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.