Monday, April 29, 2013

So, I Had This English Teacher Once

Everybody has that one person who has impacted their life.

Coming out of eighth grade, I was a fan of literature. I was especially a fan of writing. I was used to the typical, five-paragraph essay structure. I remember reading To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. It remains my favorite book to this day. Suffice it to say that as I grew older, the more intense my love for the art of words became.

As eighth grade came to a close, the ever-so-terrifying thought of venturing into high school began to follow me everywhere. I had heard of this woman who took her literature class very seriously. Rumor had it that when you stepped into her classroom, you had better been prepared to not only learn literature, but to explore literature to the fullest extent.

High school literature was far, far different than junior high literature. The rumors were true. Unfortunately, I hadn't taken the appropriate measures to prepare myself for this (then) revolutionary idea of exploring literature.

The first essay I turned in came back with more green ink on it than it did black ink. So many corrections. That's when I realized that I had no knowledge of how to properly punctuate. That's when I realized that all of my deep intellectual thoughts of junior high were not deep and intellectual at all. I realized that I would no longer be praised for my thoroughly unimpressive ability to construct a sensible sentence. This was going to be a challenge, one that did not end until the day my favorite teacher of all time retired.

My love for literature was merely conceived in junior high school. My love for literature was born the first day I stepped into Mrs. Abby Johnson's classroom.

I learned how to analyze literature.

I learned how to actually think about what the author was intending to accomplish.

I learned how to love literature.

The reason I'm writing about my favorite teacher is because it was around this time last year when I received an e-mail that made me tear my polo shirt as a sign of mourning. It was around this time last year that I learned that my favorite teacher was calling it quits. It was around this time last year that I, along with my classmates, staged a silent protest in a last-ditch effort to keep Mrs. Johnson around for at least two more years. It was this time last year when all of the future attendees at the CYHSB would no longer have the honor of having Mrs. Johnson as their teacher.

It's quite rare to have somebody come along and change your life.

Mrs. Johnson changed my life. She inspired me to use words to express my thoughts. She taught me how to appreciate literature.

She taught me how to love the depressing recluse, Emily Dickinson.

Mrs. Johnson is one of those people who you won't forget for the rest of your life. I'm truly appreciative of the impact she has made on my life and I hope that I choose the correct road in a yellow wood that may, someday, lead me back into her classroom.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Just Because You Say It, Doesn't Make It True

There's this recurring memory that I just can't seem to let go. I'm at a friend's Bar Mitzvah party in 6th grade. Considering that I, along with the majority of the attendees at the party, went to an Orthodox Jewish school at the time, nearly everyone was dressed modestly according to Halachic standards.

But there was this one girl. She had gone to our school up until 7th grade, when she decided it just wasn't the right place for her. She ventured into what was then the unknown for me and many of my peers: public school. To us, public school was where drug addicts were born and sluts were molded. It was a mystery that none of us felt compelled to pursue.

So I'm walking around the party, conversing with a few of my friends, when I notice that this girl is in attendance. To the unjustified dismay of many, this young girl was wearing short shorts and a sleeveless tank top. One simply does not attend a Bar Mitzvah in clothes that aren't modest. It just wasn't the way of things back then. Though many initially marveled at this "rebel," they quickly tossed aside the disturbance and continued on with the festivities.

But there was this one man. He was a member of the community, but no ordinary member. He was a part of the more religious group of men within Memphis's Orthodox Jewish community. This man was a regular at the school's Beit Midrash, hammering away a page of Talmud every night. This man was very learned, of that I have no contention. However, this man walked the halls of our school - my school - with his head held a bit too high, almost high enough as to insinuate that he was on a level comparable to God's. This man was well known as being a pompous prick, one that felt it necessary to impose his religious will on the "unholy and doomed" members of the community.

This man was a self proclaimed righteous Jew. A proclamation that I now find laughable.

Back to the story. We're all enjoying the night. There's a fondu chocolate fountain and a wide variety of yummy sweets. There's even a picture booth set up where you could accessorize your outfit with hats and beads! It seemed as though nothing could dampen the night.

That's when it happened. That's when I really started to think about what it means to be righteous. That's when I recognized the glaring flaws of the Memphis Orthodox Jewish community as a whole.

