Thursday, August 04, 2005

barney must go

ok, this is a post for my father. long ago, on a planet much closer to ninth grade, my father insisted that i should get a blog and post about 'issues affecting jewish teenagers.' i told him that, knowing nothing about what's right and wrong anyway, i'd never know what to post.

i'm not sure if this is an issue affecting teenagers or just me specifically, but whatever it is, it bothered me severely.

last night a friend of mine got home from camp beis yaakov. i want to preface this by saying she is one of the sweetest girls i know...she walked in the rain with an umbrella to meet me because my mother told her i didn't have one (Which was false). she called me as soon as she got home because she wanted to see me.

anyway, i brought her a bunch of the books i got from stern...shabbaton, orientation, res handbook etc, because i was and still am pretty excited about going, and what else is new in my life?

but the first thing she said when i showed her the booklet was:

'why do they have a beit medrash?'


i saw where she was pointing; it was a list of lectures being given at orientation, some of which were located in a beit medrash.

'i don't know,' i said. 'it's a school. shouldn't they have one?'

'i thought you said it was a girls' school.'

'it is.'

'a girl's job isn't to sit and learn all''s not good for them to have butay medrash. there's no point to that.'

i think i just blinked at her. i said: 'there's nothing wrong with it...?'

'it's not assur, it's just...that's not a girl's job. we aren't supposed to sit and learn.'

it's a school. what are we supposed to do, play volleyball?

the next thing she noticed was that the girls in the res life handbook were 'not dressed tzenously': the shirts were way too tight, some had necklines that were 'ridiculously low', and some just 'didn't look nice.' she said she understood that obviously in an institution as big as yu, there were going to be girls not dressed appropriately; but it really bothered her that yu would put inapropriately dressed girls in their advertisement and say: this represents our school. i was floored. i'm pretty sure yu, like me, never looked twice at those pictures.

then she didn't like the shabbaton book. every shabbos is sponsored by a different club, so they have different themes. 'that's not shabbostick,' she said. 'that's like dress-up day.' she really didn't like the biology lecture about the jewish perspective on stem cell research. 'you want to talk about that? on shabbos?'

i decided to change the topic, because even though she is my friend and i do love her, i was seriously afraid i would blow a gasket soon. i asked her about her camp.

'wonderful,' she said. 'i had a lot of meaningful discussions.'

since this is the stuff of my high school years (me and my friend n sitting up at four in the morning in the rain talking about life), i asked her what about.

she said, 'well for example, this one girl showed me how careful you have to be...why all television and computer games, even educational ones, are inherently flawed. i'm telling you, this girl could prove why barney is inappropriate.'

she went on to say that she wasn't saying no one shoudl watch barney, just the concept of children sitting and staring at a box that's filling their mind with all these goyish values and cultures is a bad idea. apparently, in her camp, no one even knows that a television is called a television. they call it a video player because they are not aware that it does anything else. television watching is 'barely tolerated' in her camp.

i said: 'all due respects, a, i do not think i would belong at your camp.'

why not? she said. i know tons of girls just like you there!

i watch television, i said.

she said: 'so do some girls that go there. they just don't advertise the fact.'

then she asked me if i'd read the new harry potter, and i said yeah. she said: 'isn't it terrible?'

'what, that he died? (i didn't spoil it!) yeah, that was pretty--'

'oh...big whoop. no i didn't finish it. i mean- it's just disgusting! i had to put it down...why did she ruin it by putting so much inappropriate stuff in it?'

she went on to explain to me why you can't get hashkafa from fiction, and anyway harry potter doesn't count as fiction because fiction is 'something that could happen, but didn't.' harry potter couldn't happen, so it's not fiction. i wanted to put my head down on the desk and weep. that is a third grade definition of fiction, i said. you are most DEFINITELY talking to the wrong person about this.

but, in her perfectly sweet and unassuming way, she went on to explain why all fiction is a waste of time and there's absolutely nothing to be learned from it. except for jewish historical fiction, which can give you a context for things.

'A,' i said, 'you are ripping my heart out over here.'

