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October 9, 2015 / 26 Tishri, 5776
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Look Out


I just finished trying on all my pre-nine day clothes. You know the drill: Wash your clothing but leave enough time to parade around in what will be worn for the next nine days. This way, it will not be freshly laundered. What amazes me is that each year I am sure it will be a very easy activity, since I have nothing to wear! Yet, somehow I find it very time-consuming.

There are other challenges an out-of-town Jewish woman faces, besides the usual length of her skirt and which top to wear. At the beginning of our marriage, my husband and I were in a Yeshiva kehilla (community). This meant that the interaction between men and women was much more segregated and constrained. It was what I had became accustomed to, that is until our first move out-of-town.

My husband and I arrived in our new city and were guests of honor at a welcome barbeque held in someone‘s backyard. My husband was eagerly greeted by a mom who was wearing shorts and a sleeveless top. After living in a Yeshiva atmosphere for a while, I cringed. How could she come over dressed like that and initiate a conversation with my husband? Before I had a chance to recover, a dad, also clad in leisurely summer attire, lumbered over to greet me. I left the barbeque deep in thought. It seemed we were now in place with informal boundaries. Could I ever be comfortable here and how was this atmosphere going to affect my own children?

Time helped me acclimate to our new environment. There were some hairy moments, like the time one well-meaning and appreciative father thanked me for teaching his daughter. He grasped my hand and, before I had a chance to withdraw it, kissed it! Another mortifying moment was when a father spotted me at dismissal and rushed over for a bear hug! It’s hard to be gracious when one feels embarrassed and uncomfortable.

How my children dress has also evolved. I had originally expected my children to want to dress like those in the yeshivish community we had lived in, never imagining them wanting to look any other way. After all, I reasoned, I had come to live out-of-town to impact others, not to be influenced by that environment. But a funny thing happened. We all evolved – my children, and my expectations of them.

On a visit to another city, our sons begged to wear black suede yarmulkas like their friends instead of their black velvet ones. My husband allowed them to buy the suede yarmulkas in the bookstore and I wept. I believed that all my hopes and dreams for them were dashed. My husband laughed. “What does it matter, as long as they cover their heads?”

When my first white-shirted son came of age we were thrilled that he was accepted to a prestigious yeshiva. Black hats and white shirts dotted the campus. I was beaming. This is perfect, I thought. We will send all our sons to this wonderful yeshiva and they will love being yeshivish.

I was unprepared for the bump on the road to this utopian dream. Our son noticed some un-yeshivish behavior at this school and told me about it. I was concerned, and also a little naïve. I called the administration, expecting the matter to be resolved quietly. Instead, our son was taken from the dorm that very night in full view of the other boys and asked what he had seen. When my son returned from the interrogation, the boys believed him to be an informer and ostracized him. They vandalized his belongings and threatened him. One Erev Shabbos, my son called to wish us a quick good Shabbos. “I’m not sure if I will survive over Shabbos,“ he whispered and hung up the phone. What an anxious Shabbos that was! My fourteen-year-old could not understand why the boys were acting menacingly to him and was very unhappy.

A few months later, we transferred our son to a different yeshiva. The new yeshiva had wonderful rabbeim, and students from a variety of backgrounds. It was a warm and safe environment; but it was not exclusively filled with white shirts, dark pants, and black hats.

When my daughter refused to wear knee-highs, because none of the girls in her class did – she wanted to wear short socks – I panicked. Again, I wondered how would my kids remain frum? But then I began breathing and realized, hey, it’s just a sock! My daughter wasn’t throwing all standards of modesty out the window! I relaxed. Her skirts were long enough, her shirts had long sleeves. It really was going to be okay.

Then it was time for shidduchim. Everything seemed to be going well until I mentioned to the shadchan that my son did not wear a black hat. She inhaled deeply. “Oh,” she said. “Then he does not have yiras Shamayim.” I was stunned. I do not remember what I answered, but I know I did thank her for her efforts and got off the phone. No yiras Shamayim, I thought? Is that how one who does not wear black and white is viewed? At a recent family event with irreligious people, a very attractive girl asked this son to dance. My son refused, saying he did not dance with women. The girl and the family members urged him. “Come on,” they said, “your father is not here to see.” He looked at them. “I do not do things because my father wants me to. I do them for me!”

My son was prepared for the dicey challenges that awaited him when he went into the business world. Because even without wearing a black hat, he does have yiras Shamayim. He also answered “no” to a different well-meaning shadchan who advised him to wear a black hat – just on the first date. ‘But everyone does it for the first date,” she said. “It will make a good impression.” My son refused. “How about just putting a black hat in the back window of your car?” My son said no, he would not pretend to be someone he was not.

Living over the rainbow means more color in my life. It is true that my children may not exactly mirror the look of the yeshiva world on the outside, but they do have a strong Torah foundation on the inside. They also each know what it means to contribute to a community, and feel a responsibility to help out. I left a city with many grey buildings, and though there are some very nice lawns here and there, it cannot compare to the beauty of greenery and flowers that is the norm out here. I expect to see color, both outside and with the people I meet. Even when visiting New York, I long for the wide-open spaces of my town. Out here the student body and their parents are of many different shades. Out-of-town there can be well-meaning ladies who speak with great inspiration, but do not cover their hair. There are others women who are the first to do chesed, but may wear pants. There are parents who work with great dedication on behalf of our day school, but do not keep Shabbos. I daven that our community has peace, and that we all – black, white, and every color in between – will soon unite together and greet Moshiach!

About the Author: Penina Scheiner is a kindergarten teacher, writer, and busy wife and mom who lives over the rainbow with her husband and kids.

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2 Responses to “Look Out”

  1. Rafi Hecht says:

    I don't think this is a mainstream Orthodox thing. No, I think this is only in New York. I never had this issue since moving to Toronto.

    New York is sick in the amount of official "red tape" that is wrapped around everything. I guess that in the New York O community, the black hat counts as "black tape?"

    I can go on and on. Please don't make me. I read the same article over Shabbos and was just as repulsed at how stupid people have become.

  2. Shoshanna Goldstein Sanders says:

    It is the shadchan who lacks Yiras Shamayim, not your son. He sounds like a real gem and I hope he soon finds a zivug who is worthy of him.

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