Hadas’ High School Surprise

Hadas’ High School Surprise

“Jenny, tell us about Hadas’ high school…” during our weekly Skype call last week, my parents asked for the inside scoop on Hadas’ dream high school that B”H sent her an acceptance letter last week.

“Well, it’s located about half an hour north of Jerusalem. But they have a school bus every morning, and it’s…well…sorry…but it’s a bullet-proof bus. This high school is located in a settlement, actually.”

My parents, G-d bless them, probably gulped extremely hard but they didn’t flinch, “Good, well we’re really looking forward to getting to see a new part of Israel.”

“And the school is, well, a strong school, but it’s not as academically competitive as the other high school she was considering.” My mother, G-d bless her, probably gulped again but nodded vigorously, “That sounds very good.”

“And it’s a school where all the girls are very serious about spiritual growth.” My mother, G-d bless her once again, probably gulped yet again but said, “Fantastic, this sounds like a wonderful school for Hadas.”

To be blunt, JewishMOMs, my daughter (now my turn to gulp) has chosen a high school that sees as its primary goal preparing its students to be devoutly religious wives and mothers who teach (or have some other mommy-friendly occupation) on the side.

I cannot tell you how different this is from the way I was educated…

I grew up in a community where a child’s success was judged exclusively by the prestige of the college and prep school stickers plastered on his or her family’s rear car window. And while my parents (G-d bless them for the fourth time) refused to join the whole car sticker competition of our neighbors, like most of my peers I was also raised attending the best schools and with atmospherically-high expectations of myself in terms of academic achievement and career advancement.

So it’s a bit of a shock to look at Hadas and to realize that I have raised a daughter who has such a thoroughly different set of values than I had.

To be clear, Hadas is an excellent student. She could pretty much choose any high school she wants. But she is consciously choosing a school that believes that in a few years its students will IY”H be Jewish wives and mothers, and that nothing else they can contribute to the world could possibly be more important than what they can contribute inside their own homes and their own communities.

And I guess that just as shocking as realizing that I have a daughter who believes that is realizing that I have come to believe that too…

Yesterday I went on a trip to visit Hadas’ high school-to-be…There were a few weird things about the trip. The split-pea fog that meant the bus driver could only see a few meters ahead of him as he drove. And the heavy rain that meant my feet were literally swimming in my boots. And the near-hurricane winds that forced me several times to consider whether I should hold onto a tree so that I wouldn’t be blown away over the barbed wire fence into the vast wadi as I searched up and down for the bus stop back to Jerusalem.

But the weirdest thing? The weirdest thing happened when I was snooping around the school, getting a sense of the girls, the place, the general vibe. And while checking out the library, I noticed the book Death be Not Proud by John Gunther, and as suddenly as a sneeze, I started sobbing and sobbing.

I still don’t really know why.

But it occurred to me that maybe I cried because seeing that book reminded me how I read it when I was a student in junior high school, just like Hadas. And it was so surreally jarring to fathom all of the revolutions that have taken place in my life in order to lead me to that moment, looking at that book in that very religious high school in that yishuv on that crazily stormy day.

Seeing that book, I guess, forced me to look back and reflect on the multitude of blessedly unexpected detours my own life has taken over the past 2 decades, and also on my daughter’s life and her decisions that in so many ways have sprung forth from those unexpected detours.

And looking at that book, with tears pouring down my face, I found myself considering the future as well, and wondering what blessed unexpected detours Hadas will take in her own life. So that I will just have to smile and gulp deep, like my mom and dad have had to do with me so many times, G-d bless them for all their patience for me and my unexpected detours. For this 5th time and forever.

Image courtesy of Flickr.com user Chris

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12 comments

  1. Well, you made me cry again! You really have been blessed with amazing parents. They must be very proud of you for nurturing their grandchildren, encouraging their individuality and facilitating their development into sensitive and caring adults who are able to recognise their own strengths. No small achievement!

  2. I’m glad that your daughter has been accepted at her dream high school. Mazal tov!

    However, I am saddened by this article. I am saddened because I don’t want to sell my daughter short. You wrote, “nothing else they can contribute to the world could possibly be more important than what they can contribute inside their own homes and their own communities.”

