It's a Jew Thing

What's it like growing up an observant Jew in a modern non-Jewish world? Read on...

Friday, September 30, 2005

The Prom

I have been thinking a lot about what to write in this post. I have decided to leave an explanation of the upcoming holidays (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) until next week's post, so this week I am just going to recap some random memories and feelings that I had growing up... also included is the “prom story” which I know so many of you have been waiting for.

To start with, I have told you all before that I felt left out of things because of my family’s observance. The “minor” things were things like not being able to buy school lunch because it wasn’t Kosher, especially on “Pepperoni Pizza Friday” in elementary school and on D’Angelos sub days in junior high and high school. And never being able to go to McDonald’s for a Happy Meal with a toy. Those things I could deal with... it was the feeling of being left out that was worse.

Growing up I had to go to Hebrew School at what felt like all the worst times. It was two afternoons a week (Tuesdays and Thursdays and then Mondays and Wednesdays when I was older) and every Saturday night (in high school it was a little easier because it was just Monday nights). Because of this I pretty much had to leave right after school to go, so I couldn’t stay after school on those days for activities. Also, I used to play softball at night in the city league. It was pretty much the only sport there was when I was in elementary school that didn’t meet right after school when I had Hebrew School and which didn’t require me to be there on Saturdays (when my family didn’t drive and when I had to be at temple for Hebrew School and services). I wasn’t much good, but I really liked being involved with something outside of school that my friends were on.... but then that ended. I really remember it as one of the most upsetting experiences of my childhood, and the first time I ever felt upset about being Jewish. Looking back, it probably wasn’t as bad as I thought, but it was pretty traumatizing. I must have been in like the 5th or 6th grade and I had a softball game. The game’s started at 5:30 but I had Hebrew School until 5:30 and then I needed to get dressed and have a quick dinner. This wasn’t an uncommon story. To my parents, it was inexcusable to leave Hebrew School early for something like this, even though my friends always did for games and dance practice and the like. So, I finally got to the game about 5:45, with my little sandwich for dinner, and the coach benched me. He told me that I was always late and it wasn’t fair for me to get right in the game when everyone else was there on time (which was really like 5:00 to “warm up”). I cried. I cried a lot. Then I screamed at him. And I left, and I never played softball again. Pretty upsetting experience, huh? There are so many more like it, so many more times when I felt left out. So many times when I asked my parents why I couldn’t do things that my friends at school could do. There were even many times that I didn’t understand why my Jewish friends could do things that I couldn’t (it was because they weren’t as observant).

Over the years I missed many things. Some harder to miss than others... birthday parties (including the “coolest party of the year” in 7th grade which was a limo ride to the Hard Rock Café in Boston on a Saturday afternoon), school activities (like I could never be in the drama club because the shows were on Friday nights), and I still to this day have never been to one of my high school football games because they all are on Fridays nights or Saturday afternoons. (As I’ve said before, there are some good things that I got because I was Jewish that are coming in future posts, so don’t get discouraged!)

There were a lot of Friday night’s left sitting at home, and that was really something hard for me as a teenager. I felt that it made me an outcast in school and especially in high school. People just stopped inviting me places because most of the time I couldn’t go. Then suddenly, for some reason that I still don’t know, junior year of high school half the people that had always thought I was “weird” started being my friend. It was like suddenly, overnight everyone matured and realized that I was still a great person and friend even though I couldn’t go out with them on Friday night. I think of it as my “peak” of popularity and it really was. I had never been so happy or had so many friends in my life.

