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Selected Transcriptions from 4th Grade Journal

Context for these is in this post.

Dear Diary,

Today is Monday, November 17, ’97. In the morning, when I woke up, I was thinking, “Why do I have to wake up from my snug, cozy bed? Why did Mommy wake me up? Why did Elisha start screaming?” I was very cranky, as you can see!

When I was walking to school, I was thinking “Why do we have to go to school? Why? Why? Why? Why can’t the scool [sic] come to me?” I guess I’m on the “why stage”!

Last night, when I went to sleep, I didn’t! Mommy kept calling me down, “Do this! Do that!” Every time I got into bed, Mommy called me down! So when I went to sleep, (finally,) I wasn’t thinking! Would you be thinking if your bedtime is 9 o’clock and you went to bed 12 o’clock? Whew?

Love, Esther Shaindel Dainy
(page 3 of the PDF)


Dear Diary,

Today is Monday, 2 Kislev, 5758 / Dec. 1, ’97. Yesterday, I went to Playland, an amusement park. My whole family, besides Mommy and Chayala, went on the roller coaster. We were chugging along and suddenly we stopped at the top! The controllers tried to make it work but it didn’t go. Then they decided to tell everyone to jump. It was a scary jump, and what’s worse my whole family is scared of heights. But they put soft mats on the floor, and everyone was safe, but I broke an arm. But now it’s all fixed. (Although I still have a cast on.)

Love, Dainy
[Note: Not a word of this is true.]
(page 6 of the PDF)


Dear Diary,

Today is Thursday, 10 Teves, 5758 / Jan. 8, ’98. If I lived a 100 [sic] years ago, this would be my story:

[Added later:] Write this over into a book.

In a little log house, the Bernstein family sat cozily around the fire. The older children, Yehoshua, Breindy, Fishel, and Esther Shaindel, were reading their books, and the younger children, Boruch, Chaim, and Elisha, were listening to their mother read a book to them. Their father was putting the baby, Chayala, to sleep. Suddenly, the light got dim. “O.K.”, Mommy said, “Boruch, Chaim, and Elisha, it’s time to go to bed.” So they all went to the big bedroom. The bedroom was one big bedroom that was separated into a room for Mommy and Totty; a room for the two older boys; a room for the girls; and a room for the three younger boys. When everybody was asleep, Esther Shaindel crept out of bed and got a candle and a match. She got her book and crept back to bed. Then she lit her candle, put it on her bedside table, and snuggled down to read. She did this every night and got away with it. Maybe she won’t this time. Who knows? But anyway, she was reading the book. It was about a dragon that banged on a window of a house. Esther Shaindel’s bed was near a window. She looked up, but then went back to the book. The window was Hincy Pincy’s. The dragon broke through the door and gobbled up Hincy Pincy. Just then, Esther Shaindel heard a bang at her window. She huddled under the covers. Suddenly, she heard a shriek. She looked out from her covers and saw that her candle had fallen Her mother came running into the room. Suddenly, everyone was awake and shrieking. Breindy yelled at everyone “Get out! Get out! Yehoshua, grab Chayala, I’ll take Elisha, Fishel grab Chaim and everyone run out!” Esther Shaindel ran out with everyone else.

continue elsewhere [the story picks up on a loose sheet of paper further on in the notebook, on page 31 of the PDF]

As everyone carried pails of water to the house, Esther Shaindel thought to herself, bitterly, “I’m the cause of the fire. I shouldn’t have EVER read in bed.” Suddenly, she ran toward the house with her pail, threw the water in, and prepared to jump in! Everyone screamed. Esther Shaindel backed away and turned around. “Esther Shaindel,” her mother said sternly, “I want to know just why you prepared to jump in the fire. That is very dangerous.” Esther Shaindel just started crying and said, “Because I’m the one who started the fire. And I feel so guilty.”

[Note: It wouldn’t be such a terrible story if Mommy then comforted Esther Shaindel and told her it’s okay, she should never pay for her mistakes with her life, etc. But I didn’t end it that way, did I. Little me didn’t think that was a plausible ending.]
(pages 11, 12, and 31 of the PDF)

Dear Diary,

Today is Monday, 21 Teves 5758 / Jan. 19, ’98. A sad thing that happened to me is that I fell off a cliff. It was scary. Boy, was I scared! I broke both my hands, my right leg, and sprained my left ankle. I also broke my spine. I stayed in the hospital for 2 months. Afterward I still had my left hand in a cast, and I had crutches My back was in a brace, and it was really hard for me. But now, all I have left is my brace. None of you know about it. Oh, one more thing! In case you’re wondering, it isn’t true. Ha, ha, ha.

Another sad thing that happened to me is a car accident. By this one I wasn’t hurt much because…. I’ll tell you later. But my mother was hurt and my brother. Now I’ll tell you why. It’s because it didn’t happen either. Ha, ha, ha.
(page 15 in the PDF)

Dear Diary,

Once upon a time, I knew how to climb a tree. Now I don’t. I’ll tell you the whole story. One time I was climbing a tree that was 7 feet and 9 inches. Plus the leaves, it was 8 1/2 feet. I was at the very top of all 8 1/2 feet. Suddenly, I felt the ground rise up in front of me. I heard my mother screaming and yelling. I thought it was because she was thrown face flat on the ground. Then I lost my balance and everything went black. When I regained consiouss [sic], I was in the hospital. It happened that I didn’t know that the tree was to be cut down that day. The people didn’t know I was up in the tree. So they cut it down, and I came down with it. I broke my right arm and left leg. Now I’m fine but I had my leg in a cast for 1 month and my arm for 1 1/2.

‘Bye!
(page 22 in the PDF)

Dear Diary,

If I were a pencil, and my owner used me a lot, I’d be dead pretty soon. After all, if I’m used a lot, I’d be sharpened. Fast! Ow! Ouch! Don’t sharpen me so fast! Ow! Don’t jerk me out! Ah, this is good. I’m being used now to color in circles on an Iowa test. [Note: the standardized grade tests.] Ow-w-w-w! Don’t bite me! How would you like it if I bit YOU? Oops. My owner is putting me away. See ya later, Alligator! In a while, Crocodile! In a minute, Little Cricket!
(page 32 of the PDF)

Dear Diary,

If I were a spiral notebook then life would be miserable. I would be written in, erased in until there holes in me, and at the end of the day, I would be stuffed in a hot, stuffy breifcase [sic]. Like the time in middle of the day I was stuffed in it. Yow! I can’t breathe!
(page 34 of the PDF)

Dear Diary,

If I fell down 101 flights of steps, 7 steps in each, with spaces in middle, I don’t know what would happen! But let me tell you a story, because it’s true! I was walking down the stairs. Suddenly, someone said, “Move aside! I’m in a hurry!” He was pushing. I fell. I was rolling down. I was trying to stop my stubborn body from rolling. I wound up in the hospital, with a broken foot, 2 broken arms, and a broken spine. After 2 weeks, I was all better. Oh I forgot my head is still all bandaged! So just remember, don’t fall down steps! (even 1)
(page 35 in the PDF)

Dear Diary,

“Bang! Crash! Boom!” Oh-no! My books! Why are they falling out of my hands? Oh-no! I know why! I’m shrinking! I used to be the size of an elephant, and now I’m the size of a mouse! I wanted someone to notice, so I crawled into my locker and I started pushing out some books. “Bang! Boom!” All my books were out of my locker. My teacher said, “Chevy, please go pick up those books and close the locker.” So Chevy came and put the books away. Then she closed the locker. I started to bang and scream, but no-one heard me. I was locked inside my locker. I continued to scream. Suddenly I heard my mother say “Sha! Don’t yell like that. What happened?” I told her everything. “Don’t be silly. It was just a dream.”
(page 44 in the PDF)

Of Lies and Broken Bones, Of Objects Used and Abused

CW: child sexual abuse, ptsd, suicide

When I was in third grade, I started keeping a diary. Also when I was in third grade, my brother abused me.