This young girl that I mentioned, she was enjoying her night just as well as everyone else. Her friends didn't care what she was wearing, they cared only to cherish the time they were able to spend with her, for her switching schools meant less leisure time together. She's having a fantastic time until the aforementioned man confronts her about her mildly inappropriate outfit. The man belittles the girl, implying that she is nothing more than a lowly whore. The man goes on to instruct the young girl to change out of her blasphemous outfit into something more suitable for a Bar Mitzvah party.

At the time, I didn't really give much thought to what had happened that night. I figured that it was just a man trying to preserve the integrity of what a Bar Mitzvah represents. Looking back at that perception of what took place that night baffles me. Now that I'm older, I've developed an entirely new understanding of what that night's events meant.

This man, this self proclaimed righteous Jew, was really nothing more than your average jackass trying to impose his opinion on those around him.

This man made me realize that just because one is knowledgable when it comes to the Bible, just because one devotes hours upon hours to exploring the depths of Jewish literature, does not make them a righteous person. One has the ability to learn each of the 613 commandments in the Torah, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they will go about practicing these commandments in the appropriate manner.

Someone who is truly righteous has no problem with the life choice of others. Someone who is truly righteous treats others with respect. Someone who is truly righteous is altruistic.

This man was so self absorbed that it wouldn't surprise me if he (I hate to be crass, but it seems necessary in this situation) enjoyed the smell of his own flatulence. This man had the audacity to self proclaim that he was a righteous Jew. This man, a man who belittled a 7th grade girl in public, walks the halls of my school today with his head still held high. This man, a man who embarrassed a young girl in front of nearly 100 people simply because her outfit didn't fit his standards of appropriate, is actually a respected member of my community. It's baffling. It truly is.

My years of observing this man have led me to many truths about the Memphis Jewish community. From the outside looking in, we may seem like a tight knit community that looks out for one another. How that couldn't be further from the truth. The harsh reality is that the Memphis Jewish community is full of people like this man. The community is full of people who judge, berate, belittle, and outcast those who hold mildly different values than the norm.

Judgements riddle the Shabbat table. Children are brought up around constant criticism. Men and women designate time to talk trash about other members of the community, simply because their ideology is slightly different than the social norm.

I used to take it personally when I wasn't allowed over at a classmate's house. I used to cry when I was called a "bad little boy" by parents of the community. I used to think there was legitimate merit to their criticism. Now that I'm older, now that I actually have the capacity for intellectual thought, I've come to realize that all of those who treated me that way were even more doomed to Hell than I am. That's quite funny considering the fact that I don't keep Shabbat, Kosher, Shomer, or any other Judaic mandates.

The mere fact that my last name carried a reputation robbed me of many typical childhood opportunities. The mere fact that I jog down Brantford without a shirt on, or I walk around on Shabbat Kippuh-less sends many community members into a frenzy. To them, I'm Lucifer. To them, my character means nothing. To them, the only thing that matters is the amount of Commandments I know and the hours I spend in the Beit Midrash.

Many members of my community don't consider that, if they got to know me, they would find that I'm actually a very respectable young man with very healthy, commendable ideologies. Many members of the community don't give others the time of day due to the mere fact that their ideologies are a little bit different than what they consider to be right.

Many members of my community don't understand that being righteous isn't about what you know, it's about how you treat others. Being righteous is about having the ability to treat others with a sense of respect, despite whatever differences you may have.

I love this city, but I am damn ready to get away from some of these twisted people.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

My Struggle for Self Control

I constantly find myself criticizing my own actions. I follow that criticism with the perpetual wonder of if I'll ever be strong enough to change the way I act.

I know that I can be an irrational ass sometimes, and it kills me that I don't have enough self control to stop myself. I'll call a friend retarded, yell at a teammate on the basketball court, or simply put someone down without thinking twice. I know it's wrong. I know it's not the kind of person I want to be. But I just can't seem to get over the hump.

I find that so fascinating. I know exactly what I'm doing wrong. I know exactly why my character is constantly being criminalized. I really have no right to question why I have a bad reputation with some people. I've wronged. I've berated. I've ridiculed. But that's not really who I am.

I think that giving people a chance to see past my surface, to take an in-depth look into my thought process will prove beneficial in my quest to show that many of my actions are not a reflection of my character, but are merely impulse reactions to stressful situations. You see, I succumb to my impulses far more often that I do my logic.

