Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Basics of Yeshiva High School

Yeshiva high school was a really nutty experience, Rabbis just spewing stuff, all my friends becoming very yeshivish (or fake yeshivish), the principle screaming at me for numerous ridiculous things, yet a lot of this just seemed to like bounce off me. Let me explain a bit: my family is basically standard black-hat style, but we always had internet, cable TV, and we went to movies so we weren't super-right wing. I was also raised thinking that everyone went to college and went to get a job with the exception of people who wanted to become rabbis. That's what I thought normal was. So wearing white shirts every day and staying in school for insane ours isn't even what bothered me. It was mostly the huge culture shock. For example (and at fear of being exposed because I have told many people this story): Those of you who have gone through or know enough about the system understand the fact that all evil in the world is caused by college (and the gays). So very early into my HS career my rebbi gave a fire-and-brimstone speech about the evils of college. I was amazingly confused because I thought everyone went to college. Of course, questions were not allowed during "mussar" time. After class I was talking to another guy and I said something along the lines of "Woah. That was totally crazy! Right?" And, he replied to me with the following statement, which was an early indication that I was in for a bumpy ride, "What are you talking about? That's the way everyone's raised; go the yeshiva, a few years beis medrash, then go to israel, and then lakewood" (exact quote, i remember it like it was yesterday). Now that is most definitely NOT how I was raised. Nor did it conform to any logical way of thinking. Couple that with a dislike for learning and you can understand why yeshiva hs was not exactly the ideal experience for me.
       As the year(s) wore on I came to realize to never take anything that the rabbis said seriously and (ala Heshy Fried) their speeches actually became a source of amusement rather than frustration. The only things that upset me were when I would get singled out for stuff (although to be honest that didn't really happen much in 9th,10th, and 11th grade). So overall, I may have wasted loads of time and hated what they were saying, yet it wasn't such a horrible experience from  rabbi-related issues (till 12th grade). I for the most part just had rabbis who were content to leave me alone when I clearly showed no interest.
     The biggest issue came in form of my friends. They all became very yeshivish and right-wing. Or at the very least yeshivish fakers. (Side note: my definition of yeshivish fakers is as follows: It's one thing to be a yeshivish fellow and go all out. It is what it is, they rabbis spew crap and they absorb it. The yeshivish faker is the guy that is part of the yeshivish crowd, has yeshivish friends, dresses and talks the part. And yet goes to movies and listens to secular music (no metallica doesn't count to fulfill this criteria, I mean like Top 40 stuff, or a wide variety thats not limited to the "yeshivish bands")) So this did leave me as kind of an outcast, along with the 9 or so other guys who weren't part of the yeshivish crowd, in certain ways. Don't get me wrong, I was still super-close friends with many yeshivish guys, there was just always something "different" about us which is kinda tough to explain. Now, while these differences were a lot of fun when, we had arguments, which as yeshiva guys, we had all the time. We argued about everything under the sun, and it was almost always me against them. It really does get pretty lonely after a while.
      Religiously I wasn't breaking any of the public rules (I was even wearing a hat and jacket outside, although the principle did scream at me for violating this rule on numerous occasions) I wasn't davening or doing much of anything really. And yet I wasn't exactly sure what I believed yet, I just knew I didn't believe what they were saying. so I basicallt just floated through those three years without too many specific incidents. It's just now, looking back, I have a feeling that I wasted 3 years of my life in a place I hated. What I mean isn't that normal high school kids are learning important life skills or anything, it's just that they get to be normal high school kids. I never really realized this until I started college and have a bunch of non-jewish (or non-religious) friends, but having a group of friends who are exactly a like is really boring. Especially if you don;t really like that type much anyway.
     12th grade was another awful, horrible, amazingly bad year. It seems to me that the system really does save the best for last. Right when you think your about to escape they hit you with everything they got. Firstly, 12th grade in my school was like a regular beis medrash, 930am-10pm. No secular studies. I was definitely not about to start learning all that time and with no sec.studies to at least take my mind off it for a while, it was hard not to go stir-crazy. Secondly, my rabbi was not exactly a master when it came to learning so any slight slight slight interest I may have had to go out the window. And to top it all off, my rabbi was the super-intense type who would give those personal mussar speeches and loved to single me out as a target. He actually, i swear this is true, once gave a super-impassioned speech about a really evil thing he saw me and a friend doing; walking outside in middle of the day during june when it was hot outside (there was a street fair on the next block). (oh crap my cover is blown to anyone in my grade reading this... and possibly more, it was a kind of famous story) That was actually my most enjoyable HS moment him screaming and making a scene about walking outside during the day. He was even more upset because we weren't even wearing our precious hats and jackets which would protect us from the evils of walking outside. This, and many appearance related comments which were made to me (hairs too big, yarmulka's too small, why don't you wear your tzitzis out, etc. I'm gonna do a post on appearance in yeshiva later) added to what was already a crappy year due to sheer boredom. Throw in getting busted for GASP! having a cell phone, twice, and the rabbis driving me crazy, I wanted to spend as little time there as ppossible.  In fact, during our 2 hour lunch break i would go on a 3 hour walk every single day. Literally, I would plug in my iPod and walk for 3 hours. ( So i may not have learned much in yeshiva, but at least I know the lyrics and exact harmonies, to almost every aerosmith, bon jovi, guns n roses, and Zeppelin song out there). This way I got to come late to 2nd seder, where I would sit in the back of the beis with a few other "slackers" and mostly talk sports. I showed up late every day, and left early. Spending way more time by myself then I should have.
    I really don't know if my writing is doing my perception of hs justice. It's really hard to explain but was it was a really crappy existence, particularly in 12th grade. I'm gonna have to leave it at that for now. I hope you understand the vibe I'm trying to convey. (Once again apologies for the poorly written work up here, just a rather rushed, unorganized, narrative.)