I threw out all my diaries when I was in twelfth grade. That original diary, a pretty locked notebook that a friend had given me for my ninth birthday, and a stack of identical pretty notebooks I had bought from Duane Reade and written in faithfully for the past nine years. I was disgusted with myself, with things I had written in those diaries, and I wanted to remove all evidence of my thoughts and feelings. I remember throwing the diaries into the trash – I carried them out to the curb rather than putting them in the kitchen garbage and risking my mother seeing them. I remember watching through the blinds in the morning as the garbage truck pulled up outside, as the garbage collectors deposited our trash into the truck and threw the bins back to the street with a clatter, as the truck drove off with my diaries crushed inside. I let go of the blinds and settled back down in bed with a feeling of relief and lightened load.

Many times since then, I have regretted this action. Imagine what I would discover if I could read those years and years’ worth of diaries! I don’t have to imagine all of it, though. There’s at least one entry that is burned into my brain forever.

It was in my very first diary, in third grade.

No one understands me,

I wrote.

I just want to go to Shiale’s room and kiss him again.

Feeling like no one understands you is perhaps run-of-the-mill for a teenager. Except I was nine years old. And no one, not a teenager nor a nine-year-old, should be writing that sentence. No one should be able to say “again” about going to her brother’s room, locking the door, lying down on the floor, and “kissing” her oldest brother.

I ‘ve been going through some old school files recently. I wasn’t sure why exactly I was doing this. Nostalgia, sure, but it felt like I was looking for something. What I was looking for, I didn’t know. Today, I think I found it in my fourth-grade journal. I don’t remember much about this journal. I have only vague memories of the activity, which I think happened at the beginning of secular studies class in the afternoons. But based on the format of many entries, especially the ones which begin with a “what-if” scenario, I assume that at least some of them were responses to prompts from the teacher.

As I read through the journal now, I began to notice patterns. There are 4 entries telling tall tales about me falling and breaking all my bones, some identified as lies (“Ha, ha, ha”) and some left as if they are truth. There are 3 entries about being an object that is used up and 2 about being stuffed into dark places. There’s one terrible entry about a fictional Esther Shaindel starting a fire because she left a lit candle near her bed, and then almost jumping into the fire to kill herself because she feels guilty.

My Hebrew teacher, Mrs. Baron, sent me to the school guidance counselor in fourth grade because she caught me crying during davening as I recited the words קרוב ה’ לכל קוראיו, לכל אשר יקראהו באמת – “God is close to all who call to him, to all who call to him in truth.” I was crying because I was wondering why God wasn’t answering me. I spoke to Aliza, the guidance counselor, once a week after that. (Most students never saw the guidance counselor.)

In the years since then, I have wondered – was I being overdramatic? I loved putting on plays for myself in the mirror. I could make myself cry very easily, and I loved doing that – showering took forever because on my way in and out of the shower I would look at myself in the mirror and pretend to be an orphan, or the heroine of the latest Bais Yaakov play, and act out an improv scene with my mirror-self, and it always ended in tears.

And my mother did tell me for years that I was overdramatic and that I liked looking for things to be upset about.

So I doubted myself all these years, and wondered if I was really hurting, or if I was putting on an act that day when I cried during davening, and then continued going to Aliza because I liked the attention.

When I started dealing with the memories of what my brother did to me, I knew that I hadn’t been overdramatic. I had been abused, and that can affect someone.But at the same time, I still doubted myself. I was mostly happy, wasn’t I? I was well-adjusted. I had friends. And as much as the research shows that abused children become fearful, I wasn’t afraid. I trusted people too much, in fact. I was loud and laughing, living life large. I mean, I had enjoyed it and wanted it! And I have no memory of ever telling him to stop. (I actually am bothered by the “fuzzy borders,” the lack of memory I have over how it started and stopped.)

It didn’t affect me then – why should it be affecting me so much now? Why all the anxiety, the panic attacks? Why is it so bad now that I’ve cut off contact with my brother and his wife (who tried to turn the blame on me when I tried to talk to him about it), that I’ve cut off contact with my parents who expected me to show up to family functions with him there, expected me to “get over it” and “move past it” and “stop letting it affect your life” – maybe they were right? Maybe I’m acting this way just because I know that this is what psychology says happens to abused children.

Logically, I knew this was a ridiculous train of thought. I discussed it numerous times with my therapist.

But finding this journal did something to me. It showed me that I am not making this up. It showed me that this anxiety isn’t coming out of the blue. Because look in my journal – look at the kinds of things I was writing. If I had been writing this in public school, or any school with licensed and trained teachers, I would have been flagged as a major risk. But Miss Stefansky saw these entries, as my English teacher, and Mrs. Baron, my Hebrew teacher who sent me to the guidance counselor, didn’t know about this.

(I also ended up doubting the guidance counselor and Mrs. Baron because my mother mocked the guidance counselor to my face while I was still seeing her; and years later, she remarked that Mrs. Baron fancied herself a mother to her students, and that’s why she overstepped boundaries and sent me to the guidance counselor.)

I shouldn’t need proof that little me was affected by the abuse in the “right” way. A survivor shouldn’t have to respond in the “right” way or in the “right” frame of time in order to be believed and nurtured back to health. But in a way – it’s still a relief for me to have this “proof” for myself.

It was difficult for me to read through these entries, especially one after the other. I cried for the little girl I was, for the little girl who needs to be heard, and held, and told it’s okay and it’s not her fault, and she is not a worn-out ball or a rubbed-out notebook or a pencil sharpened too much and too hard and too fast. That she is worthy, that she will grow up and go on to be the wonderful person I am now. That there is hope, that people will love her the right way, that she will find happiness and comfort, that she won’t need to be so desperately loud, that she will be able to find comfort in the quiet again.

But it was worth it.

Transcriptions of a few relevant pages are in this post. You can browse the full document here.


Grief and Glory: Use of Hebrew Crusades Chronicles and Piyuttim to Deter Adolescent Conversion

Way back in 2015, what feels like a lifetime ago, I wrote a seminar paper titled “Affective Use of First Crusade Chronicles and Piyyutim to Stem Adolescent Conversion” for a class on medieval conversions. In 2017, I presented a revised version of that paper at the International Medieval Congress at Leeds.

My work has since shifted in multiple ways, and that paper doesn’t fit into my dissertation anymore. But I’ve kept it simmering on a back burner, always intending to do something with it. Now, after a Twitter conversation with someone who encouraged me to write and submit this to journals, I’m working on it again.

The paper I presented at Leeds needs a lot or work and revision – essentially a whole rewrite – to make it journal-submission-worthy. I’m sharing it here as I begin to revise, rewrite, rework it.

Notes: 

The first few sections of the paper lead you through my thought-process and research process because I was still working through these ideas at the time and was far from being able to write decisively and authoritatively. Hopefully, returning to this all after having it rattle around my brain for two years, I’ll be able to write it more seamlessly for publication!



I ’m going to begin with three introductions. First, about how this paper fits into my work more broadly: This paper is really only tangential to my dissertation topic. My dissertation focuses on educational and pedagogical moves in medieval British literature. [Edit: no longer true. My dissertation no longer focuses on medieval British literature, but on contemporary American Haredi literature.] There is a consensus in childhood studies and in medieval studies that various constructions of childhood existed based on differences in class, gender, religion, etc. I’ll be arguing that the ideologies of education and of childhood are dependent as much on differences in the formal conventions of literary genres as on the lived differences of medieval children. This paper is focused on a different geographic area (Ashkenaz) and doesn’t deal directly with educational texts. But it does focus on the ways in which adults try to teach or influence young minds, and that is the focus of my dissertation. [This part is still true.]The argument of this paper is based on an exploration of how these texts may have been used to influence young minds, how adults thought certain moves and associations would affect teenage boys’ decisions.