'i'm sorry,' she said, 'i'm so sorry. what did i say?'

and that's just it. i know this girl, and she loves me. i know she had the best of intentions. whether right or wrong, i wasn't offended by her or angry at her because i know she is a wonderful girl.


to me, this is like looking at the world with a red marker and saying, 'ok, what can i cross out next?'

i realize that i'm more moderate on a lot of issues than this girl is. and i also realize that she is entitled to her views. and it's perfectly ok for her to live that way. if that's how she understands things, fine. but what bothers me is that, if i didn't know her and were just meeting her, or worse, if i went to her camp, those things she said would push me away. there is a way for people with different views to be friends -- it happens in this city all the time-- but you can't make friends with people if you give them the impression that they are 'barely tolerated.' if this is how beis yaakov (and i know i'm generalizing, i don't want to single them out) interacts with other orthodox girls, i am not surprised that we are so divided. i am not surprised so many teens drop the whole thing. after all, if the highest aspiration is to one day be too holy for barney, what is le point?

i know at my low spiritual level i am probably misunderstanding her point, and i explained that to her. but my point is, when you can look at a jewish college catalogue full of girls learning and notice only that some of their shirts are tight, you are not seeing the trees for the forest. (does that make sense?)

regardless of your feelings about harry potter, even if you're so religious you've given up reading english altogether, that's not what it's about and it really can't be, or i might go mad.

if you cannot find a way to coexist, with respect and with understanding and with dan l'kaf zechus, with other jews who have differing viewpoints, then who honestly cares how many gartels you wear.

((this girl feels the same way, remarkably. she hates nothing more than the holier-than-thou attitude. she doesn't realize, probably because of her camp and so forth, that what she said could be viewed like that.))


Blogger PsychoToddler said...

You're not on a low spiritural level. You think you are because that's what she's telling you. This is the main reason why I think it is good for you to get away from the Beis Yaakov attitude. I think Stern will be very good for you.

10:50 AM  
Blogger parcequilfaut said...

I'm sitting here all "Guh?"

It's not good for girls to sit and learn all day -- at school?! Harry Potter is bad? You shouldn't "advertise" that you watch TV?

Now, as yr dad and you both know, I'm a big ol' goy, but none of this sounds right to me. Good on you for keeping your temper with your friend, because at this point I'm mad for you.

Glad you're not letting this stop you from being the best you can. I don't think Dinah avoided her learning because she was a woman. Miriam, either. Even my Church of Christ upbringing taught me that. Arggh.

11:04 AM  
Blogger GregoryT said...

Great post. Just makes me send a link of it to friends of mine who, I think, are getting too frum too fast, but I fear of them not understanding it. I, too, know of someone who scrapped her plans to go to Stern after being a year in Israel and went to DePaul (a catholic U in Chicago, not far from where her parents live) because her rabbi told her that it's better to go to the "goyish" school than to live and go to an MO place. What a pitiful state the general UO community is if an average person thinks like that.

12:09 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

I can't think of anything constructive i can add, but i completely agree with what's already been said. Stern isn't perfect (where is?) but it's definitely a much better place for you than anywhere motivated by the same ideals as your friend's camp.

12:23 PM  
Blogger torontopearl said...

great/insightful post! tell your friend that man or woman can not live by "seforim" alone.

case in point: perhaps an exception, but let your friend read on the Internet about Ariel Avrech, a Ner Israel (Baltimore) student who was niftar two years ago. he was wise beyond his years, enjoying learning but enjoying good literature, as well. when he passed away, his father and mother started a publishing company in his memory that would produce quality fiction for Torah-observing young people. the first book IS a piece of historical fiction, "the hebrew kid and the apache maiden," written by ariel's father, hollywood screenwriter robert j. avrech. i KNOW that robert & karen avrech's pub. house will not just produce historical fiction, but fun stuff, as well. one of the upcoming books is "chick-lit for the frum" -- a fun look at the world of shidduchim. i've read the manuscript, other Orthodox people and rabbis have read the manuscript, and it's all good -- no shmutz.
tell your friend we live in a society where we are apt to see anything and everything, even if we try to close our eyes to it.
fudge, live your life your way, let her live her life her way!

12:33 PM  
Blogger torontopearl said...

"chick lit for the frum" is not the working title of the ms.; it is just how one would describe the genre of the story. sorry if i misled you.

12:48 PM  
Blogger Ralphie said...

Frumkeit or no frumkeit, Barney is the devil.

1:08 PM  
Blogger respondingtojblogs said...

Don't get me started about harry potter. The irony is that these people will lead blissful and ignorant lives.

2:10 PM  
Blogger dilbert said...

Excellent post. (Of course, you may want to know that my wife and I are against our girls going to Stern(if they indeed grow up to be that old) because it doesn't represent our values in Yiddishkeit either, but from the other side. :-) Oh well.)

5:39 PM  
Blogger PsychoToddler said...

Stern is too right-wing for you?

I guess that's the problem of centrist judaism. Too light for the black hats, too dark for the srugies.

7:25 PM  
Blogger Eliyahu said...

great post! may you be blessed to know great joy and light as you follow your jewish path!

