Originally published on Tales Out Of Bais Yaakov
By the time I hit eleventh grade, I had the system down pat. My friends and I were really good at having clandestine conversations during class and somehow still having teachers believe we were listening attentively at all times.
My friends were (and still are) the most Bais Yaakov of Bais Yaakov girls in terms of frumkeit, but we all knew how to play the game of convincing the hanhala we were perfect students while really doing our own thing.
In our Mishlei class, Rebetzin Hoffman’s modus operandi was to lecture about one posuk at a time, and every three months, whatever we had covered up to that point would be on the exam. Which meant that traditional high school stalling tactics were out in full force in her class.
And I was one of the creative kids called on every so often to slow down the pace. One memorable incident is one I still laugh about today.
We were in the section of Aishes Chayil and hit the posuk ותקם בעוד לילה ותתן טרף לביתה – she wakes up when it’s still nighttime and prepares food for her household. According to Rebetzin Hoffman, that meant that a good mother prepares a good, hot breakfast for her children and doesn’t serve them a “chap-lap,” ie haphazard, breakfast of cold cereal. Cold cereal is not nourishing enough for her kinderlach to have a day of avodas Hashem.
From my vantage spot in the back corner of the room, my ears perked up. I abandoned my conversation and raised my hand.
“I never had hot breakfasts growing up, and I turned out fine!” (Ok, not such a sophisticated retort. I was young and stupid. Very stupid.)
Well, my classmates were really happy with that one. It turned into a volley of arguments, it was amusing, and it wasted plenty of time. I wasn’t taking it seriously. No one was, really.
I mean, I don’t think Shlomo HaMelech meant that serving cold cereal, or sugary cereals as the conversation went on to berate, makes someone a bad mother. Even taking the posuk for pshat and not looking for drash, somehow none of my classmates thought he meant that.
It became a running joke for years – whenever I messed up or did something ridiculous, it was blamed on the fact that my mother hadn’t woken up early to prepare hot breakfasts for me.
The other incident I remember vividly was not so amusing.
I don’t remember which posuk we were learning at that moment, because honestly I wasn’t paying the slightest bit of attention. A classmate leaned over and whispered desperately, “Esther Shaindel, we’re going way too fast! Start a discussion!”
We had covered about 7 or 8 psukim in the past hour – far too much. So I tuned in. Rebetzin Hoffman was expounding on the evils of videos.
“But not all videos are bad,” I said innocently (I always marveled at how my innocent act could possibly be effective). “What about classical videos?”
That was the era when I was constantly mixing up classical and classic as terms. I meant my favorite kid movies, the classics – The Secret Garden, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Peter Pan, etc. Again, I honestly didn’t care about this whole conversation at all, I was just pushing things as far as they could go in order to oblige my classmates and waste time. She obviously thought I meant movies of Shakespeare plays.
And I know this because the next week we had a grade-wide assembly.
The principal began the assembly by speaking about how terrible cell phones are. She described how she saw a student go into a shop once, and went in after the student had left, and found she had returned a cell phone, and the principal looked at the phone and saw texts between this girl and a boy, and look what dangers lurk – first it’s a cell phone, then it’s a boyfriend. (Some questions: why was she following her? Why would the clerk give her the girl’s phone? And why did I not go out then and get a cell phone once I found out that you could actually do that without your parents knowing?)
Then she went on to her next topic – videos. (Side note: I get a kick out of the way they were called videos and not movies.)
She started off saying that girls think it’s ok to watch certain videos just because we are reading those plays in school. But it’s not exactly ideal that we read those anyway, we’re required to by the state, and it’s even worse if we see them – remember that any image you see is engraved on your mind and can come up in your memory at the most inopportune moments.
And some girls use the excuse that they’re “classical videos” – here she leaned her head back a bit and changed her tone so it was obvious she was quoting someone else’s words. My entire class, sitting among the audience of the whole grade, turned around in their chairs and looked at me with huge grins.
I shrunk down in my chair and hissed “turn around!”
Well that taught me to ask dumb questions in class to stall the teacher. From then on, before I raised my hand, I had to think: is this going to get reported to the principal for a possible assembly? Assemblies wasted class time, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to rack up a count of assemblies called just to address my frumkeit issues.
The funny thing is that at graduation, I got the school’s only award with a plaque praising me as a “true exemplar of Bais Yaakov.” My innocent act must have been at least a little effective. How I did it I’ll never know.