So now for a brief introduction to the texts and the events they commemorate, with an acknowledgement that this is not my main area of study and I may at times gloss over some of the more important aspects in order to get to my point of interest… In 1096, as Crusaders headed to Jerusalem during the First Crusade, they passed through Europe and killed many Jews who lived in the area called Ashkenaz, particularly in the cities of Speyer, Worms, and Mainz. This tragedy became an integral part of Jewish history – in fact, growing up in a twentieth-century Jewish home and attending Jewish schools, I thought the Crusades were only about the Christians killing Jews – like a precursor to the Holocaust. The Hebrew chronicles and poetry written in the twelfth century to commemorate the tragedy of course also focus on the Jewish victims, with only brief mention of the main purpose of the Crusades – as one would expect from texts memorializing the massacres of Jewish communities.

Susan Einbinder argues that the martyrological poetry was aimed at least in part at an audience of potential converts after the threat of the Crusades had passed – medieval Jews converted to Christianity at times voluntarily due to a variety of factors including social, economic, and political factors. William Chester Jordan claims that adolescent Jewish boys were the group most vulnerable to voluntary conversion to Christianity in the twelfth century. Einbinder draws on that argument to suggest that aspects of the poetry do show signs of being directed at adolescent males rather than (or, in addition to) adults – the poetry sets up the extreme cruelty and evil of the Christian Crusaders in contradiction to the pure and valiant martyrdom of the Jewish teens, which adults hoped would convince teens to align themselves with the pure and valiant (the Jews) rather than the cruel and evil (the Christians.)

The third introduction is about my personal connection to the topic. When I read Susan Einbinder’s argument that the piyyutim, the poetry, were perhaps used to persuade teenage boys not to convert from Judaism to Christianity, my first reaction was – I was baffled. If adolescent boys were at risk for conversion because of the suffering and degradation they experienced as Jews and because of the perceived release from suffering that conversion could bestow – how, then, could poetry which agonizes over the suffering and deaths of the previous generation convince young boys to remain Jewish? If the poetry keeps telling them how bad it is for Jews, wouldn’t that serve to convince them to leave rather than to stay in the Jewish community?  Einbinder does address that, but from my own childhood and adolescence, I could find an answer – I was raised in an Orthodox Jewish community, where the Holocaust is invoked often to prove that Jews are the most persecuted people in the history of the world, and there is an expectation that this reminder will engender Jewish pride and a sense of belonging and obligation rather than a desire to leave – in fact, when I left religion, my mother said to me, “you’re demeaning the sacrifices your ancestors made in order to keep the faith.” So, I could begin to see that perhaps stories of ongoing persecution could be used as a means of convincing people to remain part of the persecuted group. Whether or not it works is a different story… But it does indicate that it is thought to be effective.

As I continued to read about the chronicles and the piyyutim, and as I read the texts themselves numerous times, I had another question, this time about the glorification of the martyrs, especially the young martyrs. It would seem that these figures, the young adult males who sacrificed themselves, would be the point of identification for boys in the following generation, boys who are ostensibly the target of anti-conversionary uses of the texts. But the point can’t possibly be to convince these teenage boys to martyr themselves? I began to read about the ideas of martyrdom, and about the uses of these texts in later generations, etc. And again, this is addressed in the scholarship, which emphasizes that the martyrs were not an ideal to emulate. But another memory from my own childhood and adolescence surfaced: the many times I had heard the phrase, “it’s wonderful to die al Kiddush Hashem (in sanctification of God’s name), but it’s much more difficult and much more beautiful to live al Kiddush Hashem.” So again, I could see that rhetoric being employed with the Crusade chronicles and piyyutim as well – the boys would see the impossible choice the martyrs had, and the adults hoped that this would inspire them to live according to God’s principles.

These personal conclusions were borne out as I continued reading. I think it’s important to make this connection, to acknowledge that the kinds of arguments scholars see being made in medieval texts are still used today. And here I leave the personal behind, and get to the analysis of the Hebrew texts themselves…

Both sets of texts grapple with theological ideas like whether the victims of the Crusade massacres were sinful and being punished or were in fact holy and being tested – the resounding conclusion is that they were holy and passed an extremely difficult test set by God, and that this heralds hope for an immediate redemption rather the absence of God’s help seen during the massacres. But these complex problems are dealt with not via theological reasoning but via strong emotional expression: expressions of outrage and despair at God turn quickly into expressions of hope and blessing, making the jump via emotionally-charged language rather than rational explanation. If we accept Einbinder’s claim (as I do) that this body of poetry was utilized to dissuade teenage boys from converting, then it would seem that emotional rather than theological argument was the preferred strategy for preventing young converts. While the prose chronicles are less forceful in their emotional expression and do include some theological reasoning, they also use emotional language. (Of course, the prose wasn’t used the same way the poetry was, as part of the liturgy, and wasn’t as widely read as the poems. But there is of course reason to include them in an analysis of rhetorical attempts to dissuade conversion.)

The reason this matters a lot to me is that Einbinder bases her argument on the following factors: first, “the stylistic features and some of the motifs in Hebrew martyrological poetry suggest that its textual matter targeted an audience characterized by a high level of linguistic sophistication and a high susceptibility to images of vulgarity and pollution” (12). That’s in her introduction, a brief overview of this point. Later, in the chapter where she lays out the full argument, she writes that “young men experiencing the characteristic frustration and volatility of adolescence could see in conversion a powerful way to rebel” (25). This assumes that medieval teenage boys were in essence the same as contemporary teenage boys – frustrated, volatile, wanting to rebel – an assumption I think is made too quickly.

Ephraim Shoham-Steiner, in an essay about madness, conversion, and adolescent suicide among Jews in twelfth-century England, defines adolescence according to a mix of contemporary and historical views: first, there’s the “radical changes associated with puberty,” which in contemporary thought is linked to hormonal changes “causing emotional and personal changes accompanied by a growing awareness of the self and a projected self-image,” at times linked to an identity crisis and defining oneself vis-à-vis others. He also says that adolescents tend to “wrestle with ideological issues rather intensely,” and that adults tend to interpret all of this as “impulsive and incoherent” (73).

The problem with all of this is that it assumes that once the category of adolescence is proven to be applicable to medieval youth (as Einbinder acknowledges that it is an often-contested category), contemporary ideas about adolescence are mapped onto medieval adolescence. While the consensus among medieval childhood scholars is that there was in fact a category of adolescence during the Middle Ages, the characteristics associated with that stage in medieval minds could be different than the contemporary ideas, and could vary widely between Christian communities and Jewish communities. While I saw no reason to discount Einbinder’s and Shoham-Steiner’s assumptions, I did want to check their accuracy. After analyzing the texts for evidence of attitudes toward adolescents via the ways in which adults spoke to or attempted to influence adolescents, I concluded that (according to these texts, at least) these assumptions could be accurate. The ways in which the chronicles and poetry attempt to influence the minds of these adolescent boys indicate that the medieval Jewish Ashkenazic idea of teenage boys does focus on their volatility, and does view their “intense wrestling with ideological matters” as simply “impulsive and incoherent.”

Eliezer bar Nathan begins his chronicle with the technical details of where and when, referring to the Torah in the midst of this very briefly in order to say that ״כל הצרות האמורות בכל התוכחות הכתובות בעשרים וארבעה ספרים, כתוב ולא כתוב עבר עלינו ועל נפשנו״ (Haberman 72), “All the misfortunes related in all the admonitions written in the twenty-four books, those enumerated in Scripture as well as those unwritten, befell us and our souls” (Eidelberg 79). In this way, the chronicle of simple historical facts is already set up as an attempt to explain the events theologically, not only to describe them. And yet for the next while in the text, events are described and no explicit theological reason is given for the troubles plaguing the Jewish communities.

