Chava Berman Borowsky

Religious Trauma

The Walk of Shame

One of the three members of our school tuition board who also happened to be the father of a classmate gave my parents an ultimatum. “Either you pay what we demand or don’t send your kids to school tomorrow.” And that’s how I found myself on one chilly morning in February as an 8 year old paraded around with my other siblings to the dean’s office where he gave us permission to go to school. I was in third grade and my teacher was dead set and completely uncompromising on punctuality. I had no idea what I was supposed to tell her about why I was late. I had too much pride to say, “It’s because my parents can’t pay tuition and the tuition committee told us not to come to school today or ever.”

School vs. Homeschool

Every single year around two or three weeks before the school year, my house became a place of turbulent fierce brutal fights. My dad was very pragmatic and calculated and he knew exactly how much he’d be able to pay for tuition. As usual the school board never believed him and demanded to know exactly how he was spending his money. My dad had a very simple solution – he thought that we all should be homeschooled. My mother wouldn’t hear of it and hence the fights. The greatest irony was that my dad was a highly skilled professional and brought an extremely nice income home every month. Based on his income alone we were definitely in the top 10 percent of income for US households. But when that is adjusted for the religious Jewish cost of living it becomes meaningless.

The Ecosystem

There exists a very weird symbiotic relationship with rabbis and gvirim. It’s a little bubble that the religious Jewish community has created for themselves where they’re genuinely surprised that not everyone can afford summer day camps for their kids and that not every yeshiva or seminary student has parents who can casually wire over $1,500 for a ticket home for Pesach. I experienced it perpetually in many different forms. Forget about sleep-away camps, my family couldn’t afford summer day camps. It was bizarre when I would see outreach organizations send my family fundraising envelopes for the poor kids whose parents couldn’t afford camp. It was also very bizarre to hear speeches decrying materialism from people who lived in literal mansions.

The Acceptable Punching Bag

At a certain point it became clear that the reason my family was a target was only because it was acceptable. The gvirim were obviously off-limits. Rabbis didn’t really pay tuition anyways and they were also off-limits. Also people who were legitimately poor were off-limits. That left hardworking middle-class families like ours as valid targets.

Working vs. Learning

There exists a weird idea in the religious world where if you learn, you’re poor and if you work, you’re rich. It’s manifested in many different ways. If you don’t end up in kollel you’re expected to be part of the alumni who support the yeshiva where you learned whether you can afford to or not. Again, it’s just extremely odd when hardworking people are barely finishing the month while their kollel counterparts the same age have paid for cars and rent, and also don’t pay yeshiva tuition. 

Designer Clothing

My family was very normative in the sense that we bought really expensive nice Shabbos clothes twice a year, before Rosh Hashana and before Pesach. We also went on very nice family trips every Chol Hamoed. But one thing we didn’t invest in was designer brands. It was a huge wake-up call to me when I moved to Israel and I saw how wearing nice designer clothing was a big part of the Haredi culture here. Again, it was just very bizarre when my super hardworking husband wasn’t able to finish the month but my next-door kollel neighbors had all their kids dressed up in designer clothing from head to toe.


The amount of inherent assumptions that exist in the religious community borders on insanity. It’s expected that everyone has enough money to pay yeshiva tuition, to send their kids to sleep-away camps, and also for a year to Israel post high school. It’s expected that kids will already be married in their early 20s and that they will achieve a nice degree of financial success at an incredibly early age. If not it’s expected that both the parents and the grandparents will foot the bill.

The Whole Nine Yards 

Another not nearly examined enough issue is the way the whole culture can only be sustained if every single piece of the puzzle stands firmly in place. It basically only works when kids can find a partner to marry at a young enough age and also succeed financially at a very young age. What happens when a 30 year old still isn’t married? There’s virtually no place for them in the community. What happens when people don’t magically luck out with high paying jobs and careers? They involuntarily get pushed to the margins through no fault of their own. What happens when parents can’t afford to set up a house with all the needed appliances and basic furniture for newlyweds? Again, the whole system only works when you’re able to go the whole nine yards. Going eight yards just won’t cut it, something won’t work and you’ll be dealing with completely preventable logistical and emotional problems.


First of all, if you got this far thanks for reading my stream of consciousness about the way the religious world operates. I’m not entirely sure why I wrote this and it may very well be just a way for me to process different traumas that I went through. Regardless, I think it’s important to be sensitive to the fact that while the system might have worked beautifully for you, that isn’t always the case for many many people who aren’t you.

About the Author
Chava Berman Borowsky grew up in Los Angeles, CA in an Orthodox community in the La Brea Fairfax neighborhood. She moved to Israel in 2008 and has since lived in Jerusalem, Bet Shemesh, Holon, and Ashdod. Her hobbies include cooking, hiking, painting, and writing.
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