Setting the Stage for the Spring Semester

By: Fruma Landa  |  February 13, 2021

Fruma Landa, Editor in Chief

As I enter the last semester of my undergraduate career, I find myself reflecting on all that I have accomplished at YU. Growing up in the ultra-Orthodox community of Lakewood, NJ, attending college was not an assumed stage of life. Boys only learned a couple hours of secular studies a week, and while girls did learn more, they are taught that above all else, they should strive to be the best mother and wife they could be. Not a first day of class would go by without a classmate asking, “But why do we need to learn that to be a good mother?” We were not expected to have a career or use our schooling for anything other than to help our children do our homework.

I endured countless remarks trying to devalue my education, and underestimating my capabilities. Receiving answers such as “girls your age don’t need to know that” were far from unusual. Instead of giving up, I worked harder. My dreams of a future career began to form as I spent countless hours a week reviewing my notes, making sure I mastered the material, along with reading numerous library books. Upon switching out of my Lakewood school in 11th grade, few faculty in my new Modern Orthodox school believed that a girl from Lakewood could possess any significant secular knowledge. There were things I did not know, I couldn’t figure out how to power down a computer and anything pop culture related was (and still is) foreign to me, but I did possess knowledge of secular studies on par with my new peers. 

When I started my time at YU, I found that I did not need to prove my educational knowledge. No one needed to know I used to live in Lakewood, and thus no one judged my aptitude and skill. Over the course of my years at YU, I noticed that when I mentioned I used to live in Lakewood, many were too far removed from the community to understand the implications and form any judgments. Finally knowing I would not be judged based on my academic performance, my rigorous work ethic began to loosen up and I learned to enjoy my education. I became privileged enough to take my schooling for granted. 

However, a short while ago, I returned to Lakewood for an old friend’s wedding and, while waiting to wish Mazal Tov (congratulations) to the Kallah (bride), I met another old friend and we began chatting. She told me she was still single and working as a secretary and asked what I am up to. When I told her I was a psychology major, a common major at YU, she looked at me with awe and praised my intelligence and achievements. She thought she was not capable of achieving a BA degree, a degree many Modern Orthodox individuals possess. However, contrary to what she may have believed, I was not smarter than she was — I just had different opportunities than she did. 

We at YU have the privilege of furthering our education, an opportunity so many children in our Jewish communities lack. However, instead of receiving aid and compassion from the Modern Orthodox communities, they are often looked down upon and perceived as unintelligent. With often limited contact to others outside their community, there are many phrases and words which are commonly mispronounced among Yeshivish communities. No one deserves to be ridiculed for mispronouncing a word they never heard spoken or using badly formed sentences, yet I have witnessed it happening many times. We need to foster an understanding of the limited access to education religiously right-wing Jews often face and learn not to judge them for it. We all deserve to live in communities that align with our ideals and no one should be turned away due to their educational background. 

Now, I am a semester away from graduating YU with plans of graduate school. Having the choice to further my education is a gift. I have seen too many undergraduate students wasting away their education — taking courses not to learn, but to receive an A, commenting that they are in YU just to get married, paying other people to write their papers for them, and overall taking their education for granted. As we enter into the second half of the academic year, I challenge you to treat your education in a way that reflects the opportunity and privilege given to you.