She was a plain girl wearing shorts, and there was something very nice and serious about her.
We got to talking and asking the usual questions asked at these places:
“How did you get here? What made you come?” and so on.
Surprisingly, she explained that she'd actually attended a local frum girls high school when her parents had started on their journey toward Torah observance.
As she related this, her demeanor started to change. She started closing her eyes more as she spoke and she tossed her hair stiffly a couple of times to hold on to the casual tone of the conversation.
She also started taking a breath between sentences in the way people do when they want to steel themselves.
“My parents meant well and wanted to do the right thing,” she said. “And I was happy to try it out. Being frum sounded nice, I enjoyed Shabbos and stuff, and the way they explained things made sense.”
But the school was just awful, to put it bluntly.
The little she told me was appalling:
- The girl’s new peers held each other to very high material standards, which this girl and her family simply couldn’t afford, which led to discrimination against this girl.
This is just disgusting.
It goes against everything a Jew stands for: mercy, compassion…and bushah. Bushah isn’t easy to translate, even though it’s often translated as “shyness” or “shame.”
UPDATED: Bushah is a certain embarrassment or shame about doing the wrong thing or having done the wrong thing. It can also mean a certain kind of inner refinement that holds one back from calling attention to oneself or one’s attributes (including material attributes) unnecessarily. It’s bad enough that the wealthier girls were being show-offy about their family’s economic status, but to bully their poorer peers into maintaining this level of gashmiut is revolting.
Every peirush and mussar sefer in Torah literature insists that even the wealthiest Jews keep things toned down and sternly warn against any kind of ostentatiousness, whether regarding clothing or the exterior of one's home.
Of course, this doesn't even begin to cover the lack of shame than ongoing bullying indicates. How were they not ashamed or embarrassed to behave as they did?
- The girl did not speak or behave or possess the same knowledge exactly like the girls brought up oh-so frum since birth.
This is totally normal and acceptable. Taking on just the basics of Torah is a long process. But it is clear that this girl possessed classically good middot in spades. I can’t imagine that she was behaving in a particularly shocking manner or was a problematic influence.
(And even if she was, that is a reason to try to encourage a person, not to torment them, especially when we are talking about such a young teenage girl.)
Anyway, as she just made superficial mention of the torment she endured at that school for not being up to her peers’ standard of material or “religious” observance…her head reflexively jerked to the side as one side of her face also jerked in an uncontrollable tic.
She stopped to take a steadying breath, then said, “Well, let’s just say that it was a very unpleasant experience.”
“Yeah, I can understand that,” I said.
Her tic revealed profound trauma. After all, people’s bodies don’t snap into tics when relating “normal” unpleasant memories.
I felt a rush of rage at the school that so badly traumatized this really nice girl.
Beis Yaakov? More like Beis Esav, if you ask me!
“So I just left the frum world,” she said.
“I really understand you,” I said, thinking that I for sure would’ve done the same & done so with a lot of vocal resentment.
Yet she had a “But” that explained why she was here in this frum seminary.
Basically, she felt like the Torah was good and true (despite her horrible experiences with Beis Esav's version of frumkeit), she believed in God, and wanted to give it all a second chance.
“I want to hear about it on its own terms,” she said, “at my own pace, and really think things over as I go.”
I was astounded and thought she was one of the most special people I’d ever met.
What a great neshamah she possessed!
This willingness to embrace a world that rejected her is reminiscent of the nisayon of Yosef Hatzaddik and Yirmiyahu Hanavi, among others.
Who's REALLY the Fairest of Them All?
- She’s not like the regular off-the-derech kids.
She has no frum family longing for her to come back to the fold—well, maybe just her parents (if they stayed frum; I can't remember), but not anyone else.
And frum life isn’t the comfortable or natural way for her. It's not like she grew up that way. After all, she was pretty secular until her teens.
- She was seriously traumatized and abused by a very frum-seeming community.
Both the adults and her peers either allowed or actively participated in her bullying.
And of course, they were doing it under the impression that they themselves were soooo frum. This is really hard to recover from because it’s not just one or two individuals misrepresenting Torah, it’s a whole group, including some very chashuv-seeming models of frumkeit. Barf.
- And it was all so bad that just mentioning it gives her a tic.
The fact that she’s able to and even wants to give God a second chance is amazing to my mind.
I’m sure that her neshamah comes from a very high place, if she is able to perform such a feat of gevurah.
Yet if you’d seen her, you’d see just a regular girl, a very quiet and very nice young woman who didn't look particularly frum.
No one’s going to write a book or even an article about her, or give a shiur about her amazing mesirut nefesh and her exemplary hitgabrut.
But I truly believe it’s people like her who are saving the Nation.
Just the bare fact that, against all odds, she was willing to give God and the Torah a second chance after being so harshly rejected, after being so revoltingly spit in her face (spiritually speaking)…this is a massive merit for the fidelity of the Jewish people.
This is real mesirut nefesh to keep the mitzvot.
Could you stand up to a nisayon like that?
I'm not sure I could have. But she did.
Everything I've learned tells me that it’s people like her who end up weighing down the Heavenly scales on the side of merit for the Jewish people.
It’s unsung Jews like her who say, “God, as a sincere, hopeful, and vulnerable young girl, I tried to come close to You, but You rammed me back. You spit in my face, You made my life Hell…but I’m still willing to give You another chance—on YOUR terms. I’m willing to hear You out. So here I am.”
She’s the example to follow.
The Gemara says that Olam Hazeh is an upside-down world, with the truly special people toward the bottom and the lesser people at the top.
It’s really a lesson to take to heart.
For example, I’ve heard of frum Beis Yaakov girls speak of a more secular classmate with admiration and affection, even as the school didn’t hold that classmate to the same standard as the other girls. For example, at one Beis Yaakov, the more secular girl wore jeans outside of school, something that the girls from properly frum homes would have been expelled for, and the other girls still liked and accepted her.
Charedi and Beis Yaakov schools are perfectly capable of making the Torah journey a pleasant experience for students of all backgrounds.