From American Beit Yaakov to Israeli Dati Leumi

I was in third grade when I brought my guitar into class to play some songs. My fingers weren’t quite long enough to reach all the chords, nor strong enough to play melodious, cohesive music, but I had spent two years learning, and I was proud.

I sat down cross-legged on the linoleum tile floor of a typical American classroom and started tuning up, feeling very professional, as my classmates looked through the song sheets I had planned to play.

“Oh, Hadar, don’t play this one,” my classmate said, holding up one of my papers. I looked up to see what she was talking about. In her little third-grade hand, she clutched a judgement and a home-grown bias, along with the sheet music for the song “Hatikva”.

I was nervous. I had really wanted to play all of my songs, but this girl had some classroom pull. She was more religious than me, and her plaid, pleated uniform skirt was several inches longer than mine. I also didn’t want to start an argument over something I thought so minor.

“Sure, I won’t play it.” I shrugged, thinking nothing of it, not asking myself why my friend in this American Beit Yaakov would have a problem with me playing Hatikva, the national anthem of the State of Israel. It wasn’t until the next year when I realized that, despite being Jewish, this girl was anti-Zionistic, a concept I didn’t know existed among Jews. It took three more years for me to realize that she wasn’t the only one in the school who shared that sentiment.

I was in tenth grade, a fairly new olah starting at my fourth school in three years, when I went to a school assembly. My fingers hadn’t quite mastered the skill of writing in Hebrew, nor my mouth of speaking it, nor my brain of understanding it enough for this assembly to make sense to me, but I had spent two years in Israel trying to learn, and I was proud.

I sat down on an uncomfortable plastic chair in the beit midrash next to my classmates, feeling proud when I heard the swell of music, and Hatikva playing for everyone to hear. With tears in my eyes, I sang along with the rest of the school, our voices in melodious harmony as we praised this country, our country, and all that it stands for. My voice rang out alongside everyone else’s, louder than it could’ve been in America.

However, there were things about the school that still made me uncomfortable. I couldn’t get over the casual atmosphere my Israeli classmates projected, with their skirts worn short and over jeans, and sandals no matter the occasion. They could go from a hike to work to a wedding without changing once. In America, there was never one school day in six years where I could show my ankles. True, I was no longer the only girl in school who wore short sleeves on the weekends and listened to non-Jewish music, yet I was still the odd one out. Not only was the clothing of my classmates different, but I felt a disconnect beyond fabric — I could barely speak with these girls or make connections with them because of our different languages and cultures.

I started at my Beit Yaakov in third grade (switching from another school that I attended, but only vaguely remember). When I made aliyah to Israel right before the start of ninth grade, I went to a school in Modiin, then a few months later an American school in Jerusalem, finally switching to my Israeli Dati Leumi. That’s a lot of schools. No two were the same, and each presented different opinions and world views that I tried desperately to make sense of. It’s confusing to grow up one way and have your opinions, then suddenly be surrounded by other ones, contradictory ones.

Drastic changes like this are always strange and jarring, from an American Beit Yaakov which instilled in me a love for Torah, and a fear that I will never be tzanua enough, to an Israeli Dati Leumi, which gave me pride in my country, but where the casual manner and disrespect for everything, from discourse to davening, I find so very unsettling.

As confusing and difficult as these school changes were, they helped shape me into who I am. My worldview broadened far more than if I had stayed in one school, one town, and one mindset. I experienced different religious groups, somehow managing to find friends in each one, and learned that there are two sides to every story.

I’m no longer the little third-grader who was confused by the world, or the ninth grader fresh off the boat and just learning that people are different. I’m now the girl who you’ll see hanging out with people who read Tehillim on the bus and wear long skirts no matter the weather, and an hour later having the same bond with the person scrolling through her phone with an Israeli flag case and wearing jeans. I’m the girl who is careful to see everyone’s perspective on controversial issues, because I’ve been everyone.

If anyone is starting a new school this year, take this blog post to heart. Be open to new possibilities and new opinions, because you never know what can happen.

I went to four schools in three years, went through four mindsets and opinions in three years, and it made me who I am today.

About the Author
Hadar Tennenberg is a writer, artist, traveler, amateur guitar player and lover of dogs. Hadar is a teen who made Aliya with her family and is now living in Jerusalem, where she is trying to figure out this new country and enjoys the vibrant culture and beauty of Israel.
Comments