When my oldest was getting ready to pick her boarding-away high school two years’ ago, I put an awful lot of prayer into the process.
I did a couple of six hour sessions on her behalf, and I really asked God to help her find the school where she’d be happy, and thrive.
She applied to three schools. One she hated on sight and told them at the interview she didn’t want to go there; another she thought she quite liked, but was nervous about the amount of academic pressure and homework she’d need to turn in; and the third school was a ‘wild card’ option in the middle of nowhere that she picked in a moment of madness.
Only the ‘wildcard’ school accepted my daughter. Right from the start, she wasn’t so thrilled about it, but there were no other options on that table at that point.
I took a deep breath, and thought ‘well, this must be good, as it’s all coming from Hashem, and this place must be what my daughter needs right now.” My husband and I went down to visit the school before the beginning of term, and were stunned at how isolated and bleak the school seemed. It was located in a relatively new yishuv (village) in the middle of nowhere, and it had no plants, no amenities, not even a local store to walk to.
Well, this must be good, I told myself again.
God’s picked this school for her, so it must be the right place. The one glimmer of light is that the school had a reputation for being extremely serious about its Yiddishkeit and adherence to tznius, so I figured maybe things would work out after all, in a hidden way.
Well, hidden it certainly was. My daughter hated that place. She was so bored, she literally nearly went mad there. She was so suffocated by the fake piety and the emphasis on externals, she nearly went off the derech. She was so frustrated by all the ‘plastic fantastic’ classroom discussions, and very flawed people pretending to be perfect, that her rebellious streak quadrupled overnight, and started expressing itself in thick black eyeliner, dyed red hair and a desire to have weird piercings.
She was so miserable there, she started having really bad asthma again, and seemed to develop a physical allergy to being in the school.
She’d be fine at home, then within a day of being back in frum prison, ahem, school, she’d be streaming snot, wheezing and breaking out in hives.
If we hadn’t moved around so much already, I’d have pulled her out after the first term. But I didn’t want to give my daughter the idea that you run away from hardship, or that you give up so easy, so we agreed she’d give it a year and see. By the end of the year, she’d clashed with some of the more difficult teachers so many times, I was counting the days for her to leave already.
So then, the next problem loomed: Where should she go?
And this is where I was a little stumped, because all the schools my daughter wanted were full, and couldn’t take her. So then I started looking around for alternatives, and there apparently weren’t a lot to pick from, especially after she’d got so burned from ‘frum prison’, where appearances counted much more than the inner dimension and happiness of the girls being taught there.
My last trip to Uman, I met a bunch of older girls from the school in Kfar Pines, and I was so impressed with their depth and sincerity, that I thought maybe I’d try their old school, and see if they had space for my daughter.
I called them up, and got directed to a really lovely sounding woman who kept going on about something called ‘Alumot’. My Hebrew comprehension isn’t always so great (especially when I’m stressed) so I literally had no idea what she was saying to me, but I had the impression that I’d signed my daughter up for something, so that sounded useful.
Then I got an email with details of the open day, and I was shocked to discover that I’d somehow managed to apply for a completely different high school than the one I thought I was calling. It was called ‘Alumot’ and was located in the same building as Kfar Pines, (hence the confusion) – but it was nothing like the school I signed up for.
For a start, they wanted their students to wake up at 5.30 am, and to work in the fields for a few hours before starting school. Whaaat? I couldn’t get my kid out of bed before 2pm at this point. But in the meantime, there was no other school on the table….
This must be for the best, I told myself again.
I told my kid that God had apparently picked her out a different school, and that she should at least go along to the open day, even if it didn’t sound at all like what she wanted.
That’s when the miracle happened: She came back from the open day literally glowing. The other girls she’d met were independent and idealistic, just like her. The teacher had talked to them about free choice, and taking responsibility for themselves, and building their characters by working the land, and learning Torah in nature.
There were no lectures about the length of their skirts, the color of their blouses, or the importance of respecting teachers.
For the first time in a year, my daughter started to look really happy again. The 5.30am start wasn’t a problem (!), the fact they wouldn’t be allowed to use their cell phones until 6pm every day wasn’t a problem (!), the fact she’d be working in a field three hours a day was a cool adventure that was going to help her stay trim and get a tan (!)
The school is a completely new idea, so this is its first year, and my daughter is in the very first class of girls. It’s going to be a big learning curve for everyone involved, but I came away from my parents’ evening last week amazed that places like this exist.
Where else except Israel would I find a frum high school like this, where the emphasis was so completely in the right place, i.e. internal growth and self-development, instead of endless lectures about keeping up appearances from people with very little emuna or empathy for what it means to be a teenager in 2016?