The Shidduch Threat (2 of 2)

Part 1 was yesterday

With one particular senior teacher, nothing I did made her happy–or content, or even resigned.

She could discern note-taking from novel-writing from across the classroom, and she had a zero-tolerance policy for such creative development. She would even stop at my desk to glare if I so much as doodled in the margins of my notes. Her lack of tolerance extended, insufferably, to my chin-on-hands pose. She demanded nothing less than a bolt-upright position, an alert expression, and eyes wide with inspiration.

Because she did try to inspire. It offended her that I wasn’t blown away by her teachings. Her subject was a fluffy one to begin with, and she frothed it up like full-fat whip cream. It was about as far from my style as goth is from business casual. I didn’t hold it against her–she couldn’t help that her subject didn’t suit me. What I loathed was that she didn’t return my understanding and tolerance. And she, like many teachers, did  not appreciate how painful it is to sit attentively in a wooden desk when you are dying of boredom.

I must not have been the only vacant expression in the classroom. I can’t flatter myself with the notion that she’d stop class on a weekly basis just to lecture to me. Because that’s exactly what she’d do. Quite regularly, she would take a break to remind us of the importance of her subject. She would insist (like every other teacher) that hers was the most important class we were taking.

And then, with barely a pause for breath, she would tell us about a shidduch call she received yesterday—just one of the many she got every week. They wanted to know about a former student of hers—and the girl had been such a great student that she was able to be quite enthusiastic.

But that wasn’t always the case. Sometimes the girl wasn’t such a great student. And then she didn’t know what to say. And she hated to give a bad impression, but what could she do? When she had no positive memories of the girl from class, she couldn’t make stuff up, could she?

While going on in this vein, she would march up and down the aisles where my posse sat, making eye contact with everyone. Depending on my mood, I would return her gaze with either my best Chrestomanci-vague expression (“Is this relevant to me?”) or a Charles-Morgan, Double-Barreled blank (“Words cannot convey my resentment and disdain”).

Somehow, she hoped to inspire us via threat. Like some modern version of slapping wrists with a ruler, or a grown-up version of the OD threatening to call the head counselor on you.

So: Students afraid to ask their teachers questions because of shidduchim? Really, I wonder how that could happen. Is it general community hysteria? Or might it be something else… something more insidious, perhaps?

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The Shidduch Threat (1 of 2)

A few weeks ago I came across an article by a speaker who gave a seminar on basic Jewish beliefs at a Bais Yaakov. She received enthusiastic and excellent questions from the students.

Curious, she asked them why they had never asked their regular teachers these questions. The students glanced at each other and said, “Well, those teachers get calls about shidduchim. We don’t want them to think that we have emunah issues.”

The article went on to do some lamenting, but I wasn’t paying attention anymore. I was transported back to my high school days.

Are these students paranoid? Or are their fears well founded?

Actually, their fears might be planted.

Like tweenage babysitters threatening their charges with monsters if they get out of bed, some teachers threaten their students with bad shidduch references for similar misdemeanors.

I will begin this narrative by explaining that I was never a teacher’s student. I’m not an auditory learner and I struggle with audiobooks, meetings, and lectures. In fact, I don’t even bother attending shiurim anymore, as I cannot seem to sit and listen with any manner of grace. This has ruined my frum cred in the eyes of the pious, but I consider it more respectful to the speaker.

Another problem I had in high school was the tendency of teachers to repeat everything three times. I learned that I could fall into a consciousness cycle wherein I paid attention for 20 out of every 60 seconds and still catch everything of importance.

The problem then became: what to do with the other 40 seconds?

Well, my default was to cross my arms on my desk, slide them forward, and rest my chin on my forearms. This way my head wasn’t in the objectionable Napping Position, but it was close enough to be comfortable.

“I feel sorry for your teachers,” my father interrupted a dvar Torah once to inform me, after I slid into position. “You look so painfully bored.”

It always did seem to make my teachers unhappy. I never really understood why. I got great grades on tests and I could usually parrot back whatever they’d been talking about when they called on me unexpectedly. What more could they want?

“Active engagement,” one teacher informed me after her first test. She explained that my grades made my disengagement inexcusable. Apparently, if you’re a poor student it’s okay to slouch and not take notes. But if you’re a good student you’re expected to sit straight and alert, scribble non-stop, and wave your hand in the air like you’re auditioning for the part of Hermione Granger. This teacher tried to engage me in standard bais yaakov style: by ordering me to be engaged.

With the help of some friends, I tried to simulate the appearance of engagement. That is: we filled the other 40 seconds with busy scribbling: epistolary novelettes, underground class magazines, cryptography, and a comic strip series about a group of superhero students who fought to rid the world of tyrannical, narrow-minded, and unreasonable educators. Except with the most eagle-eyed teachers, it seemed to help.

Part 2 tomorrow

Turning Down Dates

For the third time in my life, I found myself explaining to a colleague why I won’t date a non-Jew. It was my fourth time running through it (once I had to do it on behalf of another orthodox girl in college whose identity I still don’t know), so I condensed it into one convincing but diplomatic line. Nothing against his friend who sounds like a great guy—this is just how it is. But I was beginning to note a pattern.

Non-Jewish men with strong values dig orthodox women.

Yes, ladies. There are guys out there who think you are hot stuff. Your aidelkeit catches their eye and they like what they see.

Okay, I’m laughing. I mean, I’m not exactly the prototype aidel bais Yaakov maidel. Not for lack of trying—I really gave it a shot once. But it just didn’t take. Still, compared to my colleagues, I’m the picture of sweetness and modesty. Also, I’m nice, friendly, kind, thoughtful, considerate, generous, and good with kids.

Oh wait, this isn’t my shidduch profile. Scratch that.

Anyway, this little discovery was a boost to my self-esteem. In addition to the demographic of men over the age of 50, it turns out I am also of interest to non-Jewish men with strong family values. At this rate of discovery, I might find a Jewish demographic to date by the time I’m 30. Hey, they must be out there.

Has anyone else had to field feelers from non-Jewish colleagues?