After I graduated from high school, I spent nine months in a seminary in Israel, as was the norm among my classmates. My seminary was fairly mainstream. We were eighty girls from American, Great Britain and France, and overall I had a great year. But I didn’t like the fact that they locked us in the dormitory at 9:30 p.m.
We had three dorm counselors and they would take roll starting at 9:15. We’d let them know that we were safely in the building and then they’d retire to their rooms for the evening. It wasn’t like I had anywhere I needed to be after 9:30 p.m., but I didn’t like the idea of being cooped up with no way to get out, so several weeks into the school year, I began looking for an escape.
There was a back patio off the dining room, and that door remained unlocked until 10:00 p.m. If I climbed over a barbed wire fence, I could wander around the Jerusalem neighborhood and enjoy an extra 30 minutes of fresh air. I had several friends who were always eager to join me, but that didn’t quite fulfill our desire for freedom.
Wandering around the building one day, I found a lone key lying on the ground. Curious, I started trying it in various doors around the building. It turned out to be the kitchen key. This excited my friends, because now we could enjoy late night snacks, but I still wanted more. A few days later, I realized that the key not only provided access from the dining room to the kitchen, but also opened the door from the kitchen to the outside. I had found our freedom.
None of the friends that used to break out of seminary with me will ever read this blog post because they are all too religious to be on social media. We were all good girls, from Baltimore, Lakewood, and Monsey. We weren’t looking for trouble. We could have gone to Ben Yehuda to hang out with boys and experiment with drugs and alcohol, but we weren’t interested in that. No, we would dash out the kitchen door and go flying down the back driveway to catch a bus to the central bus station. There, we would eat ice cream and drink iced coffee. Sometimes we’d watch music videos at the internet cafe and sometimes we’d just wander up and down the escalators, appreciating our few hours of illicit freedom.
We would sneak out a few times a week, always coming back before midnight because that was the last bus of the evening. We only stopped because one night, I tripped on the escalator and gashed my knee open. I bled steadily for 30 minutes as my friends freaked out and tried to find a shop owner with a first aid kit. We were scared that we’d have to go to the emergency room for stitches, and who knew how long that would take. Luckily, the bleeding eventually stopped, and we made it back to our seminary in time, laughing about our close call.
At least half of the girls in my seminary knew about these nighttime excursions. I was a cocky teenager and wore the key on a chain around my neck, right next to my room key. So 40 girls were aware that between two and five girls were sneaking out at night, in a country known for terrorism. And no one said a word. We never once got caught.
Contrast this to my friend who went to a similar seminary one year later. She developed a close relationship with a friend and they engaged in some sexual exploration. It was completely consensual and no one was hurt. However, another student suspected that something sexual was going on. Unable to handle this, she told the seminary administration and these two girls found themselves in a world of trouble for engaging in something that was no one’s business but their own.
A respected rabbi on the administration berated them for their perversion and kicked them out of his school. What followed were years of pain, shame, and confusion. She struggles with this situation to this day.
Forty girls knew that my friends and I were wandering around Jerusalem late at night and no one said a thing. We suffered no consequences.
One girl suspected some same-sex exploration and couldn’t keep it to herself. My friend is still suffering.
There’s something wrong with this picture.
My friends and I were reckless. We should have been reported and we should have been given appropriate consequences.
I feel anger every time I think about how my friend’s seminary handled her situation. They wronged her, and probably don’t believe they did anything wrong. And she’s just one story. We both know there are more.