Logic is a wonderful thing that I pride myself on possessing. But emotions are even stronger. I try not to snap. I try not to transfer my ill feelings to other people. I try not to criticize others when they are perfectly fine with themselves. But trying isn't enough sometimes. Because I still do it. Under the constant pressure of school, extracurricular commitments, and everyday life obstacles, I tend to let my emotions out on other people; an action I am committed to expelling from my character.

I'll try hard to stop using put downs. I'll try hard to have more patience with people. I'll try hard to be nice to those who some view as outcasts. But I'm noting that it's a long process. This kind of thing doesn't happen over night. It's something one must commit to changing about themselves. I'm the kind of kid who lets his emotions cloud his judgements. It's time I learn to balance logic and emotion. Some of the most amazing thoughts are the product emotion, but most of the most amazing actions are the product of logic.

I want to be somebody who has the ability to think emotionally, but not let those emotions dictate my actions. I want to balance my logic and emotions to produce what I find to be the correct reaction to everyday stressors. It will be a long journey, but I think I can get to that point one day.

Join me?

Monday, April 22, 2013

No Substance

There are two different types of people in my school. There are those who understand the importance of expressing your thoughts and emotions. Then there are those who have been raised to think that any type of sharing is pointless, as well as a sign of weakness. I figured I would create a blog because I love to write and feel that some would enjoy what I have to say. I expected some taunting, but to be honest, most of the people at my school know that I'm too much of a hot head to mess with in excess.

While the taunting was expected, it still goes unexplained. What is it that makes some people so uncomfortable with being open about things? What is it that makes some people think that sharing your feelings and thoughts makes you lame? What's more, what is it about some teenagers that deprives them of some sort of deep, intellectual thought? I can't imagine a world as simple as black and white. I like the colors, I like the drama, I like the emotion. Without those elements, you are leading nothing more than a bland existence.

I hope that, if anyone actually reads these posts, they will draw something from them. I want people to understand that it is okay to express what's constantly rumbling around in your head. I wasn't taught to express my emotions as a child. In fact, I was encouraged to bottle it all up. There came a time, though, when I realized that this was one of the most unhealthy things a person can do. If things keep piling up and up and up, eventually you will reach a point where you either give up because you can't take it anymore, or you blow up because you can't take it anymore.

So, to those who think that creating a blog is laughable, I encourage you to find me and ask me why it is not laughable. I encourage you to find me and listen to my various reasons as to why it's healthy. Why it's something you may as well do if you're interested in writing. Hopefully I can show you that it's okay to feel. It's okay to think and to express what's on your mind.

So yeah, I'm dramatic. I'm emotional. I like to write about things worthy of giving thought to. I'm sorry I don't limit my thoughts to childish things. I'm sorry that I think it's immeasurably beneficial to share my thoughts.

Actually, I'm not sorry at all.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

We All Have Worth

You know, some people don’t have it as good as I do. Some people spend day after day inside their own head, wondering if they’ll ever amount to something. For some, their own minds are their worst enemies. Some people feel like they mean nothing to the world, they think that their disappearance would go unnoticed. But what I’ve learned from 17 years of life, what I’ve learned from books, TV shows, movies and just general experience is that everybody has something distinctly unique. Everyone has worth, whether it is in the sense of how society commonly sees it, or it’s the type of worth that is so special that it means nothing to you that it means nothing to others. We’re all alive right now to impact the world in one way or another. We all have the chance to become who we want to become, to become something that is something. We all have a chance to change the world, it just depends on which course we choose to take. For some, their courses are predetermined. For some, they can’t control external forces, they can’t help but have bad things happen to them. When my mom was sent away time after time I didn’t feel like it was my fault. I knew it was out of my control, that her problem was just that - her problem. I am, fortunately, strong enough to know who I am and who I’m not. I’m strong enough to know that some things that happen around me aren’t because of me. I wish that I had the power to show everyone else that sometimes it’s just not their fault. The fact that some people are just vicious and cold, the fact that life gets tough sometimes, it’s not your fault. There’s always somebody there who is willing to listen to you, to help you, to save you. I think suicide is the most tragic thing in this world. To die because you can’t find the strength to live, that’s something that nobody should ever experience. We all have our own interests, our own passions, our own reasons to keep living. We shouldn’t compromise anything about us for anybody else because who we are is worthy of pride. I’m damn proud to be shy, awkward, confident, outgoing, happy, mean, impatient, and everything else that I am. Sure, I have plenty of flaws, as does everybody else. But I know that doesn’t mean there is anything inherently wrong with me. I am who I am and I always will be happy with who that is. I wish I could find a way to show others the same outlook. I wish I had the resources. Well, maybe I do.

