is irrelevant. My classmates are the important ones.

Anonymous said...

Fine. But why did it have to get so big? Why was it a constant battle you had to fight?

Make your points respectfully, and let it go.

Chana said...

"Why was it a constant battle you had to fight?"

Because it was constant, consistent and insidious, a constant pressure that weighed down upon you and hurt you. Because people were confused and helpless and looked at me as though I had the answers. Because it was expected of me that I would help, do something to show that the idiocy and nonsense she was teaching was wrong.

And because I can't see people get hurt in front of me. I don't work like that.

There was a class where my Pirkei Avos teacher decided to give over the idea that if someone exhibits "un-Jewish" traits of lack of kindness/ bashfulness then they have non-Jewish blood in them. She continued on to bash all non-Jews and gentiles.

She did this in the presence of my friend, who has non-Jewish relatives.

So you tell me to be respectful? How does one respectfully argue against complete tactlessness, insensitivity and idiocy? How does one respectfully point out the teacher is an idiot? You think I didn't try being respectful? Of course I did! At first, I was nothing but sweetness and light. The teachers did not care; they continued on in the same vein.

There was a class where I mocked the Mishlei teacher to her face and she didn't realize, where she was asking us to name bad things and evil influences and I looked up at her with shining eyes and sarcastically told her, "17 Magazine! Movies! Books! Harry Potter!" The whole class started laughing...and you see, that was one for us, one for the whole class. We needed that. They needed that. We needed these moments where we just broke down and laughed because of the stupidity and idiocy of it all.

I tried respectfully explaining to her that reading 17 Magazine is not a sin. She gave me her pitying look and ignored me, then eventually when I spoke up too much, just didn't call on me. So I had to go about it differently. I decided to do whatever I could so we would win.

This is the woman who actually put a question on a test asking us to confess our sins to her. This is the woman who actually held a class where people were supposed to tell her what was "hard" for them, reveal their inner selves, where people were completely uncomfortable and didn't want to say anything but were bullied into saying things.

And against this I should be respectful, then let it go?

You do not let these things go. You do not let injustice and respect for human decency and privacy go. You do not let people get hurt right in front of you and keep quiet. You fight these things, and it doesn't matter whether you lose, because the point is that they at least see that you're fighting- it's that that helps them.

It helps to know that someone can get one over the teacher, that someone can mess with her just like she's trying to mess with us. It helps because it gives them all a little of their dignity back.

And that is why I did not "let it go."

Anonymous said...


Getting back to the example I provided of a toddler running into the street, you wouldn't calmly respond with some words of wisdom. You would plant a good whack on the backside because the child is too young to understand the nature of his/her's actions.

Let's move on to the teenage years. What would you do if your son/daughter opted to inhale crack, lsd or the like. What if that same child responded that you don't love them and you are stifling them by not allowing them to achieve a "high".

The fact of the matter is, that parents and educators will advise and create curriculum based on their life's experiences. If you couldn't fit the Templar's idea of what a student should be, then by all means go somewhere else. But for those who fit into the system, I don't see any vindictiveness in them teaching what they learned from their mentors.

Chana said...

"Getting back to the example I provided of a toddler running into the street, you wouldn't calmly respond with some words of wisdom. You would plant a good whack on the backside because the child is too young to understand the nature of his/her's actions."

My parents never did that. They would have responded with words of wisdom, words and being sent to the corner, perhaps. Your entire example is wrong, as far as I'm concerned. And a toddler is absolutely old enough to understand a conversation or a parent telling him "No."

In your example regarding drugs, the kid is hurting themselves physically. There was no such thing taking place in my school; one does not get to pass judgement that I am "hurting myself spiritually" just because they don't like my viewpoint. I reject this example as well.

More importantly, there is a reason when/ why kids take drugs. They're fooling around, experimenting or they are truly, deeply unhappy and they take the drugs to fill that void. Perhaps they are correct in saying the parents do not love them- but they are taking the drugs, possibly, because of that, not vice versa.

What you don't know about Templars is that they are misleading. Nobody who attends that school (or the small minority) "fits the system." The school advertises itself as being one way; once you're in their clutches you find out it's completely different than you expected it to be.

More importantly, it was not just the religious fundamentalism that bothered me. There is the more important issue of verbally abusive, horrible teachers who are awful regardless of whether or not I agree with their religious ideas.

Anonymous said...


Since you don't accept my examples, let me rephrase. What would you do if your son/daughter has the perfect parents, but nevertheless feels the need to behave in a way which is severely detrimental to their health?

I am wondering how you find so much time to blog. Don't you have classes and schoolwork?

Chana said...

Severely detrimental to their physical health- of course help them, take them to the appropriate third party/ doctor. Seriously detrimental to their emotional/ spiritual health is very different. We'd have to determine who gets to make that call.

And I write fast, despite my classes/ work. :-)

jewish philosopher said...

Channah, has anyone ever suggested your rudeness may be part of your problem? Just a thought.

Anonymous said...


So let's put this all together now. It seems that you agree that a child/teenager does not always have all the answers. A druggard(tm) feels that the fix of today is important and does not care about what it will do to his body. A young child will run into traffic after his ball and does not consider the possible results of this action.

I think that parents have a two-fold obligation to their children. Spiritual and physical. We use various tactics to see to the well-being of our children. Sometimes force is necessary, sometimes persuasion is enough.

Parents who feel that a chareidi upbringing is important to them should have the same right to send them to a school that teaches this hashkafa - as parents who have the right/obligation to train their children not to destroy their physical body.

Do you really feel that the teachers were being mean-spirited out of spite? My feeling is that they were raised to believe that "Seventeen" is spiritually unhealthy for their children. They may have not have had all the answers, as unfortunately hashkafa is not taught very well in the chareidi schools - but I don't think that they are bad people. As I said before, if it doesn't work for you than go elsewhere.

jewish philosopher said...

Only for wasting my time blogging.

I'm serious though. What are you going to do if you have a child with cancer? If your husband is unfaithful to you? If something really painful happens? Think about it for a few minutes. It sounds to me as if you would totally break down.

There is a great book called "Gateway to Happiness" by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin. You would surely benefit from it.

Anonymous said...

"The betting is that you, and the vast majority of people, would have broken into pieces.

I hope you don't go to abused children and tell them "sweetie, grow up. You'll cope with problems bigger than the fact that Mommy betrayed you, hurt you, derided you and yelled at you all the time. I wish that was my biggest problem.""

Chana, You write beautifully, but you really need to gain some perspective. This really isnt THAT big a deal. It sounds as if youve been fortunate enough never to have been faced with real adversity (objectively, that is), but at the same time you have to understand when people are less than sympathetic to something that sounds like nothing more than teenage self importance.

Youre dead wrong that most people would have crumbled under the situation. Most would hardly shrug, and deal with far worse before than even eat their breakfast.

Although it sounds like a cliché to note how much hardship and suffering there is in the world, or even just the jewish community, at the same time its surprising to see the way you perceive the "problems" you have in life.

You’re someone very intelligent and knowledgeable and i would think you would be able to see the bigger picture. Of course, since you are intelligent you can probably rationalize why your assessment is accurate and this isnt a case of you blowing things out of proportion.

the apple said...

Chana, You write beautifully, but you really need to gain some perspective. This really isnt THAT big a deal. It sounds as if youve been fortunate enough never to have been faced with real adversity (objectively, that is), but at the same time you have to understand when people are less than sympathetic to something that sounds like nothing more than teenage self importance.

Anonymous, are you crazy? Teenage self-importance? Chana's experience was none of that - it was people trying to squash her, crush her, because they felt that she was wrong and needed help.

Chana, this was incredibly powerful. Thank you.

Chana said...


Yes, someone (perhaps unfortunately) has the right to send their child to a school with an Agudah ideology.

But that school has to be safe, the teachers have to play fair, they must be honest and upfront about what they teach and how they will act. It has to be a good learning environment.

The problem at my school was not the ideology. I personally hated that, but you are correct, supposedly I could have gone elsewhere. The problem was the way that ideology was implemented- via force, brainwashing, abusive methods, manipulation, lies and guilt-trips.

Jewish Philosopher,

There is a difference between being in an completely unhealthy environment that can and ought to be fixed vs. dealing with life challenges. I'll be fine, thanks.

Anonymous said...

(I'm the same anonymous that made the 5th comment- not as just above.)

So you tell me to be respectful? How does one respectfully argue against complete tactlessness, insensitivity and idiocy? How does one respectfully point out the teacher is an idiot? You think I didn't try being respectful? Of course I did! At first, I was nothing but sweetness and light. The teachers did not care; they continued on in the same vein.

Yes, you do need to respect her. You don't have to like her, and you don't have to be sweet. You don't even need to inwardly respect her, but you do have to treat a teacher with respect. Disrespect breeds pettiness and vindictive anger, and that just doesn't help anyone.

That's an aside, though. My point is that a drawn out argument gets you nowhere. A reasonable back-and-forth (or, if your teacher refused, an explination of your feelings) will acheive the same result via your classmates as a fight. So would a private conversation.

She gave me her pitying look and ignored me, then eventually when I spoke up too much, just didn't call on me. So I had to go about it differently. I decided to do whatever I could so we would win.

But I still don't understand why you would do this if your goal was not to triumph over the teacher. Why did you need to win?

Look, I obviously don't know your school (although I do know the Bais Yaakov system.) And you obviously (and rightfully) feel very strongly about this. So I doubt if we are actually going to reach a mutual conclusion here... I just like to get my thoughts out there.

littlefoxling said...

The clothes upon you did not wear out, nor did your feet swell these forty years"

Sorry to be pedantic here, and I realize it’s not so relevant to the crux of your point, but your teacher could have retorted that Deut 29:4 does in fact say explicitly that they did wear shoes in the desert.

“And I have led you forty years in the wilderness; your clothes are not waxen old upon you, and thy shoe is not waxen old upon thy foot. “

Anyway, excellent post. Well written and makes a strong point.

Chana said...


I tried any and every method you could possibly suggest (private conversations, being respectful, going through all the proper channels, etc) first. They all failed; I responded with what remained to me, my wits, regardless of whether what I did was respectful or disrespectful. They were not fighting fair and they had the advantage of being the authority figures, some of whom were on a power trip. I responded with whatever I could use.

Why did I have to win? To show another point of view. To defend us as the students. To defend who we were and the way we acted, to prove that we were good people. That is why.


If I remember correctly, Rashi explains the discrepancy and says that those who came out of Egypt had sandals, but the new generation/ the ones that grew up in the desert did not.

Hence some of them wore sandals and some of them went barefoot. *smiles* And the barefoot folks would still be a problem...

Thanks very much!

Anonymous said...

But if your aim was help your classmates, deal with your classmates. I just don't see why you had to become so combatant.

littlefoxling said...

If I remember correctly, Rashi explains the discrepancy and says that those who came out of Egypt had sandals, but the new generation/ the ones that grew up in the desert did not.

Hence some of them wore sandals and some of them went barefoot. *smiles* And the barefoot folks would still be a problem...

Ah, yes. It didn’t occur to me that you were debating with these stupid morons who were bound to every stupid thing anyone has ever said in the past 3,000 years, no matter how stupid it is, no matter how much it contradicts other things the same people said, and no matter how much it contradicts reality.

