“Sorry, we’ll keep it down. I forget that some girls actually care about studying”
Tammy heard strains of music as she climbed the steps up to the dorm — a sure sign the volume was way louder than it was supposed to be. Still, it wasn’t loud enough to drown out the questions reverberating in her mind.
To tell or not to tell?
If yes, whom should she tell?
Would ZeeZee get in trouble? (Yes.)
Would Tammy get in trouble? (Not if she was the whistleblower.)
She sighed as she reached the second-floor landing and stood by the door. She’d just had her daily conversation with Shani, which had left her feeling even more confused.
On the one hand, everyone blamed her for messing up the situation. But, on the other, she was the only Shvilei staffer Shani was still in touch with. The only person in the world Shani trusted, with the possible exception of her therapist, whom Shani was slowly starting to feel comfortable with. And that was thanks to Tammy’s encouragement.
So her instincts couldn’t be all that bad, could they?
She pushed open the door and walked into the dorm lounge, where she was immediately hit with a blast of pumping music. The lounge was much emptier than usual; midterms were next week, and most of the girls were busy studying.
But clearly that didn’t interest girls like ZeeZee Keller, who was leading some kind of improvised dance class with five other girls.
Tammy walked over and shut the speaker. ZeeZee stopped mid-move, her arms and legs sprawled in different directions.
“What’s up, Mrs. H.?” she asked.
“You have to lower the volume.”
ZeeZee gestured toward the nearly empty room. “It’s not bothering anyone.”
“I heard it from two floors down. And girls are trying to study.”
ZeeZee looked mutinous, but after a moment flashed her a rueful grin. “Sorry, we’ll keep it down. I forget that some girls actually care about studying.”
Tammy couldn’t help but grin back. “Not everyone’s naturally brilliant like you, huh?”
ZeeZee gave her a high-five. Maybe it was the girl’s natural charm, but on the spur of the moment, Tammy made her decision. “I was actually hoping to speak to you. Now a good time?”
“Well, I’m sweaty, smelly, and gross, but if you’re cool with that then, yeah, now’s a great time.”
Tammy led her into an empty room. They sat down and Tammy tapped her fingernail on the desktop, wondering how to begin.
“I spoke to my friend Rikki Klein the other day,” she said at last.
ZeeZee gave a little start, but said nothing.
“She’s very happy with the babysitting job you’ve been doing for her. But she told me something else you’ve been doing as well.”
ZeeZee’s cheeks reddened, but she said defiantly, “Is there anything wrong with it?”
“That was exactly the question I had,” Tammy said. “So I decided to go check it out for myself.”
ZeeZee’s mouth dropped open. “You went to Yad b’Yad?”
“Yup. And I met some girls who said they’re friends of yours.” Tammy looked at her. “Wanna tell me about this?”
ZeeZee leaned forward eagerly. “They’re awesome girls, all of them. Real, y’know? Like, you know exactly where you stand with them, ‘cuz they say what they think. And even the ones who act tough are such sweeties at heart.”
Tammy thought of Ilana, and her awkward attempt to comfort Tammy, and she nodded. “Yeah, I saw that, too.”
“Did you?” ZeeZee brightened. “I’m so glad. So many people just look at the way they’re dressed, or the things they do, and they judge them on the spot.” She flashed Tammy an approving glance. “But you’re not the type to do that.”
Tammy felt herself glowing from the compliment, even as, dimly, she registered that the tables had somehow turned in this conversation, and ZeeZee was no longer viewing her as an authority figure to be wary of. If she ever had.
Torn between the need to regain control and the desire to prove ZeeZee’s compliment true, Tammy asked carefully, “But have you ever felt that this wasn’t an appropriate place for a Bais Yaakov girl like you?”
“Never.” ZeeZee winked. “For a Bais Yaakov girl like Rusi, maybe.”
Tammy wasn’t sure how to proceed. Tell her she needs to stop going. That the seminary would never approve, and she’s going to get in major trouble if they find out.