Jews All The Same

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. There wasn’t supposed to be a distinction. There wasn’t supposed to be a divide. There was supposed to be one strong, unified Jewish nation. No Reform, no Orthodox, no Conservative, no sects. What has led us to this divide? What has led us to this tragedy? Whatever it may have been is beyond me; I am not here to discuss the origins of the different sects of Judaism. Instead, I am here to acknowledge the fact that there is nothing we can do now. There is no going back. Orthodoxy will forever remain traditional. Reform Judaism will progressively assimilate. Conservative Judaism will try to hold on, but it is unlikely that this will happen. Judaism has been, and will continue to be, adaptive to the times.
There is nothing we can do to revert back to the way things were.

There is, however, a simple task that must be carried out. We, as a collective Jewish nation, must open ourselves up to people of all different sects. Us Orthodox Jews must respect Reform Jews. Reform Jews must respect Conservative Jews. In order to keep Judaism alive in the world, we must cease this separation and instead opt for unity. We must return to being that united Jewish front that escaped slavery in Egypt and accepted the word of G-d. Things are different, I will give you that, but the same basic need to live in harmony remains.

Some of you may be wondering what a naive teenager would know about accepting different types of Jews. I would know. Trust me, I would know. My personal journey toward acceptance began this past summer. Prior to this summer, I often saw other teenagers walk around in the JCC or shul and ignored them. I didn’t give them the time of day. I knew nothing of them personally, but I knew they were not Orthodox and therefore I thought they were not worthy.

There came a point this past year where I had a realization. I realized that my close minded discrimination was illogical and, quite frankly, moronic. With a new outlook on sect acceptance, I set out on a journey to broaden my horizons. The results have been staggering. I can sit here and proudly write that I have an entire group of Conservative and Reform friends, I am the Vice-President of a Pluralistic youth chapter in BBYO, and I have learned to accept my fellow Jew, despite our distinctly different backgrounds. I have learned not to judge based on a simple affiliation. I have learned to be open to things that stray from the norm. My life has changed for the better this past year and I intend on spreading my experiences with the rest of my Orthodox peers.

Once my journey was underway, I realized that, at the end of the day, we are all Jews. I may believe the Torah came from G-d, and my friend at public school may believe G-d had no hand in the Torah’s creation. I may feel he’s wrong and he may feel I’m wrong. If I learned anything from operation Pillar of Defense, if I learned anything from the countless nights tossing and turning in my bed because I was too concerned for my brother’s well being to sleep, it’s that if the Jewish nation doesn’t come together, the Jewish nation will be no more. Ultimately, I didn’t care that my opposite-sect friends held different ideological beliefs. Ultimately, I realized that I love them no matter their beliefs. I love them for the good, Jewish people they are. I love them because, if you strip away all of the superficial things, if you look past the nitty gritty details of who believes what, we are Jews all the same.

I’m not endorsing Reform or Conservative ideologies, nor am I encouraging the Orthodox members of our community to stray away from Orthodoxy. What I’m encouraging is simple. I’m encouraging the members of our community to open their eyes and open their minds. I’m encouraging members of our community to make an effort to broaden their horizons, to branch out and delve into the beliefs of other sects of Judaism. Ignorance has no right to hate. I encourage you, the man or woman reading this right now, to look into the beliefs of other sects, to try to be more accepting of the people they are, to try to understand that, no matter what laws we abide by, no matter what version of G-d we may believe in, and no matter how different our core ideologies may be, we remain, now and forever, Jews all the same.

Help Me Keep My Faith

When Rabbi Michael Berger came to speak to us a little over a month ago, he asked us, “Who here loves to daven?” I, along with some of my schoolmates, kept my hands comfortably resting on my lap. To me, it was a no brainer. Loving davening? What an outrageous notion! As a logical 17 year old, I can appreciate the fact that Judaism mandates specific time periods during the day to connect with God. That being said, as a 17 year old high schooler searching for my religious identity, I also feel that traditional davening is not the way to initiate a love for Judaism within me.