I can see why it would be hard for them to defend an opinion like that from attack.

Personally, I have to side with the hedyot. I was always much to timid to take any of these people on. I was more into just letting them say what they wanted but silently mocking them outside with my friends.

I also want to side with JA above. I had an excellent experience as a child. All my Rabbis were excellent people. Never trying to hurt me at all in anyway. Caring, compassionate, understanding. What got to me was the simple fact that I didn’t think their ideology had anything to do with reality. But, like JA and you both hinted to, the idea that that choice was not mine to make, but theirs to make, got to me. The idea that even though I thought OJ didn’t make any sense, I was somehow evil if I didn’t believe in it, disturbed me greatly.

Personally, I also don’t find Rav Soloveitchik to be any different from your teachers. To me, his ideas are just as false and made up, baseless, and filled with lies. But, it’s a personal choice and if it speaks to you, go for it!

Anonymous said...

"Why did I have to win? ... To defend us as the students."

"It helps because it gives them all a little of their dignity back."

Wow, good thing you were there or who knows what would have happened to all your classmates.

I just cant help but feel terrible for all the students in past and future classes and in classes all around the world who dont have chana to defend their honor and dignity. The tyranny of evil teachers must be stopped and we all must thank chana for being brave enough to speak out for all of those with no voices. We will not go quietly into the night, we will not surrender. Today we will fight for our independence, because they can take our live’s but they will never take our freedom... and I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger on those who try to destroy my brothers and they will know my name is the lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee.

Keep fighting the good fight.

jewish philosopher said...

Channah, how would you handle an abusive spouse, for example? Let's say after having had a few kids. And he wants joint custody.

I'm not wishing anything on you, but disagreeing with your high school teachers, while annoying, is not really that earth shattering. If you think it is, and apparently you do, you should try to be a little more calm and positive.

Chana said...

Anonymous 1:41,

I can't tell if you're mocking me or if you're serious. If you're mocking me, then I suppose I understand why. I don't mean to make it sound like I'm the "all-singing all-dancing crap of the world," a grandiose savior. All I mean to say is that I had the ability and the opportunity and I wanted to defend us- all of us.

And it isn't me- it's anyone in that situation who has the opportunity and the power to change it. And I wasn't totally alone; I had some classmates who would speak up or utilize different methods, so it's okay.

If you're serious, then huzzah Pulp Fiction! And Ezekiel. :-)

Anonymous said...

Is there anyone out there from Templars who can give us a more objective assessment of what the school is all about. Chana's assertions imply that their behavior was in the category of criminal abuse.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

wow. i definitely agree with Chana here. thank God i didn't have to put up with the religious abuse she did; i had enough of my own angsty adolescent problems.

Chana said...

Southern Lights,

How can this qualify as criminal abuse? Nobody hit me. Nobody hurt me, except verbally and emotionally. There's no proof at all, except what I say, and they did their best to discredit everything I said.

That having been said, once Chaya, Tobie and possibly Canadian Princess happen upon this post, they should be able to give you some more information.


Scraps said...

Wow...I had to read this post in segments, it was so intense.

Chana, I cannot imagine what it must have been like to live with such abuse. It must have felt like you were going crazy. I mean, how is the one sane person amongst the insane supposed to think? If everyone else is like that, and I'm the one who's different, then maybe they're all normal and I'm the one who's crazy? I'm glad you had the Rav and your parents to keep you sane, and even though it must have been incredibly hard to switch to North Shore, it sounds like it was the best thing you could have done for yourself, your sanity, and your future.

B"H, when I was in high school, I had a couple of incredibly wonderful teachers who cared about us as students and thinking human beings, and they encouraged questions and thinking for ourselves. And even though I spent most of high school being profoundly miserable for other reasons, I am still glad that I went there, because those teachers are the model I have in my head for what an excellent Jewish teacher is supposed to be like.

Anonymous said...


Ok. I read this post last night, and I had a lot of mixed emotions. I wasn't going to comment until I read southern lights' post, which asks for other Templars' students to comment.

Basically, if Chana had written this post at the same time last year, I would probably be cheering her on and agreeing with her every point. However, after a year out of the school, I feel differently. Yes, I endured a lot of unnecessary pain while in Templars, but nothing nearing what Chana experienced (I'm judging this based on her description of her experiences). Like Chana said, generally speaking, teachers and administrators did not intentionally try to harm students. Rather, they believe that they know what is best. Now that I understand this, I am more comfortable with my Templars experience--rather than feel hatred toward people who hurt me, I can feel pity for them, pity that they cannot be open-minded enough to respectfully value various kinds of Orthodox Judaism (at the very least, to value other sorts of Orthodox Judaism; not to mention respect for other Jews and Gentiles).

I don't want to sound too negative, because really my experience at Templars was overwhelmingly positive. Even though I did/do not agree with the hashkafa that they teach, I learned an incredible amount. It is possible to learn Chumash or Navi from a teacher who you don't entirely agree with. Mostly, I value the parshanut skills that I picked up in high school.

Chana, I respect you tremendously, and I feel for you, since I know that you have gone through a lot. I hope that you are able to move forward from your experience and contribute toward positive change (preferably, in Chicago ;)).

Anonymous said...

Hi, Chana. I'm a (liberal) Christian who popped over from Jewish Atheist's blog.

I just want to congratulate you on fighting such a courageous fight. The comments above are revealing: several people are so threatened by this post that they have to beat you down, rather like the teachers you describe from your childhood.

I've had similar conflicts in my own tradition. The main difference is that I faced them down as an adult, not as a child. Even as an adult, when the opposition against you is universal, it's a struggle not to doubt yourself and doubt your own convictions.

That's why I congratulate you on your courage: not only because you fought back, but because you came out the far side of the experience with both your self-respect and your faith intact. That's no small achievement! Well done!

Tobie said...


First of all, let me just offer my sympathy. Nobody should be treated like you have been. by anyone. For any reason. And if I ever by action or inaction, contributed to the situation, than I apologize.

Secondly...well, I started to write secondly and it got really long, so I just posted about instead. (Not to plug myself or anything)

But congratulations on your 'victory'- I think you showed inner strength that I would not have been able to handle.

Anonymous said...

"Secondly...well, I started to write secondly and it got really long, so I just posted about instead."

I don't think it worked...

jewish philosopher said...

I've linked this post to my own blog. It is remarkable.

Tobie said...

anon 2:57: by posted, I technically meant, am about to post. Sorry, it's up now.

Anonymous said...

On the side-point of Ancient Israelites and covering toes, I am rather surprised that either you or your teacher would argue about the topic.

I'm surprised that your teacher would think that Israelite women of the ancient period possibly did cover their toes. In the Israel Museum, they have a great wall relief found in Assyria depicting the siege of an Israelite city by the Assyrians in the 600s BCE. All of the women fleeing the city are wearing long dresses or robes, all of them have their hair covered, and all of them are in strapped sandals. I think it's funny that your teacher would envision them in the desert in loafers.

But for both you and your teacher, I'm surprised that this was even a topic of discussion. In halachic sources that I've seen (gemara, rishonim, etc.), shok extends at the very farthest to the ankles. Below the ankles is an area that is only covered extra-halachically. According to even the Chazon Ish (who maintained that the entire leg must be covered and preferably not by tights but instead by long skirts), covering the feet themselves is minhag. Of course, that doesn't mean that one should ignore the minhag if it is indeed the standard in one's community.

So, while your teacher came across as sadly underinformed, your choice of argument against her point doesn't go very far either.

Whatever, this point is not very important. I think, though, that it does reflect how frustrating it can be to have very forceful teachers who only sometimes have the facts right, which can make them very hard to respect. At the same time, acting like you're the know-it-all and your facts are more correct is an approach that can have mixed results. Sometimes you will be victorious, and your bravery will pay off. Sometimes your point will also be feeble (presenting psukim that you don't have to cover your feet is moot when it's a matter of minhag--and in the templar's world, it probably is the minhag), and then you've picked a fight and acted with a lot of chutzpa but in the end, that's no victory.

Chana, you know that I have great respect for you and I'm really sorry for all that you went through. At the same time, I can't help but wonder whether making a fight about everything might have been the most productive approach only some of the time.

Still, I know that you feel like a victim to your high school and it is probably not constructive for me to rebuke a victim. So I hope that my comments do not come across as an attack....

M.R. said...

I love you, Chana.

Aside- Chinese water torture doesn't sound like a huge deal, either; if you've never experienced anything like it, it takes a little bit of imagination to begin to comprehend its horror.

Anonymous said...


You are amazing and wise beyond your years.

I'm so sorry you experienced what you did. I went through something similar, a few times over, and I did not have the self-awareness that you did, I did not have the ability to name what was wrong or the tools to work against it as you did.

The one criticism I have is with one aspect of your 9:34 response to Jewish Philosopher, which I otherwise found quite on target. I'm sure you don't mean to indicate that it was your mother who "betrayed you, hurt you, derided you and yelled at you all the time." I understand that you are trying to explain the severity of the situation by drawing an analogy to something more accepted as horrific. But then you use the word "exactly," which confuses things a bit.

I experienced such abuse from my mother, and I posit that such abuse from one's mother is much more destructive than is the same abuse from one's teacher/entire school when one has caring, supportive, involved parents at home, all else being equal.

I was about to write in the above paragraph that abuse from parents destroys one's very foundation, and realized that perhaps what I see as a confusion was in fact intentional, and that you felt that your teachers, as your representatives of Judaism, were destroying your very foundation. Hmmm, that's interesting. So perhaps that was your point.

In any event, I wasn't making my criticism in order to join the others who are making a contest about who suffers the most or to minimize your experience. That one aspect pushed my buttons and I wanted to mention it; I hope I did so in a constructive manner and not akin to the manner in which some other commenters are behaving. Perhaps you can clarify.

To Anonymous: Chana wasn't beating dead horses; her teachers were obviously attacking her and her classmates with vicious live horses constantly, and she was in response working very hard to save her own life and the lives of many third-parties.

To Non-Chicagoan: I don't see your analogies as apt. One should, in my opinion, interrupt behavior that is immediately dangerous, and then respectfully explain one's position once safety is established.

If a toddler is spotted by a parent about to dart into the street into the path of apparent danger, the parent should immediately snatch the toddler back into safety, and then the reasons for doing so should be calmly explained and proper procedures should be explored. Spanking might teach the toddler that he did something wrong, but it does not teach what the right thing to do would have been. The parent who takes time to ask after and actually listens to the toddler's reasoning might learn that the situation actually was safe after all.

If Chana were spotted by a teacher about to eat something the teacher saw as unkosher, the teacher might very well run up and loudly instruct her not to take the bite. Once the immediate danger has been thwarted, the teacher should calmly explain his concerns and how to proceed should be explored. Raising a voice in anger at Chana, calling Chana names for considering eating the food, and throwing Chana's food in the trash might teach her that something was wrong with the food she was about to eat, but it does not teach her why the food was considered unfit and what parameters to use in the future. The teacher who takes time to ask after and actually listens to Chana's reasoning might learn that the food was perfectly kosher after all.