8:37 PM  
Blogger fudge said...

wow...this has really opened my eyes a little. thanks everyone for your insight. it's good to feel there's someone behind you.

torontopearl, the publishing company sounds really interesting. there's such a draught of good jewish fiction it's almost painful...when those books come out i'll be first in line to read them

i don't's just so hard to know what's right, and when you're just hearing what you want to hear. in some sense, it's an internal argument i've had all my life. probably everyone does.

it does seem crazy to me to go to de paul rather than risk mo corruption, especially if you knew what goes on at de paul, but that's a trend around here too. you go to sem and then you go to mt mary, which is pretty cheap. or you don't go to college at all, and get your degree through some program where you clep everything and take a bunch of online courses. then some girls go to ti or touro.

dilbert: that's interesting, where will you send your kids then?

the left side is something i haven't heard much about.

8:56 PM  
Blogger reb-yid said...

although this friend of yours may have gone to far too fast and gotten somewhat distorted along the way (in my own we call it brainwashing) , you shouldn't let it turn u off completely from any ideas that are more right wing than u are used to. The truth is, the way u describe your friend is how a lot of these people are, but there are also very many 'right wingers' who are quite rational, intelligent and understanding.
As for going to Stern, it really comes down to one's own background, hashkafos, and ideologies, but if u feel it's right for u, then definitely u should go for it; it happens to be a very high caliber institution.

9:19 PM  
Blogger Doctor Bean said...

That does it. Next week me and my whole family are becoming Methodist.

10:12 PM  
Blogger queeniesmom said...

excellent post! keep thinking and evaluating what you hear based on what makes sense to YOU. don't let the jewish ayatollahs get to you.
Have a great time at stern and enjoy everything ny and stern has to offer.

10:38 PM  
Blogger parcequilfaut said...

Robert Avrech's blog is Seraphic Secret, if you'd like to check it out, Fudge. I like it. And when the "chick-lit-for-the-frum" comes out, I might just check it out, chick lit being a hobby of mine.

We're behind you.

1:11 AM  
Blogger Safranit said...

This is the reason I don't believe that I could return to Milwaukee with young children! I couldn't send my girls to the school you went to...I would be afraid of the results.

I understand the feeling that you are on a low spiritual level....but it really is just a closed mind to the rest of the world.

1:37 AM  
Blogger The Hedyot said...

Well said! Shout it from the rooftops!

2:06 AM  
Blogger JC said...

I am with your father, do not let anyone tell you that you are on a low spiritual level and also don't let them make you feel that way. Differences are what make life so wonderful, that is how I happened to run across your fathers blog. Amid the differences, I have enjoyed finding the stories that are universal (teaching you to drive, etc.) All your life you will have people telling you what is right and wrong on lots of subjects, you have to listen to your own heart and find your own truth. It sounds to me as though you have a good head on your shoulders. You will be fine. I agree that you should check out seraphic secret. If you really like to read, you will love it. It is wonderful. So that is my view from an old goyish grandma. :)

4:34 AM  
Blogger torontopearl said...

"The Hebrew Kid and the Apache Maiden" has been out for months already. It is the first in a series of "Hebrew Kid" books. Aside from the chick-lit-for-the-frum book, there will be a series about modern-day teens meeting Jewish historic figures and how it works into the present-day life; a graphic novel(non-fiction, I believe) is in the works about a frum young man and his mentally-emotionally-challenged younger brother. Lots of good books in the lineup.
How do I know all this? I wrote an article about Seraphic Press, the story behind it, the publisher and some of the upcoming books.
Keep an eye out for these good reads. Tell your friend to do the same.
Have a good Shabbos.

6:34 AM  
Blogger Shragie said...

Fudge, amush

Your dilemma is not an uncommon one. It sounds like your friend and yourself experienced nothing more than culture shock. You have to realize that every social group stresses different focuses. Dressing modestly with strict halachik adherence, avoiding non observant Jewish values and entertainment, and general old time traditional way of life are very essential elements of any respectable bais yaakov girl.

While conceivably her dialogue may have been a turn off as you say, she didn’t seem to say anything that has no ground. Women studying as a formal function is not a travesty; however it is incongruent with most of Jewish history and has many of Rabbinic authorities struggling with the concept. Embracing gentile culture and values is also a complicated issue that has Rabbis struggling. For this girl, the pictures and the Barney struck her as if you were from Mars, much as she struck you as being from Jupiter. (Furthermore, there is a lot more to old style Judaism than multiple gartels;))

What I don’t understand, if you’ll forgive me, is your resentment towards your friend. Unless you left some stuff out of your story, it seems that she was genuinely surprised that there are people who live differently than she. Wouldn’t it be more consistent with your affable description of her to assume that it was her curiosity that prompted her questions and not her disapproval?