Later in the chronicle, there are two clear instances of a kind of explanation. The second one occurs during the narration of a failed attempt by the bishop of Mainz to save some of the Jews by relocating them to the villages of Rheingau, where Bar Nathan says that fleeing was futile, ״כי בעוונותינו ניתן רשות למשחית לחבל״ (Haberman 75), “for because of our sins, the slayer had been given permission to injure” (Eidelberg 84). This is a common explanation for tragedy, but again, doesn’t seem suitable for an attempt to win young boys back to the faith. The first instance, though, is a perfect strategy for playing on emotions of pride in saying that ״וזה הדור נבחר לפניו להיות לו למנה, כי היה בהם כח וגבורה לעמוד בהיכלו ולעשות דברו ולקדש שמו הגדול בעולמו ועליהם אמר דוד ׳ברכו יי מלאכיו גבורי כח עושי דברו״ (Haberman 73), “this was the generation that had been chosen by Him to be His portion, for they had the strength and the fortitude to stand in His sanctuary, and fulfill His word, and sanctify His Great Name in His world. It is of these that King David said: ‘Bless the Lord, ye angels of His, ye mighty in strength, that fulfill His word’” (Eidelberg 80).

Though the boys susceptible to conversionary efforts would not have been part of this generation chosen for their strength, the chronicle’s narrative shifting between communities, community leaders, and brave young individuals does have the potential to inspire a fierce pride and to create an alignment in the young readers’ minds between themselves and these brave chosen ones. (Others have read this shifting between leaders and individuals differently, but this explanation does work here in the context of adolescents…) And although the chronicle does not do this very much, some of the poems make a clear connection between the word בחורים meaning young men and the idea of נבחר, the chosen ones. בחורים does literally mean chosen ones, and the juxtaposition of these words in some poems (particularly אדברה בצר רוחי “Adabra b’Tzar Ruchi”) provides strong suggestion that the young men are the best and bravest.

One of the anonymous poems, אדברה בצר רוחי “Adabra b’Tzar Ruchi,” uses the explanation of the people’s sins as well, but the nuances there are different.

על התורה אשר בקדושה נחקקה, כלו לומדיה שנתגזרו להפסקה ברית מילה חמחודה וחשוקה, שבתות ומועדים וכל יום צרה וצוקה

חסין יה, שוכן מעלים! מקדם על עקידה אחת צעקו לפניך אראלים, ועתה כמה נעקדים ונכללים – ומדוע לא הרעישו על בני עוללים!

ואנו אין להרהר על הרדומים, כי הם לחיי עד ערוכים ומחותמים: אבל עלינו, כי למאד חויבנו אשמים אשר עברנו מצוות תמימים (Haberman 62 and Carmi 373)

On the Torah which was enacted in holiness, her learners died because they were ordered to stop the precious and desirable bris milah, and the Shabbos and holidays and every day of tragedy and distress.

Almighty Lord, dwelling on high, in days of old the angels cried out to you to put a halt to one sacrifice [akeidah]. And now, so many are bound and slaughtered – why do they not clamour over my infants?

But we must not question the fate of the dead, for they have been destined for eternal life. We must question ourselves, for we have been found very guilty; we have transgressed the precepts of right. (Carmi 373)

There is a clear separation here, again not atypical of explanations of tragedy, between those killed, or sacrificed, and those left to mourn. Those killed are pure and holy – they have sanctified god’s name. Those left to live with the horrors must do a personal accounting of their sins and acknowledge their part in bringing suffering upon the nation. Two stanzas before the line confessing guilt, the poet talks about the holiness of the Torah and those who study it, and claims that the holy students died because they were told to stop practicing bris milah and observing Shabbos and holidays. It suggests the martyrs acted with steadfast refusal to leave their faith and implies that those who survived might not have been strong enough and instead brought god’s wrath on the entire community.

While that does not seem effective in inspiring good feelings in the youth and would rather inspire resentment at being called sinful, most of the other rhetorical constructions in both the poetry and prose ensure that the young readers would be identifying with the martyred heroes and not with those too weak to resist. The next stanza in this poem does that: ״חי עולמים, בצל כנפיך אנו בורחים, כי נשארנו עגונים ואנוחים מבלי להשתתף לתלוי שוחחים – פגר מובס, יבושו כל אליו בוטחים!״ “O everlasting God, we seek refuge in the shadow of Your wings. We have been abandoned, alone and suffering, because we refused to bow our heads before the crucified one, a corpse trampled underfoot. Let all who put their trust in him be put to shame!” (Carmi 373). Although the poem calls out the survivors for having sinned, the rhetoric negates that and instead places them in the category of those who sacrificed their lives for god – “we have refused to bow…” As Einbinder points out, the poems tend to ignore the individuals who did convert or were forcibly converted, while the prose chronicles do mention them (Einbinder 20). But the chronicles, particularly Bar Nathan’s, even as they relate conversions taking place, go to great efforts to present these converts in a heroic light as well. There is the instance of Master Uri and Master Isaac with Isaac’s two daughters all killing themselves after having been forcibly converted (Eidelberg 84), where it is obvious that the conversion was not a result of weakness and that they were spared from death not because they were unworthy of being martyrs. Their suicides make it clear that they are just as holy and above suspicion as those killed by the Crusaders. Their suicides, of course, are their acts of martyrdom.

The chronicle also mentions those who converted, or who were converted forcibly, and did not martyr themselves. Again using language evoking vivid images of vile putrefaction, the chronicle says, “שסופם מוכיח על תחילתם, שלסוף לא חשבו את יראתם עי אם לטיט ולצואה” (Haberman 73), “the later acts of those thus coerced are testimony to this beginning, for in the end they regarded the object of the enemy’s veneration as no more than slime and dung” (Eidelberg 81). Rather than leave an opening for the vulnerable teens to say, “but these people converted and made it!” the chronicle states clearly that even those who escaped dying, which the teens might connect to their own potential escape from hardship and degradation, knew by the end that their new environment was associated with “slime and dung.”

A technique which does tie fierce pride and community to faith-based identification is the relating of events to significant moments in the Jewish calendar or week. The connection is made between the calendar day when the Jews began to prepare themselves to receive the Torah and the day when the community of Worms began to seclude themselves and prepare to sacrifice themselves. The destruction of Cologne as ״ויהרסו בית הכנסת ויוציאו את ספרי התורות ויתעוללו בהם ויתנום למרמס חוצות, ביום נתינתה, אשר הרעישה הארץ ועמודיה יתפלצון״ (Haberman 76), “the foe destroyed the synagogue and removed the Torah scrolls, desecrating them and casting them into the streets to be trodden underfoot” happened “on the very day that the Torah was given, when the earth trembled and its pillars quivered” (Eidelberg 85), drawing a distinction between the holiness of the Jews on that day and the profanity of the Christians. A few times, bar Nathan mentions that the destruction began or the first person was killed on Shabbos or as Shabbos was about to begin, implying an inherent holiness to the action further imbued by the holiness of the day. As the youth admire the heroism and bravery for its exciting qualities, the overt connection to religious faith and bravery would (or would be hoped to) strengthen the affective bond of the youth to the Jewish faith.

Though the lack of theological discussion is obvious, a staple of lamentations – that of crying out to god and either pleading for redemption or accusing him of ignoring those pleas – is employed in the chronicle to serve a kind of theological purpose. Exclamations like ״העל אלה לא תפקוד בם. ועד אנה תביט בוגדים ותחריש״ (Haberman 76), “O God, will You not punish them for these acts? How long will you look on at the wicked and remain silent?” (Eidelberg 85) do raise the question about why god stands by and does not protect the Jews, but at the same time they answer that question with the implicit expectation of eventual salvation. Twice bar Nathan uses the sentence ״העל אלה תתאפק יי״ (Haberman 75 and 80), “Wilt thou restrain Thyself for these things, O Lord?” (Eidelberg 83 and 90), with the expectation obviously being that he will not. The poetry as a general rule employs more anger and accusation in these anguished cries, but the prose embeds answers within the questions.