How is Chana to learn to figure out for herself whether any piece of reading material is appropriate if the teacher only gives "because I say so" as a reason that Seventeen Magazine is inappropriate? How is she supposed to take the teacher's opinions seriously if the teacher delivers them with insults?

Perhaps if Chana spotted her child about to jump into a baptismal font, it would be wise for her to snatch him away. But I'm sure that what Chana would do next would be to calmly and respectfully ascertain what led him to this point; to find out whether he even knew what he was doing or not; if not, to explain to him what such an action would mean; if so, to suggest that they explore and discuss the issues further before he continues; to listen to him in a supportive manner to see what she could learn about his thoughts and feelings; to impress upon him her wishes and beliefs by explanation and reasoning, not by intimidation; to see what she might need to work to change in order help him embrace his Judaism; and to eventually let him do of his own free will once she was satisfied that she had done all she could and he had all the information and tools she could give him.

To Jewish Philosopher: You cannot know or judge someone else's pain. Chana explains that she experienced constant abuse that almost destroyed her, and I believe her.

Are you giving Chana any tools to help if her one of those horrible things were to, God forbid, happen to her? What exactly are you trying to accomplish?

It doesn't sound like you would be a comforting, supportive friend. If you were to notice me wailing about my grandfather having died, would you say, "Hamakom yinachem" and console me so that I might emerge from my grief strong, or would you belittle my mourning by telling me to just wait until my father dies and let my grief turn into a deep depression?

People ASKED Chana how she overcame a difficult situation. Chana explained. Is it not better to praise her accomplishment and give her feedback to reinforce her strength so that she may go on to handle other difficult situations than it is to insist she hasn't overcome a problem of any significance at all and try to make her believe she is weak?

If one of those horrible things were to, God forbid, happen to Chana. I think she could handle it. Why? Because of the healing her parents and her subsequent positive experiences at school provided to her. If, however, she hadn't been helped to heal, if she had been broken and taught to submit, she would not be strong and might indeed continue to be broken by subsequent horrible things.

To Anonymous: All while I read Chana's post, I was jealous that she had her parents helping her through this difficult situation. Any situation someone has, someone else will always have it worse.

For Chana, this WAS a big deal. To me, it sounds like a big deal as well. To you, it does not. True objectivity does not exist.

Again, Chana was asked to tell her story, and so she did. She wasn't trying to gain sympathy but rather to provide explanation.

Most American teens, I think, would have indeed suffered under the same circumstances, whether it would have been the worse problem of their day or only adding to the problems they experienced before breakfast.

I don't believe Chana was trying to say what she experienced was worse than other problems other people have. I might change my mind depending upon how she replies to my comment regarding the same situation at the hands of the parents, but I highly doubt she'll respond in a way that would cause me to do so.

Again, you cannot know or judge someone else's pain. What are you trying to accomplish by telling Chana what narrow a view this is? At least my comment had to do directly with a comparison she made; your weighing of her situation against all the problems people in the world experience is unfair and not even the point.

Chana is young, and for someone her age, she certainly does see a big picture. She has written about many different kinds of suffering she has witnessed, for instance, eating disorders. She does not whine about having too much cash to fit in her wallet!

There certainly are people who write about things that I view as stupid teen angst issues. I become jealous that such mishigas is the worst of their problems, I try to pray that they never know real trouble, and I stop reading them. If you feel the same about Chana's site, I suggest you follow the same steps.

To Anonymous: Regarding helping all classmates present, past, and future, I refer you to Rabbi Tarfon's words in the second chapter of Pirkei Avot.

To All: Sorry this is so long.

Anonymous said...

Chana, I'm not sure where to start, so...

Kol hakavod for standing up for your beliefs. The whole entire ordeal sounds absolutely horrible. Your inner strength is truly amazing. Rather than babble on forever, I have two words for you: you rock!

As for those who belittle your struggle or mock you, perhaps they should consider the fact that school takes up much of a kid's life. School can have such an effect on kids. It's terrible to be unhappy in school. I had what to deal with in my day school years, with some elements common to Chana's struggle, though I don't know that it compares to Chana's ordeal.

What a post. It's very difficult to write such posts. Hopefully this post served as a catharsis for you in some way.

Erachet said...

This is an INCREDIBLE post. Thank you so much for being brave enough to share it.

Anonymous said...

I am really not sure that you intended to come across as a victim although victimhood is such a coveted status in our society- everyone seems to be a victim of something. That said, I am sure you suffered in your school, but I wonder if you had other outlets -friends, hobbies, outside interests. It seems to me that you probably needed psychological help then to deal with the events; it is never to late to get to the bottom of one's heartache. I must note, because it saddens me greatly that I truly hope you do care that your children remain Jewish- care enough to rant and rave at them if they decide to leave. Not all decisions made by individuals are the right ones and at times things get ugly in order to be made right,- but you already know that.

Chana said...


Thank you so much for your kind words. I feel like you have some concept of what I am describing and that helps, as do your very encouraging words.

A Different Anonymous,

Where to begin? Thank you so much for your detailed, beautiful, lengthy comment. You are correct that I should perhaps not have used the example of a mother abusing a child- I merely wanted to bring home the severity with which Jewish Philosopher was judging me by showing him something he would of course never do- no one would say that to an abused child. In the same way, he oughtn't to say it to me, as he clearly has no idea what this is like.

Thank you for your defense of me- and I am amazed; you must have been reading me for a long time if you remember 'The White Rose' (my post on anorexia.) Wow. Thank you for coming out and describing how you are able to understand and relate to me; I appreciate it.

Your entire explanation regarding the child and the baptismal font is right on. *smiles*

And thank you so much for pointing me to Rabbi Tarfon's words, "He used to say: It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task. Yet, you are not free to desist from it." That's exactly what it was...

I am sorry that you were the victim of abuse at the hands of your mother. There is no worse betrayal I can imagine, and I completely concur and agree with you that I am so very lucky to have the parents I do and that they backed me despite the many reasons they need not have. I absolutely do not mean to suggest my experience was as bad as your was- indeed, what you pointed out is true- I have no desire to compare experiences, to compare pains. I only wish to describe one pain, the one I am most familiar with, and how it hurt. Is this worse than cancer? No- this is not a physical ailment. But for me, at the time, it was unbelievably difficult. And it doesn't matter how bad it is on a comparative scale- at that moment in time, you are not thinking to yourself, "Hey, at least I don't have cancer!" That is not what goes through your mind- you are in a situation and that is all you can focus on.

Thank you for absolutely understanding that.

Are you truly anonymous or do I know you, in which case I can perhaps thank you in person?

And for Erachet and MR and The Apple and Tnspr and all the rest of you, thanks to you too.

P L said...

It just amazes me how some people can simply have such a lack of sensitivity to lash out at Chana for this magical post that depicts the heart of the bravest and wisest young person I know.

Chana is a role model for all kids, teenagers, and now adults who were non-conformists and didn’t just go along with whatever an authority figure said, particularly when some of those authority figures were incredibly narrow minded, judgmental, and had a one size fits all approach to education and religion.

I can tell you that Chana’s experience is a universal one that takes place in most Chassidish/Yeshivish boys and girls schools. The problem is that in the vast majority of schools the emphasis is on the details of Judaism without focusing on the soul of Judaism.

I was repeatedly told as a child – Al Tifrosh Min Hatzibur – Don’t be different from everyone else. Be a good boy and do and think like everybody else. That was the worst part; I constantly had Torah thrown at me to tell me how wrong I was.

How does a child fight back against the Torah and G-d Himself who apparently were on the authority figures side?

Some just walk away from Judaism. Others by doing exactly what Chana did. Become educated in Torah in order to combat some of the ignorance and misinterpretations or exclusively focusing on one explanation when there were 3 or 5 that would defeat the point that was trying to be made to fit the Yeshivish agenda.

When I was a bit older I decided that there had to be more to this. Hashem was so loving, merciful, and wise it just did not make sense half the things I was taught. So I decided to try and study for myself to see if I could make sense of it. I was astonished to discover a whole different Torah then what I was taught.

Upon further review I discovered that Al Tifrosh Min Hatzibur actually means – Don’t separate yourself from the pain you see amongst your brethren!

How twisted is that? A posek that would have been used to try and keep Chana in line and used to show her how bad she is, is actually the reverse! Chana was standing up for the people in pain due to the one sided approach of her teachers. She was actually doing exactly what Hashem would want her to do.

If you are still one of those people that don’t believe that the issues that Chana had to deal with in school is widespread and causes tremendous suffering, anguish and causes many to drop Orthodox Judaism, then read this incredible article by Rabbi Simon Jacobson on Individuality And Conformity Within Orthodox Judaism.

Chana, for the sake of thousands like you out there that don’t have your courage and strength, please disregard these insensitive commentators and know that many people take tremendous encouragement from your struggle. You are a role model to many and a shining example of what a true Torah Jew is!

What an amazingly beautiful and powerful post!

Anonymous said...

Happily Reading said...

"It seems to me that you probably needed psychological help then to deal with the events;"
Happily Reading,
I'll have you to know that you sound just like those bastards from the Templars. Each and evey time the Templar's administration perceived a student as being "too bright for her own good"-it brought in the social services and/or forced the student to see a psychologist so that the so called "proof of non-compliance" was readily available to control/break the student even more......
Most of the "teachers" at Templars need to learn to respect the students for who they are and help them grow according to their ability.This can't and won't happen because these "teachers" feel that they are the very best out there ....And this is a real TRAGEDY!

Chana said...

last anonymous,

Oh my God. My God, my god, my god.

They did that to you, too? They forced you to see a psychologist? They told you you were mentally ill?

Who are you? I really need to talk to you- could you please email me?

AND YES- you are so right about what happily reading's comment felt like to me- but I don't think he meant it that way- he couldn't have known.

Chana said...

I thought they only did it to me...

Chana said...

Passionate/ Mellow Life,

Thank you so much for what you wrote- I should just caution you not to make me what I am not- I shouldn't be anybody's role model- I'm not that good.

On another note, the article that most spoke to me was Joseph Aaron's Terrifying. I printed that article out and carried it with me- it is what I saw, felt and knew for far too long.

Anonymous said...

'devarim hayotzim min halev nichnasim el halev.'

Matt said...


The ferocity of your courage and honesty is beautiful and inspiring.

Irina Tsukerman said...

I totally get what you're saying. I've had to face well-meaning people who didn't understand me at all and thought that whatever hardships I faced in life were always and completely my own fault for not being conformist enough and not fitting the one size fits all approach. I remember it was so frustrating, that I used to think that maybe they are right and it is my own fault, but at the same time, feeling horrible because those were people close to me and they didn't understand me at all. I could never hate them because I KNOW they wished me well (though as they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions), but I was so angry and hurt so often for not being trusted to make my own judgment, for being categorized and labeled, for never being good enough as I am, and for being made to feel bad about myself, like there's something wrong with me, every time something in my life went wrong. And I've also had teacher-figures, who were condescending and who did not take my opinion seriously, and who wouldn't call on me, because I would argue too much - but fortunately those were very few in numbers, and the really tyrannical teachers I've faced (also very few) never did manage to touch me personally. I was never in a horrible school situation in the way you were. I was in public school, and most of my teachers were really wonderful, or at least, not at all like the ones I've described. But I've seen a similar situation unfold in other ways and totally understand how psychologically trying it must be.

