Frummed Out

In twelfth grade, I applied to the Macaulay Honors College at CUNY, through Brooklyn College. The Macaulay program includes a full scholarship for four years of college, a free laptop, service opportunities and mentorship and honors…

I got in.

I was going to Yavne Seminary in Cleveland the year after high school, though, so I called to ask if I could defer until the next year. The person I spoke to was really accommodating, said he’s used to getting requests to defer for a year abroad to Israel, but had never been asked about deferring for a year in Cleveland. Still, I got permission to defer.

So off I went to Cleveland for seminary.

Yavne doesn’t have a dorm. Instead, we boarded with families in the neighborhood. It was a beautiful year, in the suburb, with a shtarke yeshivish community. My host family was lively and very frum, the six of us girls who boarded there became very close, and seminary learning was great.

Girls who go to Israel for seminary tend to “frum out,” and in some ways I guess I was attempting to do just that.

Before I left New York, I bought a new MP3 player so that I wouldn’t be able to access the radio (turns out I was able to, but I didn’t realize until a few months into seminary). I was happy that there was no easy access to the library, because that meant that I couldn’t be reading non-Jewish books. (That also changed halfway through the year, when my roommate and I walked to the public library, but that’s a story for another time.)

So when my mother told me, around Purim time, that Macaulay had sent a form for me to sign, to confirm that I’m accepting their offer for the following year, I said I had to think about it.

A couple of days later, my father called me. “Why aren’t you just signing the form?”

“I don’t think I should.”

“Why not?! It’s a full scholarship, it’s Brooklyn College, you’ll get your degree and won’t have to pay for it at all…”

“Because college is not the place for a Bais Yaakov girl.”

Yes, indeed, that was me who said those words.

Of course, my father wanted me to get a degree in speech therapy or special education, something that would translate immediately into a lucrative career so that I could support my husband and children. Later, when I did in fact go to college and began getting involved in the English program’s events, he wasn’t too happy about it. But that’s also a story for another time.

It took a long while for me to understand why I thought that way, why I turned down a full scholarship. No one in seminary was pressuring me to give that up. But that was me trying to be a “good girl,” and deciding that a college campus is a bad place for a good girl to be.


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