This was the first word that popped into my stunned head when thinking of a title for this post. First, thank you to the GURL SG for suggesting I blog about this. We were going nuts about something yesterday, and she wisely told me to use it as fuel for writing. Which reminds me to feel gratitude for having a vehicle for my emotions and opinions.
So here's the deal... I picked up my middle schooler early yesterday for an appointment. While in the car, my son began to tell me about a special program he'd just attended in school that really moved him. An 11 year old sports/video game obsessed boy getting a dose of inspiration; rad, right? He recounted the gist of the speech as this: there was a very religious woman, who used to not be, who kept having miscarriages. As soon as she began to follow strict Jewish observance to the letter, she was able to have children. Also, she is very rich. The End. Um..... SCREEEEECCCCHHHH🙀.
Where to start? Needless to say I was livid. I rarely react to what goes on during the school day. I really feel that kids and adults don't need to know everything about each other's days. The level of accessibility due to modern technology is unhealthy. We all need breathing room. Kids also don't gain important coping skills if they get upset by, and report, every little imperfect detail to their day. Those eight hours during school are for them to handle, like we handled our school days on our own. Hurt feelings, a lousy remark by a teacher, lunch table hierarchy, and too much work are all crucial parts to childhood. No app can fix that stuff. It's all part of the initiation process. Overprotection and oversanitization are a massive disservice. That being said, I couldn't not react to what my son was telling me. I was quite upset for several reasons. One, the topic of a miscarriage is a deeply mature and painful subject. Not appropriate for middle schoolers in the midst of enjoying a day of school wide Olympics. I discuss a lot with my children, but this is a topic I did not plan on him hearing about at this age.
I, like many women, had a miscarriage. It was a crushing, depressing time. I couldn't leave my NYC apartment for weeks since everywhere I looked were pregnant women. Two, having attended a fanatically religious high school that was super keen on the fire and brimstone fear based approach to Judaism, I react viscerally to any implication that we as a people are punished if we "disobey" God. To even hint to these malleable young minds that her personal tragedies were self imposed, due to her wearing pants and not wearing a wig is reckless and irresponsible. To plant seeds of guilt into the thought process of young yeshivah students is one of the chief issues with Jewish education. Judaism has so much warmth and goodness to it. Why taint that by scaring kids into believing their future problems are their own fault? I have friends well into adulthood that still fall back on these guilty reactions. It's Pavlovian. It's been ingrained in pretty much everyone I know, and I've done years of telling myself that it's "magical thinking" to retrain my mind. Teaching kids self blame is terrible on any front. God forbid one of the girls hearing that speech will conjure this up during a future miscarriage.
Three, there is nothing wrong with wearing pants and not wearing a wig. If doing those things brings someone closer to God, that's great. But they aren't necessary to be a loving, devoted, kind Jew. We aren't distanced from HaShem in our hearts if we wear a sweatsuit from Aviator Nation (sup, Clementine?). I loathe the focus on externals. It makes my skin crawl and my heart sad. I don't want my kids' yeshivah education being based on that type of irrational dogma. Supposedly there was also a great deal of focus on money and material wealth, placing blame on that as well for certain hardships. Money has no place in a discussion geared towards kids. My neighborhood gets a very bad rap in regard to such subjects. It's unwarranted. Most people I know who live here are incredibly down to earth. There isn't a Birkin Bag in sight. People are on scholarships, budget their vacations, and don't generally prance around on an overly groomed white pony. If they did they'd be laughed at. Listen, this ain't no hippie commune, but it is not the type of environment where materialism is routinely discussed with the student body. In fact most kids came home from that speech taken aback by the emphasis on 🤑. Which I'm proud of, that they were able to pick up on how off putting it was. I don't intend to detract from certain terribly painful situations this woman and her family lived through. I'm happy their family is large, safe, and healthy. However using personal tragedy to brainwash kids into thinking they are in control of everything if they "just follow the Rules" is wrong.
Which leads me to Four. In my community, the more externally observant you appear, the more you get away with. Had a non Jew (a term I detest, more on that another time) stood up in that auditorium and spoke of such topics, an angry, torch burning mob would have been let loose. Even a Jew of lesser "observance" would have been criticized. I don't see why the publicly devout have such license to say whatever they want. It's like this weird, narrow minded permission slip. Sign me OUT.
Epilogue: the school was quite upset about many of the points of discussion, and emailed the parent body, apologizing for the presentation. Prior to that I actually had an exchange with the principal suggesting they do that. Too many parents were upset not be validated. It was a very respectful email. It's vital for parents to have a healthy platform for giving important feedback, and it's greatly appreciated when the administration receives it. Oy, I'm tired. I worked on this post intermittently throughout the night, while fielding questions from my seven year old about miscarriages, namely mine.
Sigh... Signing off, LB