Suddenly and abruptly, everything I had always known about myself no longer applied. There would be no long yeshiva career, Kollel or the like. At that point I really had no identity. I didn’t know who I was or what it was that I was going to do.
Adjusting to post-yeshiva life was difficult. I hadn’t realized how much structure having a schedule of shiurim and sedorim (even if I skipped most of them) gave my life. Shacharis, which had been an imperative for my entire yeshiva career (the one thing I NEVER missed) suddenly fell to the back burner. Having no schedule can take away any sense of meaning from your life. Having no schedule, and at the same time, no identity, can be crippling.
My parents were very clear about what I would do next. I’d be starting college in the spring (at the time I didn’t realize that “spring” in college parlance begins in January). I had absolutely no interest, not because I had anything better to do with my time, but because I was so convinced that college was not part of who I was (even though I had no real idea who I was anymore).
After floundering for a few weeks, my father drove me to Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU), and forced me to fill out and submit my application for admission. As it turns out, the day I registered was the last day for new student applications for the following semester (Bashert to my parents, rotten luck to me).
A classic piece of Americana is the vision of a student running out to the mailbox to see if they have received their college acceptance letters, ripping the letter open and jumping for joy at the good news. I have no memory of receiving my acceptance letter. I only know that it came because my parents were going to force me to go to registration.
My father literally took me to campus on registration day. At the time, NEIU still required that all paperwork and registration forms be filled out in person. Registration day was a lot like going to the DMV. It was a full day affair. There were lines everywhere, and it was extremely confusing. The registration process even included a line to tell us which set of lines we had to wait on.
I was not interested in any of this, so my father took me from line to line, collected the appropriate registration forms and documents, filled out those forms and submitted them on my behalf. I wasn’t at all concerned about how long this was taking because, from my perspective, the longer the ordeal the more likely my father would give up or my classes would close.
I remember filling out one questionnaire about my feelings regarding Division 1 athletics for the school. As a huge sports fan, I enthusiastically endorsed that idea. This was rather ironic because as a student leader on campus years later I was a vocal part of the fight to remove NEIU from Division 1.
There wasn’t much talking between my father and me that day. After all, he was quite busy trying to fill out the correct paperwork and submit all of the right forms, and I was just trying to blend in with the walls. My father also picked my classes for me (two history classes because that had been my favorite high school subject) as we walked to the registration waiting area. I still, however, thought I had an ace in the hole. NEIU used arena registration, timed and strictly regulated by numbers. They did not let you into registration until your number was called. This was good luck because, although I had a number, my father, who was not a registered student, did not.
My father did make sure to get me my number as well as to hold on to it (to prevent me from losing it). This would be the longest wait of the day. The final waiting area was in a large social room outside of the registration hall. There was a large digital board, slowly counting up the numbers. I sat there and stared at it for hours, watching the numbers tick by, one at a time, hoping all the while that something would come up that would prevent my number from being called (I kept hoping someone would pull the fire alarm).
As my number drew closer reality began to set in; I wasn’t getting out of this. I would have to go into that registration room, like it or not. As my number appeared on the big digital board, my father literally pushed me toward the rather large gentleman who was guarding the door. It must have been a comical scene, as I leaned all of my (rather significant) weight back toward my shoulders and my father pushed me from behind. For a fleeting moment, after he pushed me through the turnstile, I thought I was free. I could come back to my dad and tell him that my courses were all closed, and that would be the end of my college career.