    What about the women whose life purpose includes discovering the cure to cancer? Or playing the piano exquisitely? Or leading a nation out of poverty? Or building a business that will employ thousands of jobless people? Or solve some of the myriad environmental problems which face our planet? Or counseling traumatized youth? The list goes on and on. Why can’t these women be wives, moms, AND work outside the home in meaningful jobs, even or especially jobs that are not necessarily labeled as mommy-friendly?

    If we sell our daughters short by teaching them that the ONLY worthwhile and religiously acceptable profession is to be a stay-at-home-mom, we are going to see a lot of dissatisfied women and moms with dreams deferred.

    G-d gave each of us certain talents to grow and develop and make the world a better place. Why can’t we encourage our children, male and female, to do just that–each in her/his own way–without closing doors prematurely?

    • JewishMom

      Dear Ruth, thanks for your insightful comment.

      I agree with most of what you write. To clarify, what I said in the article is that I don’t think any profession is inherently MORE important than nurturing our families.

      I agree 100% that finding a cure to cancer (something my father is doing, IY”H!) and employing thousands of people and saving the environment etc. are VERY important ways to spend one’s life. However, I don’t think that these careers are inherently more important than doing what only a child’s mother can do, and nobody else in the whole world. And that is being a devoted and available mother for her own children.

      I agree also that there are some women for whom being a SAHM or working in a “mommy-friendly” job won’t suit them and enable them to fulfill their G-d-given purpose in the world. This specific high school I wrote about requires girls to take the “bagrut”– the Israeli university entrance exam and Hadas is a very consciousness student and this is, overall, a strong and serious school, which means that upon graduation IY”H Hadas will have all tracks open to her mommy-friendly and otherwise, if she wants (and this was something VERY important for me and my husband to check out, that she is not closing any door by going to this specific school).

      But I also believe that the way I was educated was wrong. It’s wrong to tell girls that career is everything and the ultimate way of fulfilling ourselves without also teaching them that a mother’s primary way of fulfilling her purpose is through her family and home. I think that girls who are educated with this “career is everything” message can end up, G-d forbid, as very frustrated and resentful mothers.

      • Thanks so much for your reply. I have 2 more questions.

        1. Why can’t a woman do BOTH? Why can’t she be involved in finding a cure to cancer AND be a devoted and available mother to her children? Why must it be an either/or scenario?

        2. And what about our sons? Isn’t family and home central to a father’s life as well? What if a couple splits the childcare, housework, and outside-the-home work evenly? Is there something wrong with that in traditional Judaism?

        Thank you!

        Purim Sameach,
        Ruth

        • JewishMom

          1. I think some women CAN do both. There are women in every career who manage to also be dedicated and available mothers to their children. Though I personally believe that setting these non-mommy friendly careers as the ultimate goal for ALL or MOST girls is setting them up for disappointment and a ton of confusion when they actually become mothers. I was educated through prep school and college and grad school with a totally career focus. And then I became a mother, and felt lost. My whole life, I had derived my entire sense of self worth from my grades and my CV. And then I was 26 years old with a baby, what now!? I think that girls who are raised knowing that motherhood is their ultimate priority (no matter what career they choose or don’t choose) are much better-adjusted mothers.

          2. About boys. I think it’s a problem for boys to be raised so career (or learning) focused that they aren’t present and available fathers. But on the other hand, I tend to believe that sharing things 50%/50% in terms of housework and childcare is a recipe for marital disaster (though I know of a few couples for whom this seems to work.) This leads almost inevitably, I believe, to a ton of resentment. I believe that the woman is the Akeret Habayit, the essence of the home. And I think that we should feel proud of that and derive fulfillment from that (and for those of us who were raised with the total career focus, it can be a real long-term process to learn how to feel satisfied and happy in our role as a mother). But I think that a woman “owning” her role rather than calculating an exact housework breakdown with her husband is the better focus.

  3. Jenny also

    I’m all for our daughters choosing the life path most meaningful for them. And pursuing a devote life and motherhood is certainly very worthy. However choosing a school at such a young age that will limit her ability to make choices and apply critical thinking skills in the future seems very sad. A well rounded education has benefits to all women no matter what their path. Your parents provided you with the ability to make educated choices as an adult. Are you doing the same for your daughter?