I don’t exactly know who I am religiously. I don’t necessarily know if I have an unwavering belief in G-d. I don’t know what I want out of this religion that I am so regularly surrounded by. But what I do know, what I’ve always known, is that being forced to do something that I passionately disagree with, three times a day, is not helping anything.

Let me be blunt for a moment: Connecting with God is important. I want a relationship with my creator. Be that as it may, I feel that traditional davening is not the proper way for a teenger like me, a teenager who struggles with his faith on a daily basis, to connect with God. To me, traditional davening is boring, repetitive, and perhaps counterproductive. To me, it’s a shame that it’s such a large part of our religion. Judaism has done a fantastic job at adapting to the times, but this is one thing we have failed to alter.

I struggle every day. I struggle to maintain faith in this religion. This is normal for a kid who is tempted by wrongdoing on a daily basis. This is normal for a kid who tends to be argumentative. I want to discuss my difficulties with Judaism, I want to know why I should believe in what I’m taught to believe. When I sit in a room for an hour, when I put leather boxes on my arm and forehead, it does not help me get where I need to be. It does not inspire a love for Judaism. I need to be able to air out my baggage, to openly discuss my struggles for the purpose of trying to find a solution

To be honest, all traditional davening does for me is make me resent Judaism. It makes me associate Judaism with boringness, with hours of torture. This isn’t how I want it to be. I want to associate my religion with everlasting ecstasy. I don’t want my faith to continue to decline, but traditional davening isn’t helping my cause. The faith of Jewish youth in general seems to be declining at a dangerous rate. We need to find an alternative to traditional davening to counter this rapid decline.

Traditional davening does not excite me. Plain and simple. It’s not interactive, it’s not eventful, and it’s not something I want to be doing multiple times a day. If sports isn’t your thing, don’t play them. If Pretty Little Liars isn’t your thing, then, by all means, don’t watch it. If this religion is dominated by free will, why is our free will being stripped? Why can’t we have a form of davening that is enjoyable, that one will choose to participate in? Traditional davening is monotonous and forced, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

I do want to daven in a way that will stimulate my mind. It should be my choice to attend traditional davening services or not. I know it sounds like a cop-out excuse; I know that many things can easily be classified as boring. But I’m seventeen years old. I want to be entertained. I want my mind to be stimulated. I want somebody to provoke thought, to provoke passion. How we pray every day does not provoke anything in me but sleep; sleep that is taken for the sole purpose of avoiding seemingly endless boredom.

I need a change. I need to be stimulated. I need to know why we do what we do. I need to spend time discussing the things that bother me on a regular basis. I need not say the same thing every single day. I need not pray in an archaic language. These words, they’re plentiful and look pretty when they’re printed in a lavish font, but they mean nothing to me beyond that. All they are is a jumble of words.

I can read; I learned how to in Kindergarten. The fact that the translation of davening is available to us doesn’t give the words any more meaning, but merely a translation. Why should I say the same thing every day if I don’t understand the meaning behind what I’m saying? To even take the time to explain the most important prayers would be beneficial to all struggling teenagers. To read the same thing every day seems nothing short of pointless. I can read a novel 5,000 times. After the first three reads or so, the words in the novel will lose meaning. Though I don’t find meaning in these words, I acknowledge the fact that some people do. For those people, I wonder if they find meaning in saying the same thing every single day. I wonder if they can truly find the inspiration to connect to God with the same exact words they’ve been saying their entire lives.

We need an alternative to traditional davening, a way to use the davening period productively. We must set up a course that is intended solely to explore the core questions us youth have regarding Judaism. We must be able to comfortably, freely voice our opinions and explore our deepest conflicts regarding Judaism. We must make this change quickly, before the rest of Jewish youth loses their faith. I want nothing more than to find reasons to believe in this religion; I just need somebody to toss me a bone.

The Push for Gay Acceptance in Orthodox Schools

Note: The following is strictly theoretical and is not based on a current student or
member of the Memphis Jewish community.

A look into the mind of a closeted homosexual in the 21st century...

“I walk down the hallways every day and hear things that nobody should hear. I
hear hate. I hear discrimination. I hear ignorant people throwing slurs around when they
don’t know how much it hurts. The pain doesn’t end when the clock hits 5:25. I log onto
the internet to enjoy a funny video on YouTube. Instead, I find a series of comments
that call the characters in the videos gay, fags, or homos.