Sarah Likes Green said...

Thank you for sharing your experiences and for having the strength to do so. For me, it puts your blog and your comments and writings (because that is what I know of you) into perspective. I hope this post gives strength to others that are in circumstance like you were at school.

Anonymous said...

I assume that anonymous did not really call me a bastard - if so, it leaves me with little taste to comment on a blog such as this, for alternative opinions are not really wanted. As for the psychological help suggested, nowhere did I suggest that Chana needed such help because she dared to be different, only because she still appears to be in such pain. I cannot believe that Chana or anyone reading this is so unsophisticated that they believe therapy is only "for the crazy".

Chana said...

Happily Reading,

No, of course not. She doesn't mean to call you a bastard and neither do I. She simply realizes how I took it and how I could take it-because she apparently had to deal with it.

Thank you very much and I'm sorry for being confusing- and of course therapy is not merely for the supposedly crazy.

Unknown said...


Wow. I had known you were (good!) different from other girls I had met, but now I understand why you are different. And what makes you different is much greater than I could have ever imagined.

And as Ezzie said, this is the most important post you've ever written. It's even better than "Off the Derech!"

I'll be honest with you--if I were in your school, I probably wouldn't have fought. I don't think it would have occured to me, because I need direction in my life. Not because I don't think on my own, but because I need parameters. One of the reasons I admire you so much is because you are able to set your own parameters and remain the beautiful "curious" Jew (yes, I did say that) that you are.

So thank you for being strong, Chana. May your wounds heal in their appropriate time. And yasher kochachech on being strong enough to tell us all about it. :-)

Anonymous said...

Chana, I could write volumes about my own personal experience in the Chareidi world of education--and I was in more "middle of the road" Bais Yaakov schools, but I would like to add one point: Parents and future parents, take heed. Do your best to place your child in the appropriate learning environment. Be very meticulous about your research into a Yeshiva/day school and then decide if it fits your family and your child. If it doesn't, move mountains to get them into a Yeshiva/day school that does. There are many kinds out there. Not that all communities have so many choices, but I see all too often that parents move somewhere without giving enough thought and research to it. Help your child find his/her path in Judaism. Now, please indulge me because I am curious about something. Have been for a while. When I was 16 in Woodburne on a Saturday night, there were those from Bais Yaakov schools/black hat Yeshivas just hanging out to have fun and then there were those who had driven up to the country from Brooklyn on Shabbos. You New Yorkers know what I mean. Those of you who have commented here saying that you have chosen to leave Orthodoxy and possibly Judaism, did you have a good relationship with your parents? I notice that Chana attributes her staying religious to the Rav, but I also notice from reading her posts that she loves and respects her parents very much. I do too and that is why I never thought of leaving my religious life even through my rebellions. I never consciously thought of it that way and I also found Modern Orthodoxy, thank G-d, but underneath was that parental love thing that I have recently begun to think more about. I have other friends who have actually left and come back and my theory is that it has to do with the parent/child relationship above and beyond all else. I am not trying to judge or point fingers. For me, it's just a sociological question--did those of you who have left it all behind, have a close, loving relationship with your parents? Please let me know here. I've never been able to test my theory. And to Chana, Chazak. Oh and one word--Kiruv. I find there are many "lost" "Chareidi" kids in NCSY or "at-risk" schools. Try to find ways to mentor and show others a choice.

Anonymous said...

Clarification: When I say "kiruv" I mean being Mekarev the Kerovim. Obviously, the conventional definition of Kiruv does not apply here. Those "religious" kids from "religious" homes that are straying need to see healthy, happy, MO people living their lives with Simchas Hachaim and knowledge. The Chareidim who are comfortable with their lifestyle don't need anything from us (nor should we offer them our contempt and hatred...but that's another story entirely).

Ezzie said...

Anon Mom - On Rabbi Horowitz's site, a psychologist just wrote a long study (?) on exactly that premise.

M.R. said...

Re: Happily Reading's kindest of posts (no sarcasm there!)-

[beseechingly]Don't stop commenting!!

Y'know, I don't know that therapy at the time would have helped significantly, or at all.

But I am a big proponent of some time with a "mental health professional" (ugh--sounds horrible!) when everything's going OK... Well, at least for thinking people like me, who love analyzing anything and everything. I just spent about 3/4 of a year seeing a psychoanalyst (?) and I got to know myself so much better than before, and am able to handle life much competantly than I had any idea that I could (or needed to, for that matter *grins*).

People shoving you into therapy and you choosing to do some self-analysis with a professional disinterested third party are two totally different things.

Dovid said...

This is great post and many points here touch home with me as I am batting some of the same forces you battled.
However, just to give some people the benefit of the doubt, I do believe that the teachers in your school can't be blamed. I, too, have had similar interactions with my own teachers and "authorities." And while at first I shared this sense of bitterness and resentment, I came to realize that the average teacher is mediocre only because the average student is mediocre. Eventually these "authorities" learn to deal with their crowd and teach them with the words that effect them. You were pushed away from Torah by the lack of intellectual freedom. But imagine a kid out there presented with choices which would allow him to act deviantly and without consideration for Das Torah, all because that particular action may have legitimate merits from a broad base.
The average person out there is looking for as free a life as possible. And they don't find their freedom in understanding and truth. They find it in the pursuit of mundane pleasures. So present each position as relative and show them the loop-holes, and they'll doubtlessly exploit those loop-holes, not to become better Jews, but to eventually assume the most permissive lifestyle, both in action and in thought.
So while the system doesn't cut it for you and for me, it is out there for the average dummy, who, unless told that it is forbidden, thinks that it's permitted. Who is thrown off by subtlety.

yitz said...

i went through the reverse of what you went through, in modern orthodox day school.. (but being a guy, and pretty much not caring what anyone else thought, i think i had a much easier time) ..people were so caught up in modern culture they preached Torah but never upheld it.

children detect insincerity far better than adults think they do.

i left with this understanding "I love Judasim but I hate Jews" it took me a long time to come around (including going to university where there were no other religious Jews)

but again, it was because of my parents and because what they taught me was authentic and genuine that I was able to overcome all the obstacles.

which leads back to the fact that the Torah of our parents is much more influential in our lives than anything others will try and preach at us. No wonder Avraham Yitzhak and Yaakov are called "Avot"

Chana said...


I am very uncomfortable with accepting that as an answer due to the conversation I had with a particular teacher. This teacher informed me that I was "different." I was "special." I was "an intellectual." But these words weren't used in a good way or in a praiseworthy way. These were the words thrown at me to explain why I wanted to know more than the others, supposedly, and why maybe I could and ought to know more. But nobody else was supposed to get that. She told me "it would be too confusing for teenagers to be faced by multiple sources/ opinions (the same reason she gave for why Templars could only have one official hashkafa= the Agudah, instead of multiple ones/ allowing many). Teenagers, alas, are confused as is, and if *gasp* they would find out that different sources say different things about certain issues, they wouldn't know what to do!"

I just don't think that's true.

I really don't think I'm different from my classmates. I think that all of us wanted more than one perspective, there were enough of us in that class to warrant the Modern Orthodox perspective. We deserved it, we deserved more than one view. This shouldn't and mustn't be reserved for the "intellectual."

I don't like to hear that I'm different or supposedly smarter because that all reeks of what they gave as an excuse for why they wouldn't teach us sources or more than one idea. I have convinced myself (or have tried my best to do so) that I'm just like everyone else, just one of the other kids in my class.

Can't that just be the case?

Nobody ever lets me be just another kid in the class.

It's frustrating.

Everyone, I think, deserves the truth. Everyone deserves more than one approach. Everyone deserves facts- a teacher oughtn't to choose a particular viewpoint simply to protect the supposed "average dummy." Why should they be seen as average dummies? Everyone has the potential to learn and the potential to think.

I really believe everyone has the potential to think.

Yes, so that is why your answer is difficult for me.

Chana said...

To all who have mentioned anything about parents,

My mother and father are amazing people.

And yes, they are also part of the reason I stayed religious, because I have a very loving and open relationship with them, because they were willing to advocate for me and because they pulled me out of that school. So I agree with you that parents matter very much in this equation.

But it had to be my parents coupled with something else, in this instance, some kind of philosophy I could adhere to, because I needed a firm and quotable anchor and the Rav was it.

Anonymous said...

Um...unfortunately, I have learned over the years that most people do not think too much about their Judaism. Most Orthodox Jews of all ilks just follow. It is the nature of all men. The individuals like you are rare. Most of that class did not have the thirst for truth and knowledge that you did. They were accepting of what they were told about Orthodoxy. Even if they had a few questions that they wanted answered, they were content to follow the path set out for them. It is easier. Guess what? It doesn't change when people grow up. I have found that most Frum Jews, Chareidi or MO, just do the motions--whatever they are--of the community they are in. Period. Not much seeking, soul-searching, learning. I strongly believe that in order to have proper Ahavat Yisrael you have to believe in the 12-path idea of Judaism, that there are different paths for different minds/hearts and that all are valid if they lead to the same goal--Ahavat and Yirat Hashem. Even other denominations of Judaism have a place (although, not as rich or authentic) for Jews who need to connect in a different way--provided they connect. There are some Reform and Conservative Jews who do connect. Do I think it's better to be a thinking Jew? Yep. But, I've lived long enough, dated enough guys, been to enough Shul Sisterhood meetings, ran enough parent conferences, attended enough "Shiurim" and charity events, traveled to enough out of town frum communities to know that thinking Jews are rare and most people like it that way. You know what else is rare? Doing Jews. Most people--in both MO and Chareidi communities--are content to raise their kids, go to work or learn and come home and go to sleep. Most don't throw themselves into the community to volunteer or to make needed changes, most don't start Yeshivos or support them full force, most just sit on the side and put another burger on the grill. You will be different. You are a person of substance, a thinker and a doer (I'm not sure about the doer, but I think so). So rock on. Just remember, though, that turning up the heat too high on the grill will burn the burgers. You have to be involved, you have to spice them up, flip them, adjust the flame, but don't crank the heat up too high and don't forget that not everyone likes their burgers the same way. Some like them simple and some people don't care how they are served a burger, just as long as they eat. Happy 4th.
P.S. to Ezzie: R.H.'s blog has been giving me a headache recently.
Dovid, the average teacher is mediocre because the average teacher is mediocre, not because the students are. I'm a teacher, you know. All kids have great potential. Most are not great thinkers, but it is your job to reach as many as you can. These teachers at Templars are typical Bais Yaakov types. They mean well. Most of my teachers were like them. They only know one path and they think they are saving your Neshama if you seem to be going down a different one. They also don't know a lot of info and sourcing and such. That's just the way it is in the typical BY schools. I learned to read a Meforash, but I didn't learn enough Halacha and I didn't learn the whys. It would be nice if in the BY schools, they recognized a different egg and directed them to the right channels. Some inroads have been made. Not all schools would have been as "in the dark" about Chana as this one was. But, alas, it probably didn't help that she was so defiant and angry. They were probably playing off that a lot. Chana, forgive me for that, but I will always have that teacher perspective and open defiance is not a good idea in any school environment. School as culture... That said, all teachers should try to reach all students, especially in Limudei Kodesh. Every time we don't, we fail and should make a Din V'Cheshbon about it.

