| LifeTakes |

Letter from Sem

The newsletter is yet another reminder that I am on the outside looking in, that I don’t belong. But do I want to rejoin?

The seminary newsletter arrives in my mailbox.

Snail mail. How old school. Well. It is, in fact, an old school.

Usually, I must admit, mail from seminary goes straight into the junk pile, but for some reason I set aside this newsletter to read over Shabbos. When I open it, I find an article about marrying off one’s daughter. One about a son’s bar mitzvah. I keep scanning, for what exactly, I don’t know.

Who was that girl who went to that seminary 30 years ago? Was she really me? The newsletter somehow becomes the symbol of a long-developing gulf, an ever-widening space between that person and me. My kids’ shidduchim, tainted by the cast of the OTD phenomenon like a long shadow that never seems to move on; my son’s bar mitzvah, overshadowed by the bar mitzvahs of his big brothers whose tefillin have been shucked and abandoned.

We’re now parenting, if not from naivete and fear, then from PTSD, determined not to repeat our assumed mistakes of the past, exaggerating every perceived sign of teen angst. Maybe, maybe, with sheer vigilance, we’ll be able to avoid some of the pain that plagued our family, and still plagues us, like aftershocks of this never-ending earthquake.


I find nothing in this newsletter that even whispers a nod to my reality. It’s like a missive from an alternate space, mocking me with its quaint and dated version of my life. Does anyone still live there? Can this be real for some people? It must be. It must be.

I don’t know why seminary matters to me. There’s a lot of water under the bridge over three decades, so why does that one year seem to carry such a singularly significant wump? Does it matter that the girl who matches that newsletter no longer exists?

But I guess it does.

The OTD phenomenon has come to define not only my family, but, ultimately, me. I am irrevocably altered by the experience. I cannot unsee what I have seen, unhear what I have heard. There is a mourning process there somewhere, but I don’t know how you know when it’s over because new losses seem to keep flying in my face.

The newsletter is yet another reminder that I am on the outside looking in, that I don’t belong. But do I want to rejoin? Not really. I’ll never fit back into that box. I think I might hate that simple way of thinking, the neat equations, like love + hishtadlus + prayer = frum kid. So what do I even want? Society can’t win with me. Include me, but don’t, because I don’t belong and maybe don’t even want to.

I sigh and toss the offending glossy pages into the sheimos box. This, at least, is easily sortable. The rest shall remain: a messy pile of crashing pieces, all competing with each other. It can’t be settled. Not in this lifetime. There’s no precedent for our generation, and so we are the trailblazers, willing or otherwise. We will teach ourselves, and each other, what to do as we pick through the rubble.

Because there are some forms of education even the best seminary can never give you, and some exquisite forms of agony you will never be prepared for. This is the school we’re in now, the school of life. We pay attention, we take notes. We may not pass every test, but we are learning every single day, holding hands with our fellow students in this place that none of us applied to, but where we all shall, at the very least, grow.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 845)

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