One, two, three letters came. All were very nicely worded, with the same message. “We don’t want you.”

I remember it like yesterday. There I was, innocently walking down the hall of my high school. Suddenly, I spotted the college guidance counselor. Apparently, she spotted me as well, because she said, “Avigail, just the person I was looking for. The principal would like to see you in her office.” Now, mind you, in my nearly four years of high school, I hadn’t had much occasion to visit the principal’s office. I did my homework, followed the rules, and generally tried to stay out of trouble. What on earth could the principal want from me?

I found out soon enough. The guidance counselor quickly escorted me down the halls, and I found myself seated on the other side of the principal’s desk, while the guidance counselor took a seat off to the side. The principal cleared her throat and began. “Avigail.” She paused. “Avigail, we’ve been speaking with the principals of the seminaries you applied to, and you’re not on the top of anyone’s list.”

My mind processed her words in slow motion. Not on the top of anyone’s list? The principal wouldn’t be calling me into her office to tell me that I was a school’s fifth choice. No, she meant I was at the bottom. They had all rejected me.

The principal kept talking, but I wished she would stop, because it was getting hard to hold back my tears, and I didn’t want to cry in front of her. Finally, I was allowed to leave. The guidance counselor took me back to her office. As I sat down, the tears I had been holding in until then burst forth. How could this have happened? Of all 98 girls in the grade, why me? How could I be the biggest reject?

I thought back to those fateful interviews. The careful thought that had gone into picking the schools, writing the essays, filling out the forms. Doing mock interviews beforehand. Getting dressed for the big day. The dread of being face-to-face with those mighty seminary principals, who seemed to hold my destiny in their hands.

There was the first interview. My parents drove me to some obscure location where the seminary interview was being held. We managed to get lost a few times before locating the correct address. My parents took a seat in the waiting area. I made my way into the inner chamber, and sat before the principal. She glanced at me, and asked, “Are you the oldest in your family?” That wasn’t such a tough question. I could handle that. I confidently answered that I’m the fourth. “Why did both of your parents bring you?” she inquired, eying me shrewdly. Let’s just say the rest of the interview didn’t go too well.

Then there was the next interview. I went with a group of my friends from high school. It was the school of choice for most of my chevreh. When it was my turn, I sat down with the principal. He asked me for the names of my friends. Naturally, most of them were applying to his school. Somehow that meant something to him. After a few more questions, he assured me that I hadn’t messed up my interview. I wasn’t quite sure how to take that.

Then there was the real winner. It took place in my school, as that seminary was a popular choice for many girls. I sat down in an office that had been vacated by my assistant principal. I don’t remember anything the seminary principal asked me, except for one question. He essentially asked me what my first choice was. Being a good girl, I told him the truth. And it wasn’t his school. He didn’t finish off by telling me that I hadn’t messed up. I walked out of the office, devastated that I had messed up my chances of getting into the seminary. The assistant principal saw me, and asked what had happened. I told her the story, and she shared words that have stayed with me since. She looked at me and said, “Avigail, you never lose out by telling the truth.”

I went home, and wrote down those words, and put the paper in a special box, where I kept things that were important to me. With the assistant principal’s reassurance, I knew I had done the right thing by giving up the opportunity to go to this school. The thought that I might not get into any seminary, however, never crossed my mind.

Yet, somehow, there I was in the guidance counselor’s office, crying miserably, trying to figure out what to do next. “There’s another school you can try,” she counseled me. “It’s new, and it seems like it might be what you’re looking for.” I had considered applying to that school before, but hadn’t wanted to take a chance with a new school. Now, it seemed I had no choice.

I applied, and had an interview with a principal who was less threatening than the other ones. I watched the mailbox. One, two, three letters came. All were very nicely worded, with the same message. “We don’t want you.” Finally, the fourth school sent me a letter of acceptance! Like it or not, this is where I would go.

I won’t say that it was easy. There were definitely challenges in attending a school that’s still finding itself. The reality is that, despite the school’s growing pains, I found a place where I was able to thrive. For one thing, after attending a high school that was on the larger side, I found it refreshing to be in a small school. I was no longer a little fish in a big pond. I mattered. I was able to shine. I tutored other girls for tests. I was in choir. I helped edit the yearbook. I met teachers who shaped me, many of whom I’m in touch with till today. I spent a lot of time at the seminary principal’s house, and became very close with his family, particularly his oldest daughter, who is my age.

I look back at that particular life challenge, and shake my head in amazement. Now, I have the zechus of living in a wonderful community in Eretz Yisrael, together with my husband and four children, baruch Hashem. My seminary principal’s daughter continues to be a close friend, as she lives a few blocks away.

And so, to all those high school seniors who eagerly check the mailbox, as the ides of February approach, don’t make the mistake that I made. Of course, there’s no way around the fact that sitting at a seminary interview can be pretty intimidating. But the reality is that the principal is just a shaliach. There’s no reason to be scared of the decisions of a human being. Hashem is in the interview office with you.

And you know you’re always at the top of His list.


(Originally Featured in XXX, Issue XXX)

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