My 2 cents, she sounds like a sweet kid – don’t mess up a potentially good friend over this.

6:47 AM  
Blogger PsychoToddler said...

I'm noticing a lot of comparisons to "radical" islam. I mentioned Taliban Judaism, Queenie's mom mentioned "Jewish Ayatollahs". I think we really do have a pretty good religion here. We have to make sure people don't turn it into something despicable.

7:11 AM  
Blogger dilbert said...

Where will my kids go? with some help from Hashem, they will all go to Israel for at least a year after high school(I am ok with two, my wife holds at one), I have picked Gush for my son, and my wife has picked out places for the girls that learn gemara(I forgot the names, Brovender's?). After that the grand plan involves finding a school that has an excellent Jewish community and good programs in what they are interested in and would have to include learning opportunities, although I would not be unhappy if the boy went to YU. The issue that concerns us about Stern is the perception that they are not very encouraging of the women to go on and have big time careers(going to grad school, professional school, etc) and more emphasis on the proverbial MRS degree. If this is old stereotyping I would certainly be happy to be corrected. All the fairy tales in our house end " and they lived happily ever after and got married, but only after the princess had finished college and got her professional degree."

Dont get me wrong, if my daughters decide they want to get married earlier, and concentrate on having a family rather than going to school past college, I have no objection, but I want them to have a choice, and not feel that by choosing to pursue a career they are bucking the trend and expectations. I guess my views are just one step over to the left from yours or your dad's.

7:27 AM  
Blogger PsychoToddler said...

Dilbert, you are also talking about sending them to Israel for a year or two where they will really solid Jewish indoctrination. From my perspective, that's just frontloading the Jewish half of the program. Don't be shocked if your girls come back to the US with a desire to pursue the MRS degree.

7:36 AM  
Blogger myownstuff said...

I am so happy for you that you are going to Stern. A place where different types of girls meet. Yes, there will be thing that you don't like but at least you will have the opportunity to grow as part of the world and not as a outsider.

8:52 AM  
Blogger Jewish Blogmeister said...

I have to agree with Reb Yid. Your friend is certainly extreme. There are plenty of frum Yeshiva boys and girls who are not like this. I would go further and say (although I'm not that familiar with her particular school) that she does not really represent the majority of Bais Yakov girls. You are dealing with a frummy not a frum person here. There are many orthodox schools and they teach different hashkofahs . I disagree with Psychotoddler that this is the reason we need modern orthodoxy. You can find fault with anything if you look hard enough. There are certainly problems with Yeshiva schools but don't think for a minute that modern orthoxy doesn't have it's share of issues as well. To each their own.

11:06 AM  
Blogger fudge said...

reb-yid: thanks. yeah, some of my favorite people are right-wingers like that; i know some truly amazing people who can live that way and still connect with everyone else really well. my high school had a lot of different levels to it...there were those future leaders of communities, the girls who were a little more closed-minded, and then kids like me in between.

no, we weren't fighting. like i said, she's a really sweet girl and i never thought of not being friends with her anymore. at the same time, i know she wasn't simply curious about different lifestyles. she has like a black and white filter that processes everything she encounters, and everything i showed her registered firmly in the black.

still, it wasn't her i resented, it's more the people behind what she said...the whole way of treating people that camps like that seem to encourage. (Safranit-- my high school wasn't like that, don't be scared!)

dr bean: cheers. you don't even want to hear about my methodist friend's problems.

i checked out r. avrech's blog and i do like it. thanks for the tip!

i don't know if she represents all the beis yaakov's or not... ithink the problem is totally divorced from her, individually. i don't like to say this because i know people say it about all of us orthodox kids, but it really strikes me as brainwashing...

i guess in the end i will have to figure out where my borders are and stick to them. just as strongly as she sticks to her borders, only mine will be in a different place. but the difference is that after that, i want to still be able to enjoy and communicate with other people who aren't like me. that may be the harder part.

2:22 PM  
Blogger me said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7:02 PM  
Blogger me said...

Yes, I see this sort of stuff down here in the Bible belt. Take comfort that you aren't alone there. I had someone once tell me that's impossible for there to be aliens because, "God created Heaven and Earth, not Heaven and Earths." I've seen the Bible used to promote racism, violence and number of other horrible things. I mean that I have seen it right in front of me. All because, people don't think for themselves. They only take what they are told. Nothing angers me more than people who cause others to be ignorant. (Well, except for people who put mayo on hot dogs.)
Don't even get me started.
(sarcasm)Y'all edukate them gurls up Nawth? Shucks, y'all ARE libral. Their jest going to start thinkin fer themselves. Thet only leeds to trubble. Naw, we got it all figgered out. Down here we ain't edukatin nobody.(/sarcasm)
Gunny Walker

7:06 PM  
Blogger parcequilfaut said...