I have to conform to society to ensure my secret is kept. I have to act interested
when my friends talk about masculine things. I’ve grown paranoid. I’ve grown to think
that if I don’t overcompensate for the masculinity I lack, then I will be unmasked and
ridiculed. I fear becoming an outcast for being who I really am.

I live every day in fear. I fear that somebody will find out who I really am. I fear
that I will actually have to be me for once in my life. I wish they knew that this isn’t a

It has long been the norm in our school to call trivial things gay. If someone considers
you a little bit different, you’re automatically tagged as a fag. If sports aren't your thing,
then you must like men, right? As outrageous as this sounds, as much as you don’t
want to believe it, it’s true. Nobody has thought about there being a possibility of
having a gay student in the school. Nobody has considered that, even if there are no
homosexuals in the school, using the word gay in a derogatory manner may still offend

Nine states in America allow same-sex marriage. Three states legalized the practice
in 2012 alone. The LGBT community is just as strong and passionate as ever. Despite
this progression in the acceptance of homosexuality in America, countless lives have been
lost because people, just like me and you, have been too afraid to come out as what
they truly are. Research has proven that homosexuality is not a choice, and I’m of the
opinion that it’s not a curse either.

Homosexuality in the Orthodox Jewish world is a rising debate. Should it be accepted?
Is the concept of being interested in someone of the same sex okay so long as
the person doesn’t act on his interests? It’s uncertain whether or not these core questions will be definitively answered in the near future. Rav Lichtenstein, the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion and world renowned Torah scholar, speaks of the harsh manner in which the Jewish community treats homosexuals. Rav Lichtenstein explains that Orthodox Jews are not reluctant to accept fellow Jews that break Shabbat, yet they discriminate against Homosexuals for their wrongdoings. The Rav explains that a sinner is a sinner, Orthodoxy’s fault is its failure to treat all sinners with the same discrimination or the same acceptance. Most of us common folk don’t necessarily hold the power to impact Modern Orthodoxy’s view on homosexuality, but we do hold the power to change how those around us feel about it. We have the power to open eyes and inspire others to think before they speak. We have the power to end the casual usage of the word gay as a negative thing.

I’m jolly. I’m joyful. I’m eccentric. I’m gay. There was a time when all of these words
were synonyms. There was a time when being gay wasn’t an uncomfortable thing, it
didn’t mean you like people of the same sex. There was a time when being called gay
was a compliment. You may not know this because in the 1890’s, this correct usage of
the word gay was replaced by what we now know as gay.

I’m a nerd. I’m weird. I’m different. I’m gay. We now live in a time where these words
are synonyms. We now live in a time, in a community, where the word gay is most
commonly used as an insult. When you call someone gay, it’s uncomfortable because
it has evolved to mean liking someone of the same sex. You all know this because this
has become the correct usage of the word gay.

Science today suggests that being a homosexual isn’t a decision. Homosexuality forces
millions to live in fear of being ostracized. Homosexuality forces people to become
who they are not. Homosexuality forces many to live their lives in misery because they
are too fearful to publicly be who they are. Being a homosexual in the 21st century
is difficult, but being an Orthodox Jewish homosexual in the 21st century is near

I used to call my friends gay. I used to call the people I didn’t like fags. I used to be
ignorant. As time passed, as America became more accepting, as Orthodoxy’s opinion of homosexuality became a more accepting one, I began to realize that using the word gay
in a negative way isn't helping anybody be who they truly are. The misery of living in
a closet will never end if society continues to associate homosexuality with negativity.
Nobody will want to be who they truly are if who they are doesn’t come with a sense of

To ensure a community of acceptance, to create an environment of openness, we must
stop being ignorant. We must start thinking before we throw insults around. We must
realize that something we say can slowly torment a person.

I have a dream that one day a student at our school will come out and be accepted. He
will come to school the day after coming out and things will be just the way they were
before. Right now, this dream is far fetched, but I only hope that one day we can reach
that exact level of acceptance. I have a dream that one day we put an end to this
mindless discrimination.

The Downfall of Today's Educational System

As I sat in the testing room at my high school on Sunday, April 14th, I was overcome with an array of emotions. Following a brief, anxiety-filled breakdown, I settled down, only to be shocked at what I felt next. I felt angry. I’m sitting there, my proctor reading off the instructions for the ACT, and I am in awe at the fact that my most prominent emotion is anger. Being a short-tempered kid, a flash of anger is no rare occurrence. However, this anger was far different than any I had experienced in the past.