    • JewishMom

      I understand your concern, and this is exactly the issue that my husband and I have been going back and forth and back and forth about over recent months.

      But after consulting with people we respect, we heard again and again that this is a strong school that can provide a driven and bright girl like Hadas with a strong education. Two rabbis my husband is close with gave us identical advice. They both said that no school is going to be perfect for our child. And, if a child is spiritually-motivated, like Hadas, then the best approach is to send to the more religious school and to plan on supplementing in terms of critical thinking and academics at home.

      • I agree that no school is a perfect fit.

        We have pretty consistently chosen schools which provide a safe (if not optimal) spiritual and physical environment and decent (not excellent) schooling. We work on providing the rest – primarily modeling the values we hold most dear, and also supplementary education in areas the school is weakest in – at home and pray to Hashem that he bless our children and our efforts.

        We have avoided some more elitist (torani or academic) schools out of the conviction that we should be the main educational example for our kids. Of course a good school can be a good shaliach but we have not found one that really matches the range of our values.

        The more “otzmati” the school environment is, the more difficult (difficult, not impossible) I would expect it to be to present an alternative model at home (academics, critical thinking) which seems as valuable and inspiring to a teen. Especially if Hadas’s is a school that sends its young women to “ma’achazim” which belies all the talk about “kvoda bat melech pnima” and how women’s nature is not suitable for fighting (in the sense of combat) etc etc. If it’s OK to be out there fighting soldiers then it’s at least as OK to go to medical school.

        In any case, Hadas has your very committed, honest model to guide her should she choose to follow in the path you have pioneered for yourself and for your family. Nothing school offers her can compare to that.

  4. I have lived in both worlds. I had 2 sons when I was a busy lawyer. I lived in South Africa and had a maid who did all the house work and looked after my children when they were babies and when they came home from school at 2pm until I came home at 7pm. It was not easy on them and it was not easy on me. I missed out on being home while they were growing up. This changed when they were 11 and 13 when we decided to live in Israel. I then stayed at home and was there for them. Since then I have had a 3rd son and have been at home for him all the time. I don’t know how women in Israel who have no maids and no cars manage to juggle a family with a busy career.

  5. Our children are the most important people in our lives. If women go out to work and cannot look after their children then they are left prey to pedophiles. Children cannot be left with 12 year old girls to look after them. There are many people who do not have children who want to be career who will become the Judge President and the Head of Misrad ha Briut and will run the country and woman the cockpits of the army jets. However we owe it to our children to see that they are safe. I came home to a mother every day and to a hot meal, my mother was home during the school holidays. Its very sad to be a latchkey kid or to be stuck in a Maon until 5 every day. Its also very irresponsible to have your children roaming around the streets unsupervised all afternoon. Fathers who do not want to learn full time can also become rocket scientists and save the world

    • jenny also

      “If women go out to work and cannot look after their children then they are left prey to pedophiles.” What a ridiculous statement!

      Parents who work outside of the house are leaving their children to be abused? Evil happens, and is horrible, but has nothing to do with a mom’s career. The world is full of fabulous, safe, schools and care-givers for children to spend their days. This is exactly the kind of irrational, un-educated thinking I worry Hadas is going to be exposed to and maybe even encouraged to adopt.

  6. I love this article and this discussion. I was also raised “career” focused and I went to a prestigious ivy league university where I was highly educated in everything but academics! I think it is safe to say that much social behavior going on in American universities today is immoral and could even be called depraved. A scary place to send one’s child and requires serious thought.
    Moving back to the topic….. after a successful career in law, I have finally settled into the role of full time mom. After living both lives, the career mom and the stay at home mom, I can safely say that the kids are certainly deprived of a mother if she works full time or works in a profession that is not “mom friendly.”. How can a nanny or a maid give a child the love of a mother?
    When I look into the faces of my precious children I see the whole world. I see every mountain I could have climbed, and every case I could have won, and every opportunity I could have had. Let someone else find the cure for cancer and run for president and win the Nobel peace prize. Just let me be a mom and change the world one child at a time. Thank you Jenny for sharing this article.

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