Then it was time to start planning the prom, which I was on the committee for and one of my best friends was the head of. That’s when it started to fall apart. See, the junior prom is ALWAYS at the exact same place on a Friday night. Months and months in advance my dad wrote me a letter about my observance and I went to the principal’s office to ask if there was any way to make the prom on a Saturday night this year and tell him how important it was to me to go. He explained (which I was an idiot because I had no idea at the time about this sort of thing) that the hall had already been booked for a year. I thought it was over, no junior prom for me... I’d learned to live with disappointment. Then the rumors started... and my “dream year” slipped away a little bit. How it started I have no idea, but for the record my dad never had any thought or mention of suing the Brockton School Department for discrimination against Jewish people... he never even called the principal and yelled at him (as a smaller rumor also claimed). That’s right, I was known around school as the girl whose dad was trying to cancel the prom and ruin their junior year, again because I was Jewish and my beliefs were different. By the time the prom got closer, the rumors dead away and the story has a happy ending. I got permission to stay at the hotel attached to the prom location, which was off limits to students, under the condition that my mom stay there with me. So that was a compromise I was willing to make – I went to the prom and had an amazing time, more than I could have ever hoped for. Then afterwards, I told all my friends to have fun and walked to my hotel room where my mom was waiting. Not ideal but ok (I still got to go out after the senior prom, because that was on a Wednesday night), I still got to go to the prom and I really appreciated my mom for agreeing to stay in that hotel with me because she knew how important the prom was to me.

Last note- hotel checkout was at 1pm and since we couldn’t ride in the car on Saturday until after sundown, my mom and I were stuck sitting in the lobby until then. Just so happens that the hotel conference room was having auditions that afternoon for Unsolved Mysteries. Let’s just say we met some interesting characters that afternoon. Thanks for reading this super long post, more next week.


  • At 10:11 PM, Blogger raysmond said…

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  • At 11:29 PM, Blogger Kristen said…

    That is such a sad story, but I am so glad you got to go to the prom. I think all teenagers feel like outcasts quite a bit. I still feel left out because I can not go to the bars yet and everyone I know can. But I could not even imagine not being able to go to a single high school football game or a high school dance because of my religious beliefs. Did you ever lash out at your parents for being so observant or did you just deal with it? I am sure you appreciate it now, but do you ever feel like high school was ruined for you because of all the things you missed out on?

  • At 10:31 AM, Blogger Meredith said…

    Shayna you crack me up. I love your blog. This is amazing to me that you held your beliefs so strong because I know at times, once you’re allowed to make your own decisions it would be so much easier to give into the peer pressure and give up on your beliefs. Especially in high school when you could easily eat pepperoni pizza on Fridays without your parents ever knowing. Did you ever go against your keeping kosher and not tell your parents? I admire the fact that you respect your parents and your religion enough to hold strong to your beliefs. I look forward to learning why I celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur!

  • At 11:27 AM, Blogger carah said…

    Wow! I give you a ton of credit for being as observant as you are. You have missed out on a lot but being observant is much important. Sometimes I wish I had the willpower to do it. Growing up I attended Hebrew school three days up until I graduated high school. I also played softball in elementary school, but luckily my parents found it just as important to be active in sports as in attending Hebrew school, so against the teachers will, my parents used to pick me up early from Hebrew school for softball games. Their motto was always “every little bit counts”. They felt I was not missing out as long as I attended as much as I could. I agree that your high school should not have planned the junior prom on a Friday night, luckily ours is always on a Saturday night. There are many people in my area that would have had a rule problem with it being on Friday night. But I give you a lot of credit for handling and dealing with it as best as you could!

  • At 3:28 PM, Blogger Kara said…

    Wow. Every time I read your blog I admire you more. I can’t imagine never being to high school football game and having such a difficult time about the prom. Between hormones, drama, boys and going through that awful awkward stage, junior high and high school can be miserable enough. Adding into the mix all of the customs you followed and going to Hebrew school must have been so difficult. I can’t believe your softball coach wasn’t more understanding and actually benched you for being late. It was so nice of your mom to understand and stay in the hotel with you the night of the prom. I’m excited to learn more about the holidays you have coming up. I also have a few questions. Why do you write g-d instead of writing the “o” in the word? Are you allowed to drink any type of alcohol or is there anything that is non-kosher? Thanks so much for all of the information and I can’t wait for the next post!

  • At 7:52 PM, Blogger Tara Raphael said…

    I just read your whole story to my roommate and we were really sad for you. I know that Judaism has its great qualities, but I was wondering if there were ever times when you just had enough with the whole religion thing and figured it would be easier just to take a more reformed stance? I'm happy you got to go to your prom, and the fact that you got to be there for Unsolved Mysteries, but I dont think I could have done it all. I really do admire that you believe so strongly in the religion and the strict rules that you abide by. Can't wait to hear about the apples and honey!! Have a good new year!


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