I was not angry because I had to wake up at 8 in the morning to take a grueling exam. I was not angry because I had poured a bowl of cereal earlier that morning to find that there was no milk left in the refrigerator (though that is one of the most dejecting feelings on earth). I wasn’t even angry at the fact that the only two bathrooms in the building weren’t functioning. I was angry because I felt cheated. I was overcome with this nausea-inducing notion that my father was being cheated out of an 80,000 dollar, private-school education. I felt cheated because I have been working my ass off in high school for the last two and a half years to ensure that I am sucking everything I can out of my education, yet my future ultimately comes down to a single test on just four subjects. I felt like the 10-hour school days, the countless nights struggling to stay awake for the sake of memorizing one more fact, the misery, it was all for nothing. I felt that my work ethic was being discredited and that my classroom abilities were not being fairly represented.

Let’s talk about how I got here. In 9th grade, I was surely not what one would call studios. I cared more about the newest episode of South Park than I did what test I had the following afternoon. I neglected homework, screwed around, and couldn’t have cared less while doing so. When the middle of freshman year came around, I was rudely awoken. All of those around me were constantly chirping in my ear, making it abundantly clear that I was squandering my potential. I learned that, if I wanted to advance my education, I would have to accept the fact that I was going to have to approach school more seriously. I had no problem doing so. In fact, I enjoyed doing so. Obtaining new information went from a burden, to a hobby. Gone were the days when TV took priority over school work. Gone were the days when learning was a dreaded affair. By the conclusion of freshman year, I had turned myself into a studious student in every sense of the word. I write this now as a Junior. Since my rude awakening, I have achieved nearly straight A’s in all honors and AP courses.

The point of all of this is simple. I had no problem with realizing that I would have to put forth more effort in the classroom if I wanted to be something noteworthy. I had no problem paying more attention in class. I had no problem completing my homework, quality work, in a timely manner. Where the problem came in was around the end of 10th grade. Summer was looming, AP courses were coming to a close, and the forecast called for a jolly-good, stress free break from school. Or so I thought. As most high schoolers were out celebrating their first day of freedom, I was sifting through the SAT and ACT preparatory books at The Booksellers. You see, some time before my sophomore year concluded, my guidance counselor calmly walked into a room full of my peers, and promptly scared the hell out of us. I consider my freshman year awakening a rude one, but this one was beyond any single adjective. This awakening left me feeling like Wile E. Coyote had just dropped a 500 pound piano on my hopes and dreams. My guidance counselor stressed the importance of preparing for what she called Standardized Tests. Now, I had knowledge of these tests previous to this conversation, but I had never truly understood how much was riding on them. It’s my future, if you didn’t know. My future is riding on a single test. For a brief moment, I felt apprehensive and terrified, but those feelings quickly passed. Summer was near and the time to deal with Standardized Tests would come.

When the time did come, my apprehension turned to what I was feeling on the 14th: anger. I sat down in a classroom at The Ramaz School in New York City for my first shot at the SAT. I felt relatively confident as I flipped open the first page of the test. Some hours and many sections later, suffice it to say that I no longer felt confident. I felt that my life plans had just been derailed by a single poor performance on one gigantically important test. At that point I had already come to grips with the fact that there was no way to avoid the satanic system that is Standardized Testing. I figured that I could manage to pull out a score well beyond the national average, hoping that would be enough to get me into my college of choice. What I didn’t expect was to be distracted by slow, terrifying ticks of the clock at the front of the room. What I didn’t expect was to be so rushed, so pressured, to finish under time constraints. Though I disagree, one could make the argument that Standardized Testing is an accurate way to assess my intellectual abilities. If, hypothetically, in some deranged universe, this were the case, why must we also be timed? Why must we be placed under such immense pressure? A college course is just that. It’s a course. It’s a class that takes place over the course of an academic year. It’s not a 30 minute course, with the exam being an assessment of your reasoning abilities. If, by some long shot, you were able to convince me of the legitimacy of the Standardized Testing system, I can assure you that I would never go as far as to agree that the timing aspect of these tests is another method of accurately depicting college readiness. To say that time constraints are meant to depict how you work under pressure is, in a sense, logical. However, it is next to moronic in a practical sense. A college student under the constant weight of stress has the ability to develop the correct work ethic, to balance his or her workload in a way that they will have more than sufficient time to accomplish all of their academic goals. Unless there is thirty minutes until the end of the world, no student will forcibly be placed in a situation in which they must perform in such a short amount of time.