Dovid said...

Another thing I thought during the night (yes, things really get to me...) was that it's unfair to compare the attitudes of religious teachers to secular teachers. The secular teachers have nothing to lose with your open-mindedness. Big deal if you reject some scientific theory. It just makes it all the more fun for them. Religious teachers aren't teaching a thought (in which case freedom of thought is imperative) but a creed. The system they are teaching is an authoritarian system; if you disagree, according to them, you are going to disobey G-d's will. So they panic and they just try to keep as closed and safe an environment as they can. They don't realize that this attitude is pushing away as many as it protects. But nonetheless, the motives are to protect the students from "the forces of evil [sic]."
Let me give you an example: When a father is approached by his son and asked a theoretical question, the father can be as abstract and deep as the son's intelligence allows for. But if the kid runs ahead and crosses the street on his own, the father slaps the kid and commands him to just do as he says! When the risks go up, it's not enough to just present a cost-benefit analysis. There has to be an uncrossable line. An authority you wouldn't question. Because it is, at least in the minds of these teachers, a question of life and death.
While I feel cheated and am now stuck because of my education, it's not as easy for me to dump the blame on "lousy" teachers.

Anonymous said...


If your parents are such loving, caring people (which I don't doubt) why did they send you to a school that did not fit for you?

Don't all parents feel that they know what is best for their children and guide them in a direction that they choose?

Why should an Agudah type school be expected to teach an MO perspective? If you create your own school, don't you think you would teach the Rav's perspective?

I think that you are faulting the teachers at Templars for doing their job - teaching the ideology that the school represents.

What were so many MO types doing in Templars in the first place?

As any teacher will tell you, there will always be students on the edges of the bell curve that don't necessarily fit in. Of course these students will not thrive as much as the majority, but what would you do if you were in their place?

I think that you have a lot of anger in you because you were such a student.

Chana said...


Where I live, there are not many choices when it comes to high school.

The school misrepresents itself and claims to be something it is not, so when I went I was misinformed as to what to expect. The school is supposed to be more in the "middle"- kids with an MO hashkafa/philosophical outlook but who don't want to be in a coed environment, for example (or whose parents don't want them to be in a coed environment.)

What the school is supposed to be and what it actually is differs.

The MO kids who go there go for any one of the following reasons:

1. It seems better than the alternatives at the time

2. Their parents force them to

3. Their friends are going there

For me, it was 1 & 3; my parents had nothing to do with it.

I wasn't a fringe kid; I was really more like one of the many MO folks there; the difference was simply that I could articulate what I thought.

From the handbook:

"Templars is a religious secondary school providing a quality education in Jewish and general subjects. Templars is fully accredited by the state of ... as well as by ...

"Templars prepares young women for meaningful traditional Jewish living in accordance with the values of the Torah. Students take an intensive Jewish studies program, which provides the information and skills required for continued reflection, academic excellence, Templars offers a comprehensive college prepatory program in the language arts, social studies, mathematics and sciences."

See, it sounds fine. It's only once you get there that you realize things aren't what they seem. For example, this "college prepatory program." Sure, there are the basics. But if you actually want to apply to college? They don't have a college counselor (just someone who pops in every once in a while to supposedly help- and who really doesn't/ can't.) They don't have anyone to help with your applications or anything like that. Of course, there's a seminary guidance counselor...

The school initially seems much more "middle" oriented, Centrist maybe? than it actually is; it's only once you there that you realize what you've gotten yourself into.

Anonymous said...

“My interview at YU was ugly- it was an interrogation, not an interview.”

Do you consider the possibility that your YU interview wasn’t an
"ugly interrogation" but a regular interview in which they had genuine questions about your schooling and upbringing? You were, after all, accepted on a full scholarship.

You have a lot of trouble hearing things you disagree with or being questioned. You are really no different than these people you despise. You take extreme and polarizing positions and actions and you refuse to acknowledge any point of view you disagree with (you claim you do, but you never actually do this). You view disagreement as an attack. When there is any type of resistance to your doctrine you become very angry and bitter and you go on to label these people as idiots, bastards and evil (you even became angry at your classmates for not supporting you on your crusade). You start battles but then become upset when there is any pushback. You can dish it, but youre unable to take it.

At the end of the day you subscribed to a religious view that really isnt any different than the one you rejected, only you happen to agree with this one.

You are super sweet and kind, that is, until anyone disagrees with you or even questions you. It becomes an attack on you and your dignity. If you hadnt added your descriptive words to this post (“they destroyed me", "put me through hell" etc.) it would sound like nothing more than a teen who questions authority in a religious school that doesn't’t share her views. It was abusive to you because you perceived it as abuse. I don’t question that you felt you were going through hell, but you many want to ask yourself what caused you to react in such a severe manner or why you believed the YU interview was an ugly interrogation.

You are constantly taking extreme positions on issues and refuse to even acknowledge that your views are sometimes a little odd or harsh. Its abundantly clear that you were raised in an atypical (creepy?) manner, but you get super defensive and angry anytime someone questions any of your parents actions. Again refusing to accept even the slightest criticism.

Anonymous said...


Why then did you subsequently choose to attend a public school and not an MO type school?

Didn't you talk to people who went to Templars rather than relying on their literature?

Why does this "Centrist" school have so many "Aguda" style teachers/phlilosphy?

Chana said...

Anonymous 11:06,

Your assumption that I was accepted on a full scholarship is entertaining but incorrect. The interview was not a regular interview and I know this because I spoke to many other people and compared experiences, and mine differed. Questions are fine, interrogative questions that suggest you are somehow flawed are not.

I deserve your rebuke, though not the harsh manner in which you delivered it. To some extent you are correct. I do have trouble hearing criticism and I do get defensive when I hear it. This is mostly because criticism in my mind is associated with a desire to tear me- and all of us- down. Criticism in my mind is synonymous with people getting upset, people getting angry, people getting mad, people screaming, people yelling, people lashing out. Criticism= anger. Nobody likes to be yelled at.

Is this a flaw that I have to work on? Absolutely. Yes, I have to learn to distinguish between criticism and nastiness. And yes, this is difficult for me. And yes, sometimes I dish it but can't take it. But not always. Sometimes I take it, and I have taken it. There is a way to deliver criticism in a constructive manner, and I am lucky enough to know several people who can do that and do do that. I do not think I am infallible.

Am I unaccepting of others' points of view? Sometimes. And sometimes not, and you are right. I am very biased against the Agudah/ Charedi system because of my own experience with it. Maybe one day I'll be able to distinguish the ideology from the manner in which it was given over. It is difficult for me to do this. I am, though you don't see it, trying. I understand that you don't believe me. That is your right..

You are also right that sometimes I favor extremes over the middle balance, also something I need to work on. Everything has been black or white for so long that it is difficult to become accustomed to seeing shades of grey.

But I think your ultimate conclusion is incorrect. This was not just a perception of mine, what happened here. This is something only I could know, however, because I am the one who knows not only the people involved but the other girls, the other parents, the other teachers. And I understand that you do not believe me.

I don't think I was raised in an atypical or creepy manner, and that is one point that I very firmly have to disagree with you on.

I really don't care what you say or think about me, but you don't get to cast aspersions on my parents.

If you like me, good for them. If you don't like me, it's not their fault.


The MO school was not an option because they say they do not accept transfers in the middle of a semester- I would have had to have waited till the next semester to even try for it. Hence I attended a private school.

We did talk to some people who went to Templars, but even then there were mixed views and it seemed relatively okay.

Because the school is pretending to be something it is not. Once upon a time they were a breakoff from the MO school here, then they slowly become more right-wing each year until they are unrecognizable as that breakoff.

Anonymous said...

I understand you perfectly, that is why I can NEVER be religious.

I really want to help you but there is nothing I can do for you.

Everything you describe can be found in these books. I cannot convince you to read them, but I am certain you will find comfort in them if you did. I am certain that they offer healing. I am certain that they offer help out of this pit.

It's up to you. I have nothing to offer you that is better than this.

Anonymous said...

Dovid, you are not "stuck" due to your education. No one is stuck until they're a few feet underground Chas V'Shalom. I had the closedminded teachers. I came from a one-note family--loving, but one-note. I didn't find my way till my mid-20's partially due to a guy I dated who showed me what I actually was and partially due to the MO schools I was teaching in. You're right about the teachers' motivations. You're wrong about feeling stuck. I reach out to my students who are now on the fringe and encourage them to find their way in Judaism. There is a way for all of us in Judaism, you know. But it is our responsibility to find it. Many Baalei Teshuva find the Chareidi lifestyle comforting for them and their children. I don't take that away from them. What about the frum "Baalei Teshuva?" Where does our comfort lie? How much effort are we willing to put into finding that comfort and Simchat Hachaim in Judaism for ourselves and our children? I am disappointed that some people give up too soon. There is Chasidut, there is Carlebachianism, there is Halachic MO, there is Chareidi/Yeshivish, there is out-of-town frum which can be comforting in itself, there is even traditional or egalitarian Conservative Judaism for some former frum Jews who need that. Those who live in the NY area should get out there and go to those lectures, meeting spots, cafe concerts, Chasidic events, whatever speaks to you. If you don't live in NY, get online. Anyone want to offer a list of websites to help the formerly frum reconnect?

Miri said...

As a fellow Templars survivor, I feel the need to put my two cents in here....
I'd like to say several things. The first is that, I graduated several years before Chana (I was in Tobie's class) and that I think the school actually has taken something of a nose-dive since I've been there. While I did know girls who were falsely accused and manipulated for no particularly good reason, they were not the intellectual rebels; they were either behavioral rebels or girls that the school had something against for some other random reason.

As a hard-core intellectual rebel myself, I have to say the constant fighting was mildly necessary for several reasons.
1)It kept us intellectually stimulated during class time.
2)It helped us form our thought processes and opinions for ourselves; I highly doubt I would be the person I am today if I hadn't fought my way here.

But I didn't come out as hurt as Chana for several other reasons.
1)I came in not buying it because I came to the school from Chabbad, a completely different hashkafa which distrusts Bais Yaakov from the outset.
2) My ego. If the teacher couldn't conclusively disprove my arguments, I knew I'd won and so did everyone else. There was no need for me to be militant.
3)I had a really bright, really well-behaved class. A lot of them agreed with me, spoke up about it, and above all, none of us were trouble-makers, so the administration had no reason to distrust us and largely left my class alone.
4)I really did believe my teachers cared about me and wanted what was best for me and were good people at heart. I just didn't like their brand of Judaism and thought they were frequently wwrong. Which isn't really their fault.

Due to good friends and strong parental support, my high school experience was overwhelmingly positive. Which is not to say that I don't harbor some bitternes and resentment... to this day I haven't been able to come near any of Rav Dessler's Torah for the power of association....I have however, heard stories that it has gotten much worse since we left.

I would like to say, Chana, that I am deeply distressed about the severity of your case and the pain you've experienced. And I do admire your intellectual honesty and integrity, and I'm glad you've found a place of peace.
But if you don't want your children dealing with the same stuff...why not do what we did? Make aliyah and deal with a whole new screwed up educational system instead;)

Ezzie said...

