I sat beside my daughter Rachel at her Orientation in Georgia State University. She’d recently graduated from Temima — Atlanta’s Orthodox Jewish high school for young ladies, where there were less than seventy other teens in her entire school.
Now we sat in an auditorium of 300+ college freshmen (and their parents) while we listened to the succession of speakers talking about the logistics of starting school.
“Everyone else here seems to belong — I’m the only one here like myself,” Rachel whispered to me. I looked around the room: dressed in long sleeves and a long skirt in Atlanta in June — the only other female dressed similar to her wore a hijab.
“There might be a couple of other Jews in Georgia State,” I replied. “But you’ll find that you’ll have a lot in common with people once you get to know them.”
“Like what?” asked my daughter.
“Taste in movies, books, sense of humor — how you relate to your crazy families –” I nudged her toward the young woman dressed in the hijab. “I bet she’s got to grapple with a lot of similar issues balancing her religion and traditions with the outside world — just like you do!”
Rachel looked at the girl and sighed. “But why couldn’t you just let me go to Stern?”
Stern College — for Jewish young women — at close to fifty thousand dollars a year. We’d only recently finished her Dad’s undergrad Y.U. loans, and after paying in over a decade of graduate school bills, we hadn’t even begun to touch the principal.
“Or Bar-Ilan?” she whispered. That was a tough choice. The tuition was more affordable, and after three years she’d know if aliya was right for her. But from her perspective — she wanted to study the allied health field, and the Bar Ilan degree taught in English didn’t include health sciences.
From my perspective — my daughter just finished a four-year womb-like existence cocooned in Bais Yaakov and had zero skills determining the difference between a nice young man and a predator. I couldn’t send her so far away from home without her learning more life skills.
At one point, we were encouraged to socialize with the other students.
“Hi, I’m Courtney,” said the pretty blond who sat in front of us. She shook hands with my daughter, and I exchanged pleasantries with Courtney’s mom.
“Where are y’all from?” asked Courtney.
I sighed. It seemed like a simple question. I live in Atlanta but I’m a third generation New Yorker. Before that? Eastern Europe — Yaffa Eliach wrote in her book that many Polish Jews had actually emigrated there from Iraq…so I suppose we are Babylonian? But before Babylon our people were in Israel…and before that we were slaves in Egypt—
Rachel interrupted my thoughts. “Atlanta. We’re from Atlanta.”
And then a young man made a presentation about his volunteer work, and he was so wholesome and handsome and smart I imagined that if he wore a kippah I’d encourage my daughter to date someone like him.
But he didn’t wear a kippah.
I watched Courtney’s mom nudge her. “You have to get to know that boy,” she said.
I felt a stab in my gut.
Courtney should have a shot at getting to know that fellow — and my daughter couldn’t. “You can’t marry out of the faith!” I hissed at Rachel.
“Huh?” She said. “Are you okay?”
I was saving myself from the indentured servitude which is Jewish American education, by not borrowing fifty thousand dollars a year for Stern, and I’d be able to sleep at night not worrying who she might be out with thousands of miles away at Bar Ilan. But when her friends would be dating — I was condemning my daughter in the prime of her youth to not date for the next four years.
The guilt overwhelmed me. When I was in college I lived in New York and rarely felt like a minority.
But she is a minority: Out of 33,000 students, only a handful — in terms of religious outlook and lifestyle — are like her.
Tonight she flies to Israel for the summer before she begins Georgia State in the fall.
Enjoy being part of the crowd this summer, baby. Enjoy it.