Fudge, your comments on brainwashing and subsequent remarks by the Gunny commenter has reminded me of one of me and CDHSarah's fave movies, Saved, which deals with Protestant religious schools and their bizzare environment.

But I totally was your friend (from a Church of Christ POV) when I was thirteen or fourteen. I didn't know anything but what I'd been taught, and I was around only people that had been taught the same thing -- except at a secular school where I was the automatic outsider in both religious and socioeconomic terms -- and we went to church camp and got really self-congratulatory about how awesome and holy we were, and went home to annoy our "less holy" friends. It's not brainwashing, precisely, just the lack of perspective that comes from only interacting with ANY narrow slice of reality. (I think it even transcends the concept of religion, as you can replace the adjective "holy" a few sentences up with "cool" and end up with the same basic scenario.)

It's frustrating, but don't give up. Take it to your studies, not out on yourself.

1:36 AM  
Blogger reb-yid said...

>i guess in the end i will have to figure out where my borders are and stick to them. just as strongly as she sticks to her borders, only mine will be in a different place.

one must always be careful,however, that your borders are not outside the borders of halacha.
I have found in life that although you sometimes feel a certain thing/attitude is right or wrong,it doesn't always 'fit' with Torah-Judaism, and it is better not steer clear if it conflicts , although u should always try to understand why something is right or wrong, not just have someone tell u with giving any rationale.

9:25 PM  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

This may sound like an odd piece of advice, coming from someone on the other side of the Great Halachic Divide--I've been affiliated with Conservative shuls all my life--but I say that you should stick to your guns and not be intimated or made to feel that you're on a "low spiritual level" just because your haskafah is not as chareidi as someone else's. You have the good fortune to have grown up in a traditional home and to have received a good yeshivah education. (I was not so fortunate.) You also come from a family open-minded enough to see the good in people having a wide range of hashkafot. Use that combination to your advantage. Take your solid background and your open-mindedness and fight the good fight. Why should every Orthodox Jew have to make an "either-or" choice, either chareidi or "frei"? Be a *thinking* Orthodox Jew, and don't let the fanatics intimate you. After all, if you let someone else do all your thinking for you, then you might just as well write off "chonen ha-daat" as a brachah l'vatalah.

12:04 AM  
Blogger fudge said...

good point. and that's my favorite bracha, too.

reb-yid: i know. actually, this is probably not a good thing, but i'm pinning a lot of my hopes on yu. growing up with ppl more right-wing than my family is confusing that way, it's hard for me to tell the difference between chumras and halacha. my father always told me that we did things differently than most people here, because he came from a yu background and these people are more chassidish (Twerski). i'm hoping they'll be able to teach me parameters that make more sense to me. i'm holding out until i see what their hebrew classes are like.

7:36 AM  
Blogger Kiki said...

fudge, I wanted to give you the benefit of my own experience. I grew up modern - pants, but shomer shabbat, sleeveless, but shomer kashrut, you get the drift... My best friend was the long sleeved long skirted bais yaakov girl from the right kind of family.

We hung out together, and respected each others differences. I had boyfriends - she lived her life vicariously through me.

That ended when she went away to seminary for a year. She came back critical of everything I said and did. She was uncomfortable being seen with me in public becasue of the modern way I dressed.

Because I loved her I tried to understand and in the end told her this was the way I am and have always been. She had to acept me for that or not. She did, and she stopped verbally criticsing.

Fast forward. I got married to a yeshivish black hatter and wear a sheitel, at the age of 21, she married at 25 to a black hatter too, but they are less right wing than we are. Living life, she told me, made her understand the importance of certain things - she actually told me it is what is inside that counts.

My point, dear Fudge, is to give your friend time. She spent a month (???) in camp being indoctrinated with all these fakey fakey values and was brainwashed. As time moves away, she will retain less and less of these ideas. Just carry on being her friend, let her see how happy Stern makes you, how it reinforces your yiddishkeit - she'll soon change her tune.

Hang in there Fudge - you are not on a low spiritual level. Far from it.


4:47 AM  
Blogger fudge said...


hey, thanks for your time and your advice. it does say a lot about people that things worked out the way they did. and i hope you're right. i hope we will change for the better.

and it's good to know cool jews abound! ('

8:47 PM  

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