Anon Mom - I like your comments. :)

I can't say I have been reading R'H so closely recently; I was just noting that one article which (at least the beginning which I read and a summary I saw) seemed on the money.

Feel free to email me. (Anonymity guaranteed; if you're concerned, you can make a gmail account pretty easily.)

Miri - Ironically, R' Dessler's family ran (and runs) my elementary school, and they're not like that at all, even if there are plenty of people who disagree with some of their hashkafos and perhaps they're not incredibly open to some viewpoints. But they're eminently respectful and acknowledge that there ARE other viewpoints.

Dovid said...

AnonMom, thanks. I appreciate your comment.
Chana, just a side point– just as the person who redirected you was Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, I want to share with you and your readers that my inspiration seems to be coming from R' Aryeh Kaplan. I highly recommend his books.

Anonymous said...


WOW! A beautiful and passionate post. I'm so glad I took out the time to read. A special thanks to you for giving chizuk to those who might be in the same boat as you.

I can't help but wonder how far away you are from taking the next step - questioning the divinity of the torah. As someone who seeks truth, I have little doubt that an honest quest will take you to the same place as myself and so many others have been led to- that the whole thing is bunk.

I look forward to following you as you continue on your path.

-Anonymous (yes, the truth can be both liberating and shackling at the same time)

Chana said...


Guess who is reading Who Wrote the Bible as we speak?

Though that's not questioning its divinity, only its authors, or rather, understanding what it is that others question when it comes to authorship.


You know, of course, that the whole reason I started reading the J-Blogs was for the skeptics, the atheists and the rest of you guys. You make me think.

Anonymous said...

Dear Chana:
May you always continue to think and explore and write so meaninfully; and may you never ever come to think that the Torah "is bunk". I am a fan of yours who is much much older- I read and never comment; I am enamored with the world of computers- enabling us to be connected and to learn and grow. Yet as I look at real life- it scares me that young people turn to this machine as a source of inspiration and growth. Chana- turn to people; anyone who tries to convince you to leave our people in any way is not someone to be followed. I suspect that most (not all) skeptics have bits and pieces of their lives that they do not share with you or me; Talk to the people they have hurt on their path to enlightenment-- I watch the young frum families I see in person and they are real!! Yes they have doubts- for that is what it means to be alive- but they take the joy which Torah gives and create a life. Don't listen to anyone who has the audacity to call Torah "bunk"
You owe your parents more than that!

Chana said...

Oh, don't worry, I shan't leave religion and/or determine Torah is bunk on the authority of an anonymous blogger. I do have a little more sense than that.

I do nevertheless find the skeptics/ atheists/ various and sundry bloggers out here very thought-provoking.

It's all good.


Miri said...

I'm sure Rav Dessler wasn't like these people wprefer to portray him, either. It's just an association thing. The sad fact is, I learned some Rav Dessler in seminary that directly contradicted a point that one of my teachers in high school tried to convince me he was making. The kind of frustration this sort of thing causes is practically inexpressible. Why do these people think that these gedolim they so revere would want their Torah twisted to serve their own misguided means?

Anyhow, it's really just an association thing which, hopefully, will wear off.

Chana said...


"Why do these people think that these gedolim they so revere would want their Torah twisted to serve their own misguided means?"

Major point you've got right there- folks, this is something else about Templars- if the Gedolim knew how their Torah was being taught/ twisted/ used, I posit they would have heart attacks. Most of them never said the things attributed to them; it's a misunderstanding and distortion to begin with.

Also, I completely understand the association thing- I deal with it myself- I can't do the TAC programming at Stern for this reason/ can't do Chavrusas on Tuesday nights- the whole thing is way too close.

Ezzie said...

Miri - I totally understand and agree.

badrabbi said...


I thank JP for linking to this blog. You write well. And your points are passionately made.

I have struggled against the same things as you write about. For me, though, it has been more fun than anything else.

The question for Chana and the readers is this: Orthodox Judaism and its adherents say X. We know that X is not true. We love and live with people who adhere to X. How do we break from X belief without alienating those who adhere to it - without hurting them?

How does Judaism move on to bigger and better ideas without leaving its ardent adherents behind?

Married and Jewish said...

A great post, we just discovered your blog and are currently reading your old posts. Its sad what you had to go through HS, we know many girls who had to suffer similarly.

Anonymous said...

Ahhh, high school, I miss it so. Then again were I come from it was much more high than school, so...aaaanyway.

"I do not think I am infallible."

Why not, I do. It makes things so much easier.

By the way, I don't appreciate the overly heavy content that makes up the bulk of this post and the ensuing comments. No fun, no fun at all. You could have at least thrown in a comic.

Anonymous said...

"How does Judaism move on to bigger and better ideas without leaving its ardent adherents behind?"

First you gotta set the parameters for what defines "break"ing and "leaving" X. Are we talking about the "V" and "Z" neighborhood or are we talking about setting up shop in "I"ville (which may not be so bad seeing as it's close proximity to the holy land of "G".

Ben Avuyah said...

Well written Chana, I can tell you recieved a fair dose of attempted brainwashing and manipulation. I've been there myself.

I sensed you felt guilt about what you put your parents through, which speaks well for your character, but you can let go of some of the guilt.

If I had to suit up and go to battle for my little girl....well on!!!

Chana said...

Yes, Ben Avuyah, that's why I love your blog so much. Your Yeshiva Memoirs are brilliant.

And thank you.

Sarabeth said...

I'm speechless. The amount of pain, discovery, and hope in this post is amazing.

Anonymous said...

"Personally, I also don’t find Rav Soloveitchik to be any different from your teachers. To me, his ideas are just as false and made up, baseless, and filled with lies. But, it’s a personal choice and if it speaks to you, go for it!"

I am just amazed that this didn't get LittleFoxling banned from this blog. Is it an oversight or a sign of personal growth on Chanah's part?

Chana said...

Last anonymous,

Littlefoxling's comment was about his personal perception of Rabbi Soloveitchik rather than an overall denigration. I don't like it but within the structure of this post, I have to allow it. He wasn't attacking the Rav per se, only giving his perception.

And welcome back, e-kvetcher (if that is you.)

PsychoToddler said...

No one would ever know what I did or didn't do, no one would know if I ate that chocolate chip cookie- and I wanted to! because everyone else was. No one would know but me, and I didn't have to tell anyone; no one would tell on me. I could do anything I wanted, anything at all, whatever the hell I pleased, and nobody would care or know except me and God.

I have had much the same experience in my professional life. It's amazing how you come to define yourself based on those who surround you.

In my shul, I'm definitely at the bottom of the religious totem pole. In the "real world", I stand for what it means to be a Jew.

Odd? Or just natural.

PsychoToddler said...

And by the way--that bit with the cookie--that's how you KNOW that you're religious. When no one's watching--do you really believe that G-d is?

Chana said...

Natural, I think, Psychotoddler. :-)

Huzzah for you!

Leah Goodman said...

This post made me realize just how blessed I was to go to a school where there were no questions we couldn't ask, where there were teachers who cared, where we weren't taught the rules filtered through some rebbetzin, but we were taught the gemara and the mishna brurah and torah and nach.

I'm sure many people would consider a school like Frisch "treif" from the outset, but for me, it was a real blessing. I could never have followed blindly, and the harder the push, the harder the recoil for me.

I suspect that I would have been very different, never rebelling in class, just dismissing any and all of it as nonsense, and I would have been that much more vulnerable to the real world out there.

I hope that Stern hasn't been the same kind of experience for you. My feeling was (when my brother was at YU) that there was more openness and less brainwashing.

My heart goes out to you.

All the best,

e-kvetcher said...

>And welcome back, e-kvetcher (if that is you.)

Unmasked! :)

BTW, in many ways, the description of your school sounds like the modus operandi of the Stalinist/Soviet regime. With your mother's origins, it would be interesting to see if she ever saw the similarities.

Anonymous said...

Well Chana I rarely comment at all and never with my name but I feel a need to echo the sentiments of Ezzie, Jackie, M.R., the apple, erachet, and others (the ones who I know or know of personally just stuck in my head out of the 106 previous comments)-- WOW! As curious as I was about the simple question of why you switched schools, I never in a million years expected such a powerful and inspirational answer. Thank you for posting this. (To MR- Chinese water torture? I miss you!!!)

Anonymous said...

Does anyone agree that e-kvetcher's last comment is a bit much? Stalin? Soviet Regime? Did your forget to tell us that you also were sent to Siberia and in the evenings did a little jail time with bread and a a bit of water? Can we not demean Chana's mother and all that people have been through? Can we keep a little perspective? Chana - your pain is your pain, your difficulties were your difficulties- they are all of course valid- but really- my bracha to you is that your life never brings you anything more difficult or sad or painful than your years at Templars. And I mean this as a bracha!!!!!

Chana said...

Hey, last anonymous and e-kvetcher, let's not fight-

Actually, my mom's take on it was to laugh.

"I had to deal with all kinds of crap back in the Soviet Union; you think you actually have the power to frighten me?"

That being said, yeah, my mom did see the methods being used as similar, just much less skilled and very poorly executed.

And hey, thanks for your blessing; God knows I'd like to live a happy life without unnecessary pain (though some pain is good. I don't think it'd be a good idea to live a completely bland life.)

And good morning to all!

e-kvetcher said...

> Hey, last anonymous and e-kvetcher, let's not fight-

OK, but I do want to clarify my point. As someone who actually attended schools in the Soviet system, I do know what I am talking about.

And my point was not to argue that Chana's experience was equivalent to spending time in the GULAG. What I think many commenters are not getting is that what she objected to most was the intimidation and emotional blackmail that she was subjected to. And that is precisely on par with what went on in Soviet society.

Freelance Kiruv Maniac (Mr. Hyde) said...

A very moving post and quite educational. You are the example that should obligate every "off the derech" kid who threw in the towel without searching for their own role-models that could have inspired them to keep religious.

That being said, what will happen to your heroic struggle when you realize that 85% of the typical Aguda Hashkafa is backed by impeachable sources?
(I don't dare deny that the other 15% is %*%%#@!&^*)($! enough to drive anyone to distraction!)

What will happen to your struggle when you realize that the standard they were demanding was "higher" than what most MO/centrist teen-agers are capable of, and it was just a tragic example of "right message-wrong audience"?

Perhaps you would fume at the smug insinuation that the Aguda hashkafa is indeed "higher" and not just "different".
That is another struggle well worth debating. I am willing to debate it honestly and openly.

Chana said...

"That being said, what will happen to your heroic struggle when you realize that 85% of the typical Aguda Hashkafa is backed by impeachable sources?"

Why, you've answered your own question.

They're backed by impeachable sources

Freudian slips are great, I find. :-)

Chana said...

Seriously though, go ahead- do explain why the Agudah hashkafa is "higher" or "better." I'm curious as to what you'll say.

Anonymous said...

" I don't dare deny that the other 15% is %*%%#@!&^*)($! enough to drive anyone to distraction!)"


I appreciate this modeh al h'aemes :)

Yaakov said...

Beautiful and moving.