Both of these match the functions of each set in terms of influencing young men. Even with the chronicle’s craft in evoking emotion, it is more logical than the poetry and it is understandable that the author would want to at least gesture toward a level-headed answer. If dissatisfaction with being a part of a community which suffers so much was a possible impetus for conversion, giving the youth a place to express anger at their situation was vital, especially when the speaker of the poem was one of the leaders of the community. For a few moments, everyone, both the scholarly old and the rash youth, could be united in their anguish and could acknowledge that believing that god will make things right does not take away the pain of the moment. Validating that emotion for adolescents would be more crucial in convincing them to stay with the battered community than any theological reasoning.

Playing on the emotions of the reader in relation to family, closer to home than the general community, the texts also set up the youth as a link between generations past and future. The examples of this are interestingly divided neatly, so that the prose chronicle contains more descriptions of fathers in this context and the poetry more descriptions of little children, especially younger siblings. Bar Nathan recounts many stories involving sons and fathers. One is skillfully crafted not only to showcase Jewish familial pride and legacy, but at the same time to juxtapose Christian expectations with that.

״וקידש מר שמואל ב״ר אשר את השם לעיני השמש וגם שני בניו אשר עמו. לאחר שנהרג, הוא ובניו, התעוללו בהם וגררום וירמוסם בטיט חוצות, ויתלו את בניו על פתח ביתו כדי להתעולל בו״

(Haberman 77)

“Samuel, the son of Asher, sanctified God’s Name for all to behold, as did his two sons who were with him. After he and his sons were slain, they [the Crusaders] defiled their bodies by dragging them through the muddy streets and trampling them. Then they hanged his sons at the entrance to his home in order to mock him” (Eidelberg 86).

The Crusaders intend this action of hanging his sons at his door to be an insult, displaying their own power and the sons’ degradation and therefore the shame brought upon the father. To the Jews, however, this would have been a symbol of great pride, albeit a somber pride, since the sons followed the father’s lead and martyred themselves for god’s glory, never succumbing to pressure. This works as a method of showing young teenagers how their dedication to their faith could bring their parents joy and pride even among grief.

The poetry plays on another aspect of adolescent pride by addressing the reactions of younger siblings and children more generally. אדברה בצר רוחי  “Adabra b’Tzar Ruchi” describes how ״צעקת ילדים איך גדלה! רואים אחיהם נשחטים בחלחלה, האם קושרת בנה פן בפרכוס יחללה, והאב מברך על השחיטה לכללה״ “the children cried aloud! Trembling, they see their brothers slaughtered; the mother binding her son, lest he profane the sacrifice by shuddering; the father making the ritual blessing to sanctify the slaughter” (Carmi 373). Since we’ve accepted that medieval Ashkenazic adolescence is similar to the contemporary idea, I’ll venture to say this: Teens usually can’t resist the idea of having an effect on their younger siblings, and the image of the little ones being so affected by their own sacrifice could have a strong impact on the way they behave. Obviously, they’re not expected to die in order to have this effect on their younger siblings. But as a ploy to get adolescent boys to think about themselves as role models or exemplars for their younger siblings, this moving description of children watching their older brothers die is very powerful.

There’s a lot more to be said about how the texts, both the poetry and the prose, attempt to influence teenage boys. Einbinder includes a question of whether the poetry was effective in these methods, whether it did stem the tide of conversions. There seems to be no real way of drawing direct correlations between the literature and the trends of conversion, and therefore no way of knowing whether the perceived efficacy of these methods worked, whether the way the writers thought teenage minds worked matched with the way teenage minds actually worked. (I know a few rabbis who would love to know which methods work – the director of Agudath Israel loves to call the current trend of youth leaving Orthodox Judaism a “hemorrhage,” though I’m fairly certain he has not read Shatzmiller…) However, it does seem important that the modes of persuasion are similar to some of the modes still used today in some Jewish communities. My work on medieval British literary modes of education and patterns of thought about how children’s and teens’ minds work, etc., suggests (at least so far, as I’m still toward the beginning of my work) that they differ greatly from contemporary modes and patterns.


Afterword:Reading this through again now, it seems so obvious to me that my dissertation shifted from medieval British Christian texts to contemporary American Haredi texts.

Letter from DOE about NY Yeshivas and Substantial Equivalency

Chancellor Carranza sent a letter to Commissioner Elia today regarding the ridiculously long process of determining whether certain yeshivas in New York meet requirements of providing substantially equivalent instruction. Below is the text and images of the letter.

December 27, 2018

Commissioner MaryEllen Elia
New York State Commissioner of Education 
New York State Education Department
89 Washington Avenue
Albany, New York 12234

RE: Substantial Equivalency Inquiry

Dear Commissioner Elia,

As you know, in July 2015, the New York City Department of Education (“DOE”) received a letter raising questions about the substantial equivalency of instruction in 39 yeshivas located in New York City (the “July 2015 letter”). After receiving this letter, DOE undertook an inquiry to assess the secular instruction being provided at these schools, as fully described in my August 15, 2018, letter to you.

I am writing at this time to make a recommendation regarding four of these yeshivas – all high schools – pursuant to the substantial equivalency guidance issued by SED on November 20, 2018 (the “Guidance”). In addition, I am writing to address two other of these yeshiva high schools. I am aware that representatives of the yeshivas and DOE have recently written to SED seeking guidance on topics covered by this letter, but I believe it prudent, particularly as regards the four high schools, to have our concerns addressed formally through a recommendation made pursuant to the Guidance.

Under the Guidance, local school authorities are required to review documentation and visit non-public schools to assess, among other things, the education being provided.

DOE has visited 24 schools and has engaged in productive dialogue with those schools and their representatives. As noted in my August 15, 2018, letter to you, many of these schools have purchased and begun implementing a culturally responsive, Common Core-aligned curriculum. However, despite DOE’s efforts over the past nearly two and on-half years, it has been unable to gain access to six high schools named in the July 2015 letter.

As discussed below, one of the high schools is registered and therefore, pursuant to the Guidance, it has been determined by the Board of Regents to provide substantially equivalent education. A second high school may or not be registered, depending on how SED views multi-site schools. For the remaining four high schools, DOE has been prevented, despite multiple attempts, from conducting the review required by the Guidance. As a result, we are unable to determine that the schools are providing a substantially equivalent education.

Efforts to Visit the High Schools

DOE has on many occasions asked to meet with school officials and observe the instruction provided at the high schools named in the July 2015 letter. However, yeshiva representatives have consistently refused to act on our requests to schedule these visits. The following is a list of relevant actions taken by DOE, including requests to visit the high schools and other schools:

  • August 3, 2016: requested visits to all schools, including high schools, at a visit with yeshiva community leaders
  • December 5, 2016: email and form letter (to be completed by school leaders for each school) sent to yeshiva counsels; form letter included requests for school visits
  • January 13, 2017: email to yeshiva counsel stating that his response did not address DOE’s request for school visits
  • March 2017 through May 2017: DOE visited 6 elementary schools
  • August 24, 2017: letter to yeshiva counsel seeking to schedule visits to the then remaining 33 schools (including the high schools) that would begin in September 2017
  • September 7, 2017: letter to yeshiva counsel, noting that he did not respond to August 24th letter and providing proposed dates to visit the remaining 33 schools
  • September 12, 2017: email to yeshiva counsel regarding the scheduling of dates for the remaining 33 schools
  • October 6, 2017: email to yeshiva counsel requesting dates for visits
  • October 8 through October 20, 2017: emails between counsel for DOE and counsel for yeshivas regarding schedule for visits to 9 schools by year-end and 9 visits in January and February
  • November 2017 through December 2017: DOE visited 9 elementary schools
  • December 29, 2017: email to counsel for yeshivas requesting locations for visits in January. In January 2018, counsel for yeshivas cancelled first January date and said he was putting the visits on hold
  • October 2018 through November 2018: DOE visited 9 elementary schools
  • October 31, 2018: DOE requested dates for visiting high schools
  • November 14, 2018: DOE requested dates for visiting high schools
  • November 16, 2018: DOE requested dates for visiting high schools
  • December 10, 2018: DOE requested dates for visiting high schools

None of DOE’s requests resulted in scheduled visits to the high schools, or even the offer of alternative dates. Significantly, under SED’s prior substantial equivalency guidance, updated on AUgust 12, 2015, (“Prior Guidance”), visits to schools for which there was a “serious concern…about equivalency of instruction” were to be scheduled “at a mutually convenient time.” Prior Guidance, p. 7.

