Rabbi Horowitz has posted an article
that really spoke to me. Actually most of his posts speak to me but this one really hit close to my heart but not for the reasons you might think.
In his post he writes about the plight of the "average" yeshiva student and the difficulties parents and children are having when it comes to gaining admission to "good" or "excellent" yeshivos
. He tells the story of one wonderful but underrated boy to bring home his point but I'm sure that both Rabbi Horowitz and many of my readers know that the problem is far wider in scope than the mesivta
yeshiva system. There are girls in Israel who cannot find a high school to attend, Bais Yaakovs
, Yeshiva High schools, and seminaries send out scores of rejections every year. It's not just a "Jewish" problem either. The demand for nothing but excellence is so strong that college rejections are also at an all time high. In fact Harvard has decided to stop accepting early admissions applications to cut down on rejections and level the playing field a bit.
Of course as a parent I worry for my children. I want them to have a first rate education in a caring and enjoyable environment surrounded by "good" kids. I also want them to have a childhood, have time to relax, and be happy. But even those worries aren't what hit me the hardest when I read Rabbi's Horowitz's article. You see, I
was an average child.
I attended a fairly right wing high school although my parents are your standard "oldschool
orthodox" serious about Torah
, learned, and shtick free. They felt I'd been a bit brainwashed in high school
and felt a quick trip to college would be the best way to straighten me out. The school however, was selling a year in seminary and I was buying! If I could get into a great school, I figured my parents would have to let me go.
I listened carefully to the Rabbis who came to pitch their schools. I knew my skills weren't what they should be when it came to learning. I was always quite smart but learning disabled (undiagnosed at that point but the fact remained that reading Hebrew was a real struggle for me) and it kept me from being in the top classes despite my effort. That said my grades were decent (again not excellent) and I had a very good breadth and depth of knowledge and genuinely enjoyed learning. All of my teachers liked me (except Mrs. S. because I once ate an orange in her class "Do you sink I don't SEE you eating zat
ORANGE in my class!?" she hissed at me. But I digress...) I was a youth group leader, I visited the nursing home every week, and was a peer counselor to the younger girls in the school. I was never in trouble, stayed away from boys, and was rock solid emotionally. I was involved in school projects, the paper, and other extracurricular activities.
I foolishly thought I had a chance.
One day a Rabbi came from a fairly well known seminary in Israel. He gave a good dvar torah
and then talked about his seminary. He said that he found many seminaries were too focused on grades. What he wanted was special girls, girls with good midos
, girls with potential.
That's me!! I thought He wants me!
There was a $50 non-refundable application fee which I didn't have, and I couldn't ask my parents for. Five friends gave me $10 each, knowing I wouldn't be able to pay them back (even with uniforms you can tell who has money and who doesn't.) I went to my interview with high hopes. The Rabbi barely spoke to me - I could have told him about my hobbies, my sick brother, my family, my interests but no, he wanted me to read a huge Ramban
I couldn't do it. I tried. I choked. I was not accepted.
I went to the vice-principal's
office and cried on his desk. I told him about my parents, and the speech, and the Ramban
, and the $50 dollars.
"I was tricked" said a very naive 15 year old Shifra
"I was lied to! I'm so much more than an Ramban
." "I know" said the very wonderful Rabbi behind the desk "you should tell him."
So I did!!! I wrote him a letter telling the Seminary Rabbi my story. About my life, about how his speech gave me hope which he crushed, and about the $50 I'd like back if he never actually
intended to accept a "girl with potential." The vice principal even reviewed my letter, and I sent it.
When he got the letter he called my Vice Principal and asked him what kind of place he is running with such "vindictive
students" who have so much "chutzpah and disrespect for authority." Even as the Vice Principal was telling me this horrible story I could tell he was so proud of me and even in the depths of my despair that gave me something to hold on to.
Since then there have been a lot of things I've not been good enough for most notably
my mother-in-law who reviewed my "credentials
" and pronounced me "nothing special"
which certainly hurt and still does.
This post was a lot more personal and certainly a lot more painful to write than most things I put up here but the question I'm trying to ask here is: What is this "excellence" everyone is seeking?
Does it require us to force our kids to take extra classes, sports, tutoring, and music lessons to give them that "edge" they need to get ahead or do we need to look deeper into the hearts of our children and see their inner beauty, their natural gift and personalities and help them to develop what is special about them rather than force them into someone else's
idea of perfection.
Although I'm crying as I type this post I will tell you that I really like who I am today. I am a unique, smart, talented, and passionate person and that makes me special and perhaps even excellent. I am truly blessed that no amount of judgement or pressure to the contrary has forced me to lose that spark that makes me who I am and I wish the same for my children and yours.
Labels: childhood, Yeshiva