I am a 14-year-old curiosity. A fan of the Velvet Underground, Bob Dylan, a reader of Beat Generation literature, a fan of Oscar Wilde, Kurt Cobain, and freedom for Tibet, I'm the alternative to the Alternative crowd. And yet, I attend a Modern Orthodox Jewish day school that is, by my standards,quite conservative.The school, like all schools, has rules. It has a dress code that students and teachers alike have trouble keeping, we pray twice a day, and Judaism's dietary laws are observed. The school also has zero tolerance for students who are rebellious and anti-authoritarian. Basically, students like me. I haven't always been a "troublemaker"; it's something new for me. I used to be as well-behaved as the next kid. My grades in school could be better, but they are not bad--I maintain a B average. I do well. But, it's in my nature to question authority. You see, my mother is a shrink and an environmental activist, and my father is a reporter. I'm pretty much programmed to question authority figures. And so, I have often publicly challenged my teachers. Some were genuinely bad teachers, but I had more or less decided I didn't like them before I met them. Sure, I respected a few of my teachers, but I often expressedmy feelings about my teachers and how crappy the school was to fellowstudents. I walked around like a misunderstood rebel, trying to imitate LouReed or James Dean. Not long ago, I was told by the school's guidance counselor that I'dbetter shape up or I'd be given the boot. She called me into her office andasked me how I liked school. "I hate this piece of s**t school," I replied.She asked if I wanted to come back for high school. I had to think aboutthat one. I don't fit well into conformist environments. But would my only otheroption, public school, be any less conformist? Would I want to leave all thefriends I made? But, most important, I do conform to one thing--myreligion.
The first school I attended was not a Jewish school. My experience therewas not good, to say the least. Anti-Semitism colored how the teachers andstudents perceived me. On one occasion, I was pushed into a mud puddle--on "picture day" no less--simply because I went to synagogue. I left after the first grade and transferred to a local Jewish school that was kindergartenthrough fifth grade. After graduating, I entered the school I currently attend,a Modern Orthodox Jewish day school.I chose this school over another non-Jewish school because I felt--and still feel--deeply committed to Judaism. I am an Orthodox Jew andproud of it. I would suffer through hell, high water, and castration forG-d. I believe there is a G-d. My G-d is a loving G-d who is nothard to please. I want to be connected to my G-d. And I believe strongly inJewish education.I told my guidance counselor that I did want to return for high school.She told me that with a long waiting list of kids trying to get into theschool, my chances of being allowed to remain were rocky. "You'd betterturn your attitude about school around," she said, "or the admissionscommittee here may ask you to leave." I couldn't help but agree with her.I mean, if you were a boss at an office and one of your workers constantlybitched and moaned about his job, what would you tell him? I know what I'dsay: If you don't like it, leave! I wanted to stay. I was upset and conflicted when told that expulsion was a possibility because of my negative attitude. "It isn't fair! It isn't fair!Self righteous hypocrites!" I shouted all too often out of anger, sadness, depression, and fear to anyone that would listen--parents, the guidance counselor, my shrink. I didn't want to give up my identity and become another tool of the establishment in order to stay. I was given a tough choice: Shape up or ship out. I asked myself some tough questions: Is this the right school for me?Would I be better off somewhere else? Am I that committed to a Jewisheducation? Do I feel wanted here? What about losing my friends, myconnections, my relationships?In the end, I decided to silence my rebelious tendencies for thelong-term benefit of obtaining a full Jewish education. If it means havingto shut up for now, so be it. From now on, I'm going to be a positive, participative model student. I do that and I get to stay.
So there you have it: A rebel learned about short-term compromisesfor long-term gains. And by letting the school have what they want, I reallyam getting what I want, a Jewish education, while remaining true to myself.Velvet Underground, Oscar Wilde, Tibet, and all.