I went through the Yeshiva system growing up and I too was lucky enough to have parents who understood that just because I did not agree with what my yeshiva preached, did not make me a *bad* person. I applaud your open mindedness and ability to work through what you went through on your own. You are a true Jew. The one who loves the religion for what it is and not one who practices it to just fit in. You have found the Torah within yourself instead of forcing the mold on to yourself. You have found your path to joy and appreciation of what it means to you to be a Jew, and that is all that counts. Growing up in Flatbush I too was disgusted at times. I however was able to just fake what I had to, as to not get in *trouble* in Yeshiva. I am passive enough, or not strong enough, to not fight the "system",I just ignore it, but I support your fight and if need be, will be standing beside you WHEN the time comes to stand up for a religion that has turned from a beautiful practice to the ridiculous excuse of what being Jewish means.
Also, For the people who say that what Chana went through was nothing, you are surely a complete bunch of fools. Real morons. How would you react if your child came home from Yeshiva or Bais Yaakov one day feeling the way she did? Would you do nothing? Would you be those parents who would stick up for the school instead of their own child? I am sure that will create a tremendous atmosphere of trust and love in your house. Everything that we as adults do today is a directly related to the way that we were brought up and experiences as children. So really, stop being idiots and try to understand what it means to be ridiculed, shamed, embarrassed and insulted by *authority* figures, and to have to go through all of that as a child and teenager
Never back down Chana, always fight for what you believe in!!!
~ Yaakov who went to :
Chaim Berlin
Torah Temimah
Toras Moshe

Neil Harris said...

Wow. Very powerful post. Of course, anyone that can successfully reference Ann Rynd, the Rav, and Rav Hirsch is tops in my book.

Anonymous said...

You obviously went through a lot of pain, and I commend your strength and resourcefulness for being able to eventually overcome and heal from a situation which caused you so much greif. I would not call your story an inspirational one; more than anything I think it demonstrates the terrible reality of many of our current Jewish school systems, and the damage they can inflict on students. You, Chana, were lucky enough to have the bright mind, loveing parents, and brazen personality to fight your way through it, and eventually find what you found to be truly meaningful. Yes, your "survival" was compelling to read about, but at the same time I was so saddened to read about a school experience which should never have been experienced. It's stories like these that make me think, that more than anything, the people who most deeply affect others, are teachers. The way to influence people's lives the most, is by becoming a teacher.
Chana, I have no idea what your future career goals are, but I only hope that you can use your own experience to help better the Jewish educatiponal system in some way. And to those who are considering education as a career, I hope Chana's story will have a profound affect on you. Whether you are yeshivish, right-wing, left-wing, modern ortodox, whatever label you want to give yourself, it doesn't matter, I only hope that you will recognize the needs of people like Chana, recognize that not everyone fits into the same box, that questions need to be addressed directly and honostly, and more than anything I think, that ALL people need to be treated with absolute respect.

Freelance Kiruv Maniac (Mr. Hyde) said...

>"Seriously though, go ahead- do explain why the Agudah hashkafa is "higher" or "better." I'm curious as to what you'll say."<

You are the curious Jew after all. Now let's get started:

I would like to begin with "Mesilas Yesharim" by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato.

Can we agree that his book is an "impeachable" source of Jewish ethics? Do you know of any Orthodox Rabbi in the passed 300 years who took issue with any of his ideas in this book?
I don't think so.

If you would find one, I would have to retract the "impeachable" label. If not, we'll be ready for the next step.

Rebecca said...

Anonymous 2:00,

While i personally am not a fan of vulgar language, I understand where Chana is coming from while using it here. There are two ways one can use bad language: 1) To degrade the thing one is talking about (this is the method you refer to, the one that is used so often in our society and only sounds disgusting in the end). 2) To express emotion. Sometimes, a person feels a release in using language that is "bad" precisely because it expresses intense emotion in a shocking manner (that is, shocking to those of us who are sensitive enough to see it). I believe that Chana is choosing the latter method. While I would personally try to avoid such methods, I can understand why Chana has chosen this route.

Also, notice the sophistication (yes, I know that sounds ironic) that Chana uses in her speech here. She's not doing it to sound cool or to sound nasty, she's using it to express her intense emotions. Again, I'm not advocating it, but I understand it.

And by the way, anonymous 2:00, I applaud you for your sensitivity. Because so many of us have become so immune to the terrible language that is used in our society, unfortunately. You stand as a bold exception to the rule, and I hope that you will continue to remain strong against outside influences.

Anonymous said...

Didn't your mothers ever tell you if you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all. The girl had a hard time. Don't be giving her a hard time telling her she didn't.

Anonymous said...

See the new blogg where students and parents can vent
"Yeshivah Crises"

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 6:54,

I am disgusted by this site. Yes, disgusted. Because while Chana is using her blog to encourage others out there to hold onto Yiddishkeit, your site just turns people off. What would happen if say a potentially frum Jew stumbled onto this site and decided that the Yeshiva school system was too hard to deal with, thus turning him away forever? You may think my example is extreme, but I assure you it's not.

Yes, I understand the lack of yeshivos in our society, rachmana l'tzlan. But there are more tactful ways to deal with it then putting it up in such a tasteless manner where all this becomes is a huge "vent" for lashon hara and turning people away from the yeshiva world.

M.R. said...

Do you mean impeccable?

Anonymous said...

Hi Chana,
First of all there was a misunderstanding when I was commenting on Ezzie's blog some time ago so if I came across as harsh, I apologize. I thought Ezzie was being critized and this is why I responded that way. My apologies. I am also a person who stands up and defends other people when something is wrong so I can totally understand where you are coming from when you talk about what happened in your school.

Secondly, your former school sounds like a jail house.
Thank G-d you left that place.

Thirdly, some time ago I felt exactly the same way you described :

you are hurt on all sides, hurt from the religious angles and other angles and you are sick, so sick and disgusted by the way they treat you, the way they think of themselves as righteous people when all they do is hurt and ruin you. They are killing people's souls but they don't see it- they are breaking people but they don't care.

Lonely Man of Faith and Halakhic Man are some of my favorite books. It also helped me to read Michtav M'Eliyahu. I went to the grave of Baal Shem (not the Baal Shem Tov) another tzadik (a tzaddik who was harassed and hurt by his own Orthodox community) and cried by his grave site. I felt connected to him. Very soon I met a haredi rabbi, who listened to me and gave me good advice and gave me a lot of support. Everyday I think about him and thank him , he is a very kind person.

I totally agree with your friend:
Do you know how difficult that is? I have a friend; she was once told, "You can't judge Judaism by the Jews."

I respect you a lot and I think you are a very brave girl. I posted some stuff revolving such issues (like my post on Orthoskeptics- against all odds) but I stopped for a while cause it still makes me feel bitter.

Freelance Kiruv Maniac (Mr. Hyde) said...

Well, no, I meant UNimpeachable.
I sort of made a fool of myself thinking that impeachable means that you CANNOT impeach it, even though that clearly makes no sense.
Please forgive the confusion.

Anyway, has Chana read Mesilas Yasharim? Will she agree that it describes the ultimate ideal service of God which only a select few can ever get to the top?
This sefer clearly states that there are LEVELS of excellence in worshiping God and not all Jews are on the same level. Not by a long shot.
So when you have a chareidi teacher extoling the virtues of the highest levels of the Mesilas Yesharim to a general audience, you mat get a few different reactions:
1)This person is off his rocker if he/she wants to demand this from ME.
2) This is an awfully high level that this teacher is demanding. I hope to one day reach that level by growing in that direction very carefully and gradually.

For what its worth, I think it is a complete mistake from a pedegogic view, to demand such high levels from people who are not asking or ready for them. Avodas Hashem is a very personal thing, and although one should never stagnate or grow complacent, it's very hard to hear someone else tell you that you are below standard.
I deeply sympathize with Chana's negative experience in this regard.

Chana said...


You do realize that the implication that I am somehow sub-par, below standard, "not up to the level" or "not on the right madreigah" is in and of itself offensive, yes?

Surely this is not your answer to all such situations- to claim that the teacher was expecting "too much" of the poor students when it comes to hoping that we all grow up to be supportive kollel wives and/or Chumash teachers?

I have read some of Mesilas Yesharim but would have to look it over before agreeing to any point you could conceivably make. As I recall, the points themselves were good; the way the work was taught to me was problematic since ideas were applied far beyond the scope of what the Ramchal had written and twisted to fit a certain perception and worldview.

Your assertion that the Agudah way is the one, true and correct way is perplexing. Your further statement that the only reason my teachers were at fault was because they tried to inform me of this when I was "too young" or "too stupid" or otherwise "too something" to understand is...incredible.

Not because I say I am the smartest person on the planet- I'm not. But because you honestly believe the only problem with what happened in this scenario is that we the students didn't measure up to our kind teachers' flattering but unrealistic expectations of us.


Freelance Kiruv Maniac (Mr. Hyde) said...

>"Your assertion that the Agudah way is the one, true and correct way is perplexing."<

Inasmuch as they were promoting the achievement of the highest levels of Mesilas Yesharim, you have yet to provide an argument that this is not inaccurate.

I do not defend your teachers if they had perverted the message of this classic work of spiritual excellence that is universally acclaimed across all political lines as far as I am aware.

>" Your further statement that the only reason my teachers were at fault was because they tried to inform me of this when I was "too young" or "too stupid" or otherwise "too something" to understand is...incredible."<

I don't recall using any the words that you have put in quotes in my name. I was vague because I wasn't there and I don't know the people involved.

>"Not because I say I am the smartest person on the planet- I'm not. But because you honestly believe the only problem with what happened in this scenario is that we the students didn't measure up to our kind teachers' flattering but unrealistic expectations of us."<

The way you put this problem is very distorted. You think that I am blaming YOU for not measuring up?
I am not blaming you whatsoever. I thought I was perfectly clear on this.
I was squarely laying the blame at the teachers who thought they could force a certain kind of spiritual growth that was out of sync with their students' reality. (to put it very mildly reading your account)

I'm just saying that in a different setting, the same message would have been appropriate and justified. (Provided that they were not distorting the sources that I think they were using.)

Chana said...

Could you give an example of a different setting where you believe this could work?

Freelance Kiruv Maniac (Mr. Hyde) said...

Let me give you a few personal examples:

1)Most Ashkenazi poskim permit the use of sheitels (modest non-ostentatious ones) for married women's hair-covering.
But it is a "heter".
There are indeed certain halachic and hashkafic advantages to wearing head-scarves (again, modest and not ostentatious).
While our fully community approves of sheitels, my wife admires chareidi women who look less formal and fashionable by insisting of wearing only head-scarves.
We live with a certain tension that may or may not be resolved in the future. But we are open to growing slowly in this area.
And it would be a big mistake for my wife to go to a shiur to hear Rebbetzin so-ans-so blast sheitels and label all sheitel-wearers as evil temptresses.
Maybe the women in other communities who have adopted this stringency need to hear that message given in that way. But not my wife at this stage.

2)All poskim allow one to rely on reputable kashrus organizations to consume food labeled kosher.
We are all well aware that awful mistakes do take place in the kashrus industry and we all get nervous from time to time.
I know of people who do not eat commercially produced meat and additionally will take off the terumos and ma'asaros on all produce themselves, despite the hechsher on the fruit store.