This leads me to my next point. My work ethic is superb. The quality of my classwork/homework exceeds expectations. My test scores are through the roof. My scheduling abilities are, I must say, quite impressive. Is there a section on the SAT that evaluates work ethic? Oh, no? There isn’t? No. There isn’t. Is there one on the ACT that does? Oh, what a surprise! There isn’t. After all, what makes a good student? Is it raw, underdeveloped intelligence? Is it the ability to work under unrealistically short time constraints? Or is it a steady work ethic that ensures above-average performance. Standardized Tests fail to account for the confounding variables that contribute to a student’s performance. These tests, they are nothing more than an overhyped shortcut. They are the most convenient methods of (what some may call) assessing (what some may call) intelligence or reasoning. Give them whatever acronym you would like. Test any subject you would like. Choose any time constraints you would like. That doesn’t make them legitimate. That doesn’t make them a fair assessment of what a college-ready student truly is.

I understand that there are different ways to determine one’s college readiness. I know that, as part of the college application process, you submit resumes highlighting your extracurricular accomplishments. As much as I would love for the majority of schools to primarily focus on this, along with the college essay, this is not how things are. When it comes down to it, those with the higher Standardized Test scores are the ones getting into the top tier schools. Those with the unbelievable work ethic whose Standardized Testing performances are, unfortunately, being hindered by any variety of factors are the ones who must compromise their dreams and attend lower tier schools. Those who have the capacity to handle a traditional, rigorous curriculum, they are robbed of the education they deserve. Of course, there are many who work extremely hard to achieve a high score on Standardized Tests. I am in no way discounting their work ethic; in fact, I am commending it. That being said, there are also those who are not as serious, not as devoted to the expansion of knowledge, but are unshaken by time constraints and are able to perform on tests of raw intelligence; they are the ones stealing what others deserve. As John Locke stated, we are all born with a tabula rasa. Those students aren’t born thieves. Their thievery is developed. Their thievery is not only accepted, but it is encouraged by today’s educational system. Standardized Tests serve as both a public endorsement of thievery, as well as an aid to it.

There is no telling what my final results will be on my Standardized Test of choice. I will work to improve my score because I have, albeit uneasily, come to grips with the fact that a high score is the only way I can achieve my goal of getting into a top tier college. I have come to grips with the fact that I do tend to underperform under time constraints. I do tend to underperform on these tests because I do not possess the kind of raw intelligence that said thieves do. What makes me a top-notch student, what makes me every teacher’s dream, is my impeccable work ethic and my everlasting love for the expansion of knowledge. The fact that those attributes, my personal favorite attributes, are ignored is nothing short of a travesty.

So yes, I am pissed off. I don’t want to prepare for another tragedy. Even if I end up with a 1600 or a 36, I won’t feel as if my intelligence was accurately assessed. Even if I open up an acceptance letter from Harvard, I will still feel cheated. I will still feel that everything I worked for in my four years of high school meant nothing. What’s even worse, I will feel like a thief, aided by an unjust, unacceptable educational system.

There are millions of more thieves to come if something doesn’t change.

My Own Faith Puzzles Me

How do you expect me to believe in something that is not there? Something that is not tangible? How do you expect me to believe our past when our past sounds like a fairytale? How do you expect me to love God if God does bad? How do you expect me to believe that we’re the Chosen People if our people has gone through endless torture in its existence? How do you expect me to have faith in God? 

I didn’t choose to be Jewish. I didn’t sign away my religious rights at conception, giving my permission to be born into a Jewish life. If this isn’t a life I chose, I should have the right to do whatever the hell I want to do. 

What is Davening anyway? Why does God need to hear the same thing three times a day, every single day? Why do we learn Talmud? What does it do for us? If we don’t have strong faith to begin with, what will additional learning do? 

Why must I be Jewish? 

There are so many reasons why I should hate being who I am. There are so many reasons why I should run away from this religion. There are so many reasons why I should feel like my free will has been violated. 

So why do I love being Jewish?