On December 10, 2018, DOE’s General Counsel sent an email to yeshiva counsel stating:

**As you know, we have repeatedly sought to schedule dates to visit the high school named in the complaint. Most recently, on November 14, 2018, we sent you a list of 13 possible dates for visits to the six school. The next day, you informed us that you would be out of the country in early January, retunring January 14, but you did not address the remaining dates in January that we have proposed. We followed up on November 16, but received no response regarding the dates.

We are writing now in a final attempt to schedule visits to the six high schools. We remain available on January 14-17 and January 28-31. We will have received training from SED by December 20. If we have not successfully scheduled visits to the high schools within the range above by that date, we will take such action as we deem appropriate.**

In response to this email, on December 20, yeshiva counsel confirmed that the four schools would “work with DOE to identify mutually convenient dates for visits in late January or early February” and stated he would be “available to talk tomorrow [Friday, December 21] or Monday [December 24] to discuss possible dates.” Yeshiva counsel and DOE counsel spoke briefly on December 21 and agreed to speak again on Monday, December 24. However, rather than having that conversation “to discuss possible dates,” yeshiva counsel sent an email to you concerning our request.

Regarding that email, DOE’s desire to schedule visits to the four high schools comes from the simple fact that we’ve been unable to, despite our repeated efforts as described above. As yeshiva counsel knows, DOE’s obligation to visit these schools comes from their inclusion in a complaint to DOE about substantial equivalency. We are not singling them out – unfairly or otherwise – for special treatment, but, after consultation with the Department, our understanding is that the promulgation of the new guidance does not mean that the current inquiry must be halted. We readily agreed to wait for training, and will of course follow any additional guidance SED provides, but, in light of the schools’ longstanding refusal to actually provide actual dates for the visits, we do not believe our insistence on receiving them is in any way improper.

Upon request, we can provide relevant email exchanges showing DOE’s efforts to schedule visits to the high schools.

Applicable Guidance

As a result of this lack of cooperation and consistent delay on the part of yeshiva representatives, we are unable at this time to determine in accordance with the Guidance whether four of the six high schools in issue are providing substantially equivalent instruction.

The Guidance prescribes the process that must be adhered to in substantial equivalency investigations of nonpublic schools. The Guidance makes clear that the “intent of the substantial equivalency determination process is to ensure that all students receive the education to which they are entitled under law.” Guidance, p. 1. The guidance recognizes that the determination process is not a one-way street, but rather requires that both the Local School Authority (“LSA”) and the nonpublic school must each contribute to and cooperate in the process: “The determination process is a collaborative effort that is intended to be a mutually beneficial learning process for leaders of both public and nonpublic schools.” Id. To that end, the Guidance contemplates that in conducting its review, the LSA will visit nonpublic schools. The Guidance states, “All religious and independent schools will be visited as part of the process…” Guidance, p. 3. This makes sense, of course, because if would be difficult, if not impossible, to reach a conclusion or recommendation about the education being provided at a school without observing the instruction being provided at the school.

Recommendations

DOE has been unable to gain access to or information about the following high schools and therefore DOE requests that you, as Commissioner, take immediate and necessary steps to ensure our access to these schools pursuant to the Guidance. If these efforts fail, DOE recommends that you determine the schools do not provide a substantially equivalent education (see Gudiance, at p. 1): [footnote: Furthermore, the yeshivas have not confirmed that the schools involved fall within the scope of the April Amendments to Education Law S 3204(2). Although the GUidance provides that “[r]eligious and independent schools that believe they meet the criteria for the Commissioner to make the determination regarding substantial equivalency should inform the LSA representatives at the outset of a review,” id. at p. 2, yeshiva representatives have not done so. Given this, and based on what DOE has learned about these schools through its own research, we are assuming that they are schools for which the Commissioner would make the substantial equivalency determination pursuant to the April 2018 Amendments to Education Law S 3204 and the Guidance, absent any indication to the contrary.]

1. Bais Ruchel D’Satmar High School
64-84 Harrison Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11211

2. Talmud Torah Bnei Shimon 
215 Hewes Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211

3. Yeshiva Chemdas Yisroel Kerem Shlomo
1149 38th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11218

4. United Talmudic Academy
5411 Fort Hamilton Parkway, Brooklyn, NY 11219

As to the other high schools that the yeshiva representatives have prevented the DOE from visiting, one is a high school registered by the Board of Regents and the other may or may not be a registered high school. Yeshiva Mesifta Bais Yisroel, located at 5407 16th Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11204, is listed in SEDREF as a registered high school, and therefore, pursuant to the Guidance, at pp. 1-2, has been determined by the Board of Regents to provide substantially equivalent education.

However, for Lubavitcher High School, the registration is unclear. Specifically, the July 2015 lists three addresses for Lubavitcher High School. SEDREF reflects that Lubavitcher High School located at 841 Ocean Parkway, Brooklyn, New York, is registered. However, SEDREF does not list the other two addesses in the July 2015 letter.

Our research confirms that, in addition to the Lubavitcher High School located on 841 Ocean Parkway, there are two other Lubavitcher High Schools at the following addresses:

1. 770 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, New York; and
2. 885 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, New York.

Our questions relate to how we should approach the entities located at these other two addressed. We are unable to determine whether they are registered, because they are not listed in SEDREF. We therefore request your assistance on the following questions:

1. Based on SED’s records, are these two other sites associated with Lubavitcher High School located at 841 Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn, New York?
2. If so, does the registration status of the school located at 841 Ocean Parkway apply to them?

Thank you for your consideration and advice.

Sincerely,

Richard A. Carranza
Chancellor

cc: Avi SChick
Karin Goldmark
Howard Friedman



Yeshiva Memories

Earlier today, a friend wrote a Facebook post about some of his experiences in a charedi yeshiva. Many others chimed in on this public post, sharing their own memories. The conversation continued strong throughout the day, with some people recognizing that they probably crossed paths at a yeshiva they both attended! But it’s Friday night now, and many of the people involved in that conversation have turned off their phones and computers for shabbos. So the conversation has slowed to a lull. Here are some anonymized anecdotes and memories that were shared on that thread:

The original post:

I went to a brand name black hat yeshiva a quarter of a century ago that had “good English.” Yes, there were Regents, and you could graduate high school and go to college (and I did). Yet every class consisted of the majority of students mouthing off to the teachers, baiting a particular sensitive teacher with racist comments (we used to say that eventually he was going to have a heart attack, and he did, just a couple of years after), and general mayhem. One day we all put our head down on the desk and pretended to sleep. That teacher quit, and the yeshiva made us all write letters of apology to him, and then he came back. Only the frum teachers, and there were a couple, stood a chance. I remember that when we finally graduated, there was some guilty murmuring about mistreating a few specific teachers, and we bought presents for them.