I am not adopting this stringency but I have no problem admiring those who do.
I live with a certain tension in this area and I am open to gradually growing in this direction.

3)A project for kollel students has been started to enlist them in the effort to stem the tide of the "off the derech" epidemic. It involves a considerable investment of time and emotional energy.
I have my hands full at the moment, and can't see where i could make the time, but people who are just as busy as myself found a way to fit these troubled souls into their hectic schedule anyway.
I admire them and wish I could be on their level of mesiras nefesh.

Perhaps I really could have used a kick in the pants by someone to get me to give up some break time for these kids.
Don't I have a debt to my teachers who gave up their precious time to inspire me? Don't I owe it to Hashem to give back to what I recieved to His less fortunate children?

There is alway more to do in Judaism, is all areas of life. The examples are endless.
Do you see what I am getting at?
Sometimes we shoot the messenger and forget that there might be some abstract value in the message despite ourselves.

Anonymous said...

I am truly sorry you experienced so much pain during your high school years. During that time you are looking for guidance and support and you didn't receive it. I may not agree with your responses to authority figures, but I do understand that you did what you thought you had to do at the time. You were only a high schooler who felt abused by those who were supposed to be her role models. So, whatever pain you had, I hope you are on your way to finding a way to heal. Be that counseling, a new hashkafa, whatever.

However, I do think railing against a Yeshivish or Chareidi mindsight is not the answer. You found what you were looking for in Modern Orthodoxy. OK. Many people have different hashkafas than they were raised with. I understand that you got there in a negative way but you found your home. I just don't think it helps ahavas Yisrael.

Anonymous said...

FKM, Mesilas Yesharim is not Tanach, it is not Torah and it was NOT given to Moshe at Sinai. It's a mussar book which speaks to some people, not to others. I disagree that it (as translated by 'aguda') describes how best (or how only) to reach the highest madrega.

Extolling lack of thought, questioning, cookie-cutter mentality which is what Chana experienced (and I second that experience though in not as profound a way) takes away ones Godliness, ones Tzelem Elokim. It is people like Chana who realize that such teachers attempt to tear away ones humanity and turn people into sheep and robots. I know what Chana went through - it is not the mussar that she is upset about. It's not being criticized that's the problem. It's being criticized for the WRONG things. You want to criticize me (for example) for not making optimum use my time, for not caring about my friends and family as much as they deserve, for not being patient enought - please, I can use such criticism. But you dare to criticize someone for thinking, for trying to understand truth, for seeking knowledge of HaShem's world, that is tragic.

Someone comes and bashes people because they wear sheitels? What chutzpah! Not because the people are 'not on a high enough madrega' what drivel you speak! But because real, honest poskim say there's no problem. Do you really think someone is on a lower religous madrega for not following the most machmir shita? - so you're an ignoramous too.

Sorry for the rant, I feel Chana's pain and it just comes out...

MYG said...

My (belated) compliments.

Anonymous said...

Wow... this is really inspiring. As a side note, it does seem that we had very similar roles at our respective Country Day Schools.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post.
It must have taken some courage to write.

Good educators don't get upset when they hear sharp questions which they don't know the answers too - it is a good sign as it often means the students are interested and stimulated in the material.

And Chazal were good educators.
I wonder how these beis yaakov teachers do the mah nishtanah in their sedarim on pesach - they must slap their children for asking disrespectful questions.

(Also, one wonders whether any of these teachers have ever read a blatt gemara. Isn't questioning the mark of all jewish halakic literature from the gemara on?)

(chazal also understood that patience is required to teach - lo ha-qapdan melamed.)

Again, wonderful post.


David Guttmann said...

Wow! I am recommending this post to every thinking Jew.

Your tenacity is amazing. No wonder you belong to the Am Kshei Oref!

Anonymous said...


First – your post was so long and ripe with idea and detail, I can only apologize for the brevity of my off the cuff response. Your multiple subject matters and incisive descriptions are shoddily responded to below.

I had a similar experience to you (although I only did summer school at North Shore CDS - it was a lifesaver showing me possibility outside the Jewish cult I dealt with day to day.)

I too felt abused on a regular basis, and that was in MO schools. While the abuse was mental (clarifying, for any of you thinking criminal acts took place,) the trauma is life long. Yes, I was sent at the behest of the administration and my parents to numerous social workers and psychologists/psychiatrists (all said I was fine but not responding well to my environment (mom/dad hope brilliant insight was covered by insurance.)) Yes, boarding school was considered. Yes, I chose to first fight and then flee later.

For those who like me disagree from the start with the party line, to this day, I advocate the fight. More so, because I am capable of doing so - I feel it is my duty to stand up and defend both myself and those who cannot/will not do so for themselves. My methods differed from Chana’s, but the ideals of standing up for myself, and those who were bullied (by the administration, not to mention the peer group) were similar.

Perhaps one of the lasting memes of my Judaic education, is that anyone can be attacked with trumped up (or real) charges against the state. Your prior commenter who compared it to Stalinist propaganda hit the nail on the head. Wait – I will explain before anyone goes crazy.

If one studies the use of psychology, propaganda, marketing, and sociology of group/cult think and leadership, in an academically rigorous fashion (yes, I have) - the education system espoused by religious Jewish based schools (as well as other hard line religions,) totalitarian regimes, and cults are remarkably similar in methodology. (Need this statement to be attributed in academic fashion? I will place a simple linked (where possible) bibliography at the end.))

Simplified greatly, it is because these propaganda/mind control techniques work to build a cohesive, non-tolerant of argument, group dynamic. We are not educating our young as Jews, we are creating the future generations of our community deliberately in a manner that resists the outside world. While I disagree with this intellectually, I understand the reasons given and desire to do so.

I make no argument about the efficacy of this educational system as it clearly works a great deal of the time. I well understand the normative argument of this methodology in light of a logarithmically rising assimilation and intermarriage rate; we are creating the next generation in the same mold. I have a significant issue with the fact that those who fall through the cracks have no safety net – and are cornered into a fight or flight (in the cases of Chana and myself – both) successive reactions.

Normally I am quite combative with those who force their views upon me; but in the case of Jewish education, I have been thinking steadily about a more reasoned approach. I would not try to change the methodology, I am enough of a pragmatist to believe that entirely impossible. I am however pleading with the Jewish community to offer more inclusive programs that better fit children who do not fit the stereotype and mold.

A note of caution, frequently, these alternative programs create their own stigma – avoid this at all costs!

If I were to have a child one of these days, they wouldn’t go to Telshe or Hillel Torah or Schechter (Chicago’s day schools with a few other choices not listed.) My child wouldn’t wind up in Montessori or North Shore (although that is looking more viable as I write this.) I just don’t have a good choice in Chicago for my child to receive an excellent education, a sense of Judaism without it being forced upon them, and a supportive environment in which to retain a sense of wonder/curiosity/amusement/intellectual freedom.

Somebody please help! George Hanus is desperately trying to fund a Jewish education for any youth who (or parents) wants to attend. Be careful Mr. Hanus! The youth may not like what they find there. Offer them alternatives, the current system is broken, and broke!

Thanks for giving me a place to share your pain, join your road to an optimistic future, and plea for a better way forward on behalf of our (potential) progeny.


For those of you nay-sayers, yes, Jewish day school education really does follow the same methodology as cults and totalitarian regime propaganda. Feel free to read about it on your own. Its not pretty. Its not necessarily used for evil in the case of our community. It is however the same gun and ammunition.

A short sample of readings:
Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion Anthony Pratkanis & Elliot AronsonOrder
Battle for the Mind William SargentOrder
Brainwashing: The Science of Thought Control Kathleen Taylor (Oxford University Press August 24, 2006)Order
The Anatomy of Illusion: Religious Cults and Destructive PersuasionW. Keiser, Jacqueline L. Keiser (Charles C. Thomas Publishing, 1987)Order
Bounded Choice: True Believers and Charismatic Cults Janja Lalich (University of California Press, 2004)Order
Cults and PersonalityFrank J. MacHovec (Charles Thomas Publishing, 1989)Order
Cults in our MidstMargaret Singer (Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1995)Order
Cults on Campus: Continuing Challenge Marcia RudinOrder
The Heart of a Cult Lena Phoenix (Garuda, Inc. September 1, 2006)Order
The Power of Cult Branding Matthew W. Ragas and Bolivar J. Bueno (Prima Publishing, 2002)Order
Soul Snatchers Jean-Mari Abgrall (Algora Pub., 1999)Order
Spiritual Perversion Steve Sanchez (Turnkey Press, February 28, 2005) Order
Under the Influence: The Destructive Effects of Group Dynamics John D. Goldhammer (Prometheus Books, 1996)Order
Schein, E. H. Coercive Persuasion. New York, NY: Norton; 1961.
Chen, T.E.H. Thought Reform of the Chinese Intellectuals. New York, NY: Oxford University Press; 1960.
Farber, I. E., Harlow, H.F., West, L.J. "Brainwashing, conditioning and DDD: debility, dependency and dread" Sociometry. 1956: 20: 271-285
Hinckle, L.E., Wolfe, H.G. "Communist interrogation and indoctrination of enemies of the state." Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry. 1956: 76:115-174.
Lifton, R.J. "Home by ship: reaction patterns of American prisoners of war repatriated from North Korea" American Journal of Psychiatry. 1954; 110: 732-739
Schein, E.H. The Chinese Indoctrination program for prisoners of war" Psychiatry. 1956; 19:149-172.
Segal, H.A. "Initial psychiatric findings of recently repatriated prisoners of war" American Journal of Psychiatry. 1958; 21:358-363.
Ofshe, R., Singer, M.T. "Attacks on Peripheral versus central elements of self and the impact of thought reforming techniques" Cultic Studies Journal/ 1986; 3:3-24.
Singer, M.T., Ofshe, R. Thought Reform and Brainwashing. Document offered as proof of testimony, Queen's High Court, London, on behalf of the London Daily Mail: 1980.
Singer, M.T. "Group psychodynamics" In: Berkow, R., ed. The Merck Manual. Rahway, NJ: Merck Sharp and Dohme; 1987: 1467-1471.
Yalom, I., Lieberman, M. AA study of encounter group casualties" Archives of General Psychiatry. 1971; 25:16-30.

Anonymous said...

Hi Chana.

I too went through something very similar. I was one of the really "good" yeshivah boys with a lot of potential in a black-hat place. Unlike you, however, I came from an assimilated family (how I got to the yeshivah is not for here and now).

In the beginning of high school I was a fanatic. But by the end I was a rebel. Why? Because of exactly what you wrote about in this post. Because my rebbeim would even find Torah literature to be "problematic" if it was written from a perspective different from that of the yeshivah (and especially if it came from that frightening yet alluring place called YU).

I almost threw away Yiddishkeit after high school. The reason I didn't is because I finally found people, like my family, who were open and tolerant and inquisitive on the one hand, but also deeply devoted to mitzvos and Torah study. Who were committed to excellence in all worlds, not just the world of Torah. Who had true derekh eretz both on the personal and on the intellectual level.

So when I read your post I identified with it very strongly. May you find joy and success.