  1. > of you who have gone through or know enough about the system understand the fact that all evil in the world is caused by college (and the gays).

    Don’t be silly. All the evil in the world is caused by a lack of tznius. We know this because every time something bad happens, there’s a call for women to take on more chumras of tznius.

    > The yeshivish faker is the guy that is part of the yeshivish crowd, has yeshivish friends, dresses and talks the part. And yet goes to movies and listens to secular music

    What you’re describing is people who are left-wing yeshivish/right-wing MO. Why the all-or-nothing approach?

    > a really evil thing he saw me and a friend doing; walking outside in middle of the day during june when it was hot outside

    What was so evil? I went to a pretty right-wing school, and the act of walking down the street was never vilified. I’ve seen guys take off their glasses so as not to see “pritzus,” but how are you supposed to live if you never go outside?

  2. perhaps my explanation of the yeshivish faker wasn't properly defined. (1stly, i don't have a problem with these people at all, I don't care if you go to movies while pretending to be yeshivish. Hell, im mechalel shabbos while pretending to be frum.) The yeshivish faker isn't that he goes to movies, etc. it's that he pretends he doesn't and looks and acts like every other right-wing yeshivish guy and will go on and on about how goyishe music is disgusting etc.

    To your next comment, the problem was that we were outside during the day, as he put it, "k'choim hayoim" while we didn't have a NEED to be outside. Hey, don't ask me anyway, I'm the first person to say he's totally crazy

  3. Was the problem that going outside was bitul torah?

  4. Did you ever speak to your parents about your horrible experiences at school? Would they have considered switching you to a more normal place? You would still have ended up in the same place you are now, but you could have been spared the worst experiences.

  5. > Would they have considered switching you to a more normal place?

    What 007 described sounds pretty normal to me, albeit he has a misfit’s viewpoint.

    Normal, after all, is relative.

  6. Do you know what made your parents choose a yeshiva that didn't match their own hashkafah?

    Were they told that it's better to send to a school that was "up a level"? I've gotten that line from a few nosy but well-being folks. I've gotten a bit blunter with my responses, and now say something like this:

    "We don't really see your school Y as being on a higher level necessarily, but rather as following a different derech. Actually, we LIKE the fact that the kids go to a day school that serves the entire community. We believe that it helps to foster ahavat yisrael, and teach the value of being connected to klal yisrael. We also like the school's focus on derech erez and clear policies on bullying, as well as the quality of the teaching staff. The kids are doing exceptionally well, they enjoy school and they have a strong grounding in Yiddishkeit which doesn't clash with any of the values that we are teaching them at home."

    Ironically, many of those that commented on our school choice later had issues with their schools over extreme bullying, bad teaching, inability to meet unique educational needs of their children, etc.

  7. Actually not that much thought went into it...i have 2 older brothers who both went to the school and I just basically followed.

  8. Let me ask- is the image you're trying to convey one of sheer boredom with a glaze of unhappiness so constant you barely noticed it most of the time, coupled with the occassional horrible experience and loneliness?