And I’ve been around the block and lived a little and discussed this with MANY guys who went to yeshivish yeshivas, and guess what? It was like that almost everywhere.

We were young, dumb, sexually frustrated, VERY tired, and all morning and night we were given the impression that the only thing in the world that matters is lomdus, and anyone who wasn’t us or one of our rabbeim was a fool.

These yeshivas create this environment, and even though they paid lip service to the idea that you had to behave and put in effort into “English,” as experts in the culture we were an important part of (it’s *called* yeshivish or the yeshiva world) we knew that they didn’t give one shit about us getting any semblance of a secular education.

Some responses:

I’ve spoken to my own boys yeshivos over the years asking about English subjects and the attitude in totality was and still is always disregard. Gemara, THAT is important, English, history and especially science is a burden they don’t want to deal with. As long as they get a teacher willing to put up with the taunts and abject apathy from the boys the hanhola is satisfied.

There were some teachers we would literally throw things at during class. My class, in 10th grade, destroyed much of the science lab. I watched classmates mock one teacher while he was talking about his experiences fighting in Vietnam and, unbelievably, interrupt another one when he was telling us a story about how he liberated a concentration camp (which was the reason he had sought out a Jewish school to teach at).

I found this teacher, who was also the English principal, sobbing in the office when he was listening to the reports of Saddam Hussein firing Scuds at Tel Aviv. He didn’t deserve anything but respect from us.

That was in Yeshiva Toras Chaim in Denver. The principal’s name was Dr Richard Eichenberger, and he actually helped me really love math, amid all the craziness and nonsense of the yeshiva.

The one person we really threw things at (specifically, the rubber stoppers from the glass science equipment—his name was Mr. Pegler and guys would scream “Peg Pegler!”)

And we destroyed science equipment. For example, I would sit in the very last row in the science lab next to the exhaust fan, and the guy next to me would feed the glass piping and other glass equipment through the running fan. I’m not sure how much money we cost the yeshiva, but they never held science class in the science lab after that year.

Our day school’s boys gave a bunch of bananas to their teacher as an end of year gift because they decided she was a monkey (not a racial thing, just an asshole thing). She quit. The parents all played “Not my kid” and the school blew it off.

It’s not okay to teach Torah and only get through on the Bein Adam l’Makom part. If you’re not getting Bein Adam l’Adam, you’re not getting it.

I’m embarrassed to admit that we used to brag which class would cause the most teachers to quit, like it was a point of pride.

as you saying that one day you all put your heads down on the desk and pretended to sleep. and that teacher quit, just for the info. that in chasidic yeshivas this happen’s every single day, do to big lomdos from the teachers. and the boys not intrested in. so they all put the heads down on the table to take a nap… but the teacher don care, and of course he will never quit, because he need his pay check… ,lol

Girls did this too, to some degree. I have stories as well of how my classmates mistreated the teachers, bragged about how disrespectful they were, and how we got numerous teachers to switch away from our grade. That was only my grade, I can’t imagine it was much different around the rest of the high school. The girls were less violent than the boys, maybe, but no less mean and hurtful. My favorite teacher, the only one who inspired me during those years, they treated like shit because she rode a motorcycle and used pop culture references on occasion (references that the frummies didn’t understand and therefore needed to taunt). I went to ask her questions not strictly related to math after class many times (I had her for 4 years) just so she wouldn’t think all of us agreed with what they did to her. But yeah, teenagers are shitty when it comes to the unimportant secular education in their frum yeshivos.

This for sure happens in girls schools too. Especially substitutes. I went to BYBP and taught there later. One class of my students was like that – they once made me cry. But they were disciplined for it. Otoh, we made a game of running off substitutes and very little was done about it to discipline us. And the ironic thing is that we looked down on subs because they were usually chasidish. Any ideology that teaches that any slight difference is reason to be sneered at, for being too modern or too frum – leads to this horrible kind of “chinuch.”

True story. I believe it was my Sophomore year. We already went thru 8 English teachers. We were angels in geometry because our teacher was amazing and had huge arms. We brutally terrorized our Chem teacher to the point that he quit. The English Principal, who we terrorized just as much, came to us (a group of 5-7) and said- ok. Here’s the deal. You have an English and Chem regents. You pass, you pass the class. You fail, summer school. I became the “teacher” and we used those old red regents pep books. And we all passed. I never got a bonus though.

The stories from my brothers made it clear that the boys, the parents, and the administration really thought all the non-Jewish and non-frum teachers were less intelligent. Even if they grudgingly admitted that some teachers were brilliant in their subject matter, they still had this benevolent indulgence of them – like, poor sweet dears, they don’t understand the Truth and Beauty of Torah.

Mine was worse. I woke at 5:30am to get on a 45 minute bus ride…since school started at 7:15am and ended ELEVEN hours later… Gemara shuir was three hrs a day.. I remember for about a year and half me and a friend or 2 – as SOON as we got to school, we broke into the locked “trailer” library, turned the heat up to 80, lined up the tables, and SLEPT on them till noon. The school replaced the door lock so we just climbed through the windows. The racism and misogyny was disgusting. (I still remember the rabbis were furious when the new COKE machine that was delivered had a coke ad on it that had a woman in short sleeves (gasp!) so they covered it in paper but we kept ripping it off just to bother them. It was always freezing and I was so so exhausted. 

I hate that place so much, and hope it goes to hell. I had great friends, so we made it through.

I went to others, where we listened to speeches about how the “goyim” all talk about us and Israel all the time and that is evidence that we are special and all the goyim live like animals and how they used to be decent but today society has gone to hell…

Rabbis went through my things and seized Stephen King novels and anyting secular. The principle told me I dress like a homeless person. And one rabbi yanked a hemp necklace off my neck. The disdain they had for ANY creativity or self expression not within yeshivish culture. 

Why I Skipped the Fourth Night of Chanukah

CW: abuse, graphic moment of PTSD

Last night, I wrote a Facebook post. I started writing it as a brief post, because I had planned to share my menorah-lighting each night of Chanukah this year, and I wanted to explain why I wouldn’t be sharing the 4th night’s lights. But it turned into a long post, and I decided to share here on my blog as well.

This is the first year I’m lighting Chanukah candles. Growing up frum, I didn’t light, because only the boys lit. There was no real prohibition against girls lighting, but it wasn’t “done.” (see this story where I got excited thinking I would light but then didn’t…) And for the first few years after I left, I had no desire to engage in this ritual.

This year, I bought a menorah and candles, and was excited to have my own little lighting ceremony. And that’s how I learned that the association of Chanukah with the brother who abused me is likely never to go away…

I don’t think I’m going to light menorah tonight. I’m still on the train to the ferry, so I’ll be getting home pretty late and I’m really tired.

And also… it’s the 4th night of Chanukah. The night when my father would sit us all down to dole out Chanukah gelt from my parents and grandparents to each of us. The night when we celebrated the birthday of my oldest brother.

He’s been on my mind a lot lately. I can’t help but be aware of when his birthday is coming up, tied as it is to a holiday.

Every time Chanukah comes around, I think of him. This year, I feel a vague sort of… disinterest when I think about him.

I remember that dream I had about him four years ago, when I first started dealing with the memories: I dreamt of standing over his open casket, taking out a large kitchen knife, and slicing his stomach open down the middle.

I was so filled with rage against him for so long.

You did this to me! You betrayed my trust! You were my big brother, you claimed to love me, and you used my body for your own gain! And you knew all these years, and said nothing! And when I confronted you about it, you didn’t apologize! You! You did this to me!

I don’t feel rage against him anymore.

For a while, I pitied him.

You poor miserable creature, you never grew up and became a man. You disgusting being, enveloped in your own brand of jovial desperation. Your own life was messed up, true — but it’s your choice that you didn’t take responsibility and become an adult. It’s your fault that you let your wife turn the blame on me, but I pity you for having no spine or backbone of your own.