But she saw the light in ZeeZee’s eyes. And she remembered what Rikki had said. “She’s been doing good things, I’ve been watching.” Tammy twisted the tail of her headscarf around her finger and felt her insides twisting as well. The last thing she wanted to do was extinguish ZeeZee’s fire. Honestly, she thought what ZeeZee was doing was great. But Tammy was a staff member. She was supposed to support the party line.
She cleared her throat. “You do know that Rabbi Freund would never approve.”
ZeeZee raised her eyebrow, and then gave her a slow, conspiratorial grin. “Only if he finds out. I’m not gonna tell him. And you’re cool about these things, right? That’s why everyone loves you.”
Tammy twisted the scarf tighter around her finger. She was cool about these things. Yes, and look where it had landed Shani. Where it had landed her.
But still… Admit it, Tam. You’re going to repeat that line to yourself for the rest of the year. “You’re cool. Everyone loves you.” You’re going to type it up and laminate it and stick it on your bedroom mirror.
ZeeZee had gone back to talking about the Yad b’Yad girls. “Really, deep down, they want to do what’s right, just like you and me,” she said earnestly. “But they hate mussar schmoozes. I mean, okay, don’t we all?” She leaned forward. “All they need is for someone to listen to them. To like them for who they are — to, you know, believe in them.”
She paused and looked at Tammy thoughtfully. Then she said, “Kinda like what you did for Shani.”
Slowly, Tammy nodded.
Chava walked into the crowded auditorium and scanned the room for a good seat. Her daughter Chumi always kept her in the loop about these continuing education classes for teachers in the Israeli Bais Yaakov system. When she’d seen tonight’s topic — “How to Talk So That Today’s Students Will Listen” — she’d impulsively signed up. Most of the women at this lecture were greeting each other like old friends; everyone had come in groups from their schools.
Everyone except for her.
She gave a slight shake of her head. You’d think she was one of her teenage students, needing to travel in packs. Suddenly getting self-conscious in your old age, Chava?
She thought of Shira Litwin and Tammy Hurwitz and how she’d spent half of her last hashkafah class telling a fluffy hashgachah pratis story she’d searched for in a book the night before. She blushed at the memory as she spotted an empty seat and sat down.
The woman next to her gave her a friendly smile as she squinted at her name tag.
“Chava Edelman? Your name’s familiar…”
Chava didn’t think she’d met this Israeli woman before — Tirtza Strauss, according to her name tag — but she said gamely, “Where do you teach?”
“I’m the principal at Bnos Rina.”
Oh. Chava felt her face grow warm. That was the school Devoiry had taught in… before she’d quit mid-year to open a business. Could the menahelet possibly remember her name from ten years ago, when Devoiry was a single girl applying for a job?
She shifted in her seat. She could play dumb, but better to just get the awkwardness out of the way.
“My daughter Devoiry Hirsch taught in your school until recently.”
Tirtza’s eyes widened. “Ah, that’s why your name was familiar. Of course, Devoiry’s mother.” She paused, then said, “She was a good teacher, but at the end, her heart wasn’t in it. It’s better for her that she left.”
That was nice of her, but Chava still felt the need to distance herself from Devoiry’s lack of responsibility. “It must have been hard for you to find a replacement on such short notice.”
“Yes, that did make things difficult,” the principal acknowledged. Tactfully, she changed the subject. “I understand you’ve been in chinuch for many years yourself. What do you teach?”
Chava told her about the classes she taught at Shvilei, and from there the conversation shifted to teaching methodology in general. Tirtza enjoyed hearing about how she structured her Navi classes and told her she’d been trying to introduce changes into her school’s Navi curriculum.
Chava was almost disappointed when the lecturer got up to speak; she hadn’t felt this energized by a conversation in a long time.
As a hush descended on the room, Tirtza Strauss turned to her and whispered, “I need to leave early, so let me ask you for your phone number now. I’d love to stay in touch with you — I think we can both help each other.”
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 757)
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