I don’t pity him anymore.

I feel… disinterest when I think of him. He has no bearing on my life anymore. My life is my own. He cannot harm me any longer.

It took me a long time to achieve this distance, disinterest, dispassion. But I’ve done it.

Tonight I will not light Chanukah candles. I will light my small candle on my altar, and I will watch the flickering flames, barely casting any light at all, and I will sleep in the darkness.

In the comfort of the home I made for myself, in the life I made for myself.

Embracing all the bright shadows that make me who I am.

I call this my vagina menorah. (It’s supposed to be a rimon, a pomegranate.)

Support a College Student

A frum girl is having trouble paying for her college. Help a yid out?

The GoFundMe description:

Ahuva (not her real name) is a student at a public college. She paid for her first two semesters of college using money she had saved throughout high school from babysitting jobs and summer jobs. She continues to work now while in college. She has applied, and continues to apply, for merit-based scholarships. But her school and department offer primarily need-based scholarships, for which she does not qualify, since she is a legal dependent on her financially-secure parents – even though she is paying for her own college.

It’s almost time for her to pay for her Spring 2019 semester, and she is $1000 short. So we turn to you: 

Will you give some Chanuka gelt to help Ahuva stay in college?

Why Ahuva needs and deserves this:

1) She graduated from a Bais Yaakov, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish all-girls school in which students are actively discouraged from attending college. Throughout high school, she voraciously read to support her passion for learning on her own, and she asked the school administration for enriching classes (though the school did not provide them). She graduated high school with straight A’s and received an Advanced Honors Regents diploma.

2) In her first few semesters of college, she attended six classes each semester. In her first semester, she was still attending seminary in the mornings. She received straight A’s in her first semester of college (in fact, three were A+ grades) and maintains a 4.0 GPA.

3) She is part of the Honors Program and is taking rigorous classes despite being ineligible for Honors Program scholarships – just because she likes the rigor! She frequently describes challenging classes as “so much fun!!!” She visits her professors in their office hours frequently and reads books they recommend or lend to her, and then goes to their offices again to discuss her ideas.

4) She holds herself to extremely high standards, and has goals of pursuing a PhD.

Sorted: Educators’ Praise as Evidence of Their Ideologies

According to one theory about the Hogwarts Houses and the Sorting Hat, students are not sorted by what they are best at. Rather, they are sorted by what they value most. Most of the characters in the series contain multiple traits from each of the four houses, but the house they are sorted into indicates which traits they value most.

As I continue to work on my dissertation’s central question (what is education, according to different cultures?) I have been asking what each system of education values. It stands to reason that the traits praised by educators are the ones they see as the goal of education.

My own report cards from elementary school provide an interesting window into this question. I was usually an excellent student, with some notable exceptions. But what exactly each teacher praises is telling.

Some teachers who wrote my report card comments value academics, self-discipline, and effort. Some don’t mention academics at all, and instead focus entirely on personality. Most are a mix of the two. 

Many talk about my contribution to the class, and many mention a wish that I provide nachas to my parents – as if the purpose of my excellence is to benefit my parents and community, not primarily to help propel my own future.

My favorite of these is my eighth grade Secular Studies report card. Mrs. Mitnick was my favorite teacher in elementary/middle school, because she so obviously valued intelligence and academic success for personal benefit. And her comments reflect that. Thank you, Mrs. Malky Mitnick ❤

Below are images and transcriptions of my Jewish Studies and Secular Studies from Pre-1-A through 8th Grade (missing fifth grade Secular Studies).

Esther Shaindel is doing very well scholastically and is a pleasure to have in class.

Announcing: The Bais Yaakov Project!

I am overjoyed to announce that I am part of a brand-new project, The Bais Yaakov Project. The website is still being built, with support from The CUNY Graduate Center’s New Media Lab, and will hopefully go live in early 2019.Bais Yaakov Project CFM

The Project:
The Bais Yaakov Project is dedicated to the collection, preservation, and digitization of historical material related to the Bais Yaakov movement from its founding in 1917 to the 1970s. The Bais Yaakov Project has no affiliation with any Bais Yaakov school or educational organization. It begins as a collaboration by two Bais Yaakov graduates interested in this history, but we hope to expand to include others who share an interest in the movement.

The People:
Dainy Bernstein is a Ph.D. candidate in medieval and children’s literature at the CUNY Graduate Center. She attended Bais Yaakov of Boro Park, Bais Yaakov High School in Boro Park, and Yavne Seminary in Cleveland. Her focus of study is education and childhood as represented in literature.

Naomi Seidman is the Chancellor Jackman Professor of the Arts in the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto. She attended Bais Yaakov of Boro Park, Bais Yaakov Academy, Michlala, and Bais Yaakov Seminary. Her book, Sarah Schenirer and Bais Yaakov: A Revolution in the Name of Tradition, is forthcoming from Littman Library. An exhibit of Bais Yaakov material, and a concert of Bais Yaakov songs through the decades, will accompany the book launch, to be held at the Center for Jewish History on March 17, 2019.

The Public:
We are presently collecting and digitizing historical material in preparation for launching the website in early 2019. We are also interested in the loan of physical objects for display at the CJH exhibit.

Items we are looking for include:

  • Yearbooks and autograph books
  • Textbooks, newspapers, and other school publications
  • Photos and videos of Bais Yaakov events
  • Report cards and diplomas
  • Notebooks
  • Family archives of Bais Yaakov students or alumnae

All items will be treated with the utmost care and returned to you.

If you have any such material, or are interested in our project, please contact Dainy Bernstein dainybernstein@gmail.com or Naomi Seidman naomi.seidman@utoronto.ca.

All inquiries welcome! Comment below or email me and/or Naomi.

Please share this call for materials widely – the more people we reach, the more material we’ll get for the website. 

Separate images for easier sharing:

 

What Makes a Book a Sefer?

Fun little memory that pops into my mind every so often, and now because I’m reading this blog post (still – it is a very long post and I am reading it with care and attention!), and the author discusses Josephus in quite some depth:

At the family Chanukah party, when I was 18 years old and visiting from seminary in Cleveland, the women played a game based on Scattergories. We were on teams, though the teams were large and basically the loud, vocal cousins were the main players while the rest of us shy or disinterested cousins sat toward the back and watched. Each team would pick a piece of paper with a letter on it (a Hebrew letter), and then someone would call out categories, and the team would have to name something in that category that starts with that letter.

At one point, my team had picked “yud.” And then one of the categories was “seforim.” Now, being chasidish women, most of my cousins couldn’t think of any seforim, let alone one that starts with “yud.” (There aren’t that many words that start with “yud.” EDIT: As the cousin of the sitting-in-the-corner part of the story said to me after hearing this story now: “Uh, Yirmiyah? Yeshaya?”) They joked and laughed, and time was running out, until someone said “hey, Esther Shaindel! You’re in bais medrash! You know seforim!” (The common joke because Yavneh called the study hall a bais medrash, of all ridiculous things! Who ever heard of a girls’ study hall being called a bais medrash! Sigh…)

I wasn’t very happy with the attention turned to me, where I sat squeezed into a corner with one of my cousins, my back to the bookshelf and half-turned away from the festivities.

“Yosifun,” I said, and there was a moment of silence as most of the cousins tried to think if they’d ever heard it before, and then my mother laughed and said, “Well, that isn’t quite a sefer, but it can count for now.”

I took a moment to think about that before turning back to my conversation with my cousin. What counts as a sefer, after all? Does Josephus not count because he wasn’t a rabbi? Wasn’t he? Is it because he talks about history and not theology? I had thought of this book because I could picture it on my father’s seforim shelves – doesn’t that make it a sefer?

And then I dismissed this ridiculous categorizing and looked back at my cousin, who rolled her eyes and laughed, and we ignored the game entirely after that.