What's it like when your job is to turn others down? Meet the “rejectors” and hear their thoughts on the heavy toll of the role
Every time you hear a “no,” there’s a person who has to say it. A human being who goes to sleep at night thinking about all the people they’re forced to disappoint. What’s it like for them? What’s the weight of that responsibility — and how do they hold it?
Chaim L., tuition committee member:
Every school near, nearly 80 percent of the families apply for a break. Most of them get some discount, but it’s not usually the amount they’re asking for.
There’s a formula we use, which accounts for family size, income, number of kids at home — all based on the average cost of living in our community. It’s somewhat formulaic, but we need to be very human. The numbers give us a basis for the discussion, yet we also make space to account for any extraordinary circumstances. Do they have a child with special needs who accounts for more than the usual per child expenses? Did they just have major storm damage — and need to shell out tens of thousands on out-of-pocket repairs? Is someone in the family sick, which means the parents are busier than usual and not earning as much as they once did?
At the end of the day, though, the numbers alone tell you a lot. We once had two families with three kids each, who were both pulling in around $100,000 in income a year. One said they could afford $15,000 in tuition and the other requested to pay only $8,000.
There were no other extenuating circumstances that either mentioned, so why was there such a big difference in their means?
It’s often a matter of priorities. One family values their child’s schooling, and the other doesn’t want to pay a penny more than necessary. In situations like these, we’ll tell the family that wants to pay only $8,000 that we feel what they can afford is closer to a number like $13,000.
Even if the numbers don’t lie, it’s always tough to be the one pushing someone else. How do you decide how hard someone else should have to work? If they’re requesting to pay only $8,000, can you really come and tell them they need to push themselves to pay $13,000? It’s an uncomfortable place to be.
The school purposely splits the process into two. There’s the committee that decides on the discount, and there’s the executive director who actually delivers the news. Because we’re not the ones speaking with the families, it’s easier for us to look at the facts on the table and be honest about the numbers. It allows us to be more aggressive with our tuition numbers.
However, the executive director is our link. If he comes back and says that — after speaking with the family — it’s clear they really can’t afford the tuition, he has the right to override the committee.
At the end of the day, it’s his decision to make because he’s the one who will fundraise to make up the difference. If he allows them a bigger break, he needs to work to make up for it.
There are times, though, when people take advantage – and that makes our job all the harder. We had someone who would appeal our decision year after year. He’d request a discount, we’d look at the numbers and circumstances and not agree to the full thing, then he’d cry to the executive director and be allowed to pay less.
And this year, he bought a stunning huge house on one of the richest blocks in the neighborhood. We saw his numbers. The purchase isn’t surprising. His tuition break is.
Is it that he couldn’t afford to pay or didn’t think it was important enough to spend on?
There’s a reason we take someone’s lifestyle into account. If someone wants a break — but is also taking out expensive car leases, pumping $30,000 into renovating a brand-new house, or spending midwinter break in Orlando, where it’s $1,000 for a day at the theme parks… We’re going to have a hard time listening when you cry about paying $600 a month in school fees.
If we think you can afford tuition, but are simply prioritizing other expenses, we’ll definitely push you to pay more.
Vacation is important, but not necessary. Tuition is your obligation.
As both a community member and tuition committee member, it’s confusing to dissect the full story. When we walk home from shul together on Shabbos, you’re boasting about the latest business deal you closed, and the newest gadgets you’ve bought. And then on my desk Monday morning, there’s a request form from you that’s crying poverty.
It might be easier to make a decision if we only had numbers, details, and no names, but what we know about you is part of the story. If your lifestyle doesn’t match the numbers, is that because you’re talking a big game? Do you have income you’re not recording?
If you can afford tuition, it’s your achrayus to pay.
On the other hand, sometimes the story we see is heartbreaking. You review an application from a family with six kids that’s making $30,000 a year and has $100,000 in credit card debt, and your heart sinks. You can’t even begin to imagine the struggle, the financial stress. And they live right next door. In those situations, we try to give them as big a break as possible.
You’re never going to make the right decision every time, though. If someone still can’t pay the number we decide on, they’ll come back to appeal the decision. But if you give a discount and someone can really afford more, they’re not going to come back and offer additional payment.
It would help if people knew that the school isn’t looking to make anyone go bankrupt, but we’re expecting you to do as much as possible. If you don’t cover your own children, ultimately everyone else is left filling the gaps.
I hear this all the time. People think that when the school requests $10,000 per child, it’s because it costs $5,000 per child, and they’re charging more to account for the families who don’t pay.
It’s not the case. It actually costs us way more than $10,000 per child. As it is, the school is fundraising the difference, and every dollar you request off is a dollar the school board still needs to come up with.
No one is making money off your tuition. It’s barely what we need to cover the costs of running a school. Some parents recognize that and will do whatever they can to pay as much as they can.
You can see the difference in their children. They graduate with a stronger chinuch — probably because they got the message that school is important, learning is valuable, and chinuch is a priority. They absorb that. And when parents think the school is there to milk them dry and they want to get away with as little effort or cost as possible, the kids absorb that message, too.
We’re not looking to hurt or punish anyone. We’re trying to be as fair as we can, while looking out for both the community members and for the school’s bottom line.
Yitzy Waldner, composer and producer:
Because I, baruch Hashem, have a long history in the Jewish music industry, aspiring artists often send me their work.
“What do you think of this?”
“Would you produce it for me?”
“Can you connect me with Big Name Artist so I can sell them the song?”
Because there’s a huge influx of offerings, but most songs aren’t the style singers are looking for these days, I’ve made an official policy. I don’t broker songs. I’m not going to be the one who acts as the shadchan and has to deliver the disappointing no, which often comes.
In the non-Jewish world, if your music isn’t great, then they’ll shoot you down like an animal and tell you that straight out. But that’s not areivus. I can’t do that to someone else — especially because I know exactly what the no feels like.
Until today, even after singers have bought more than 400 songs, baruch Hashem, I still get turned down more than I sell. It took years for me to build a reputation. I used to burn CDs, mail them to people’s houses, and sit around with no idea if they even received it.
I know what that wait feels like, and I want to soften it for whomever possible, but it’s hard. You have to be so careful when discussing something like a composition, which people tend to take so personally.
A father once reached out to me and said, “I’m not at all musical, but I know what good music sounds like — and my son’s music is the nicest thing anyone’s ever heard.” So I listened… and it was nice, although not as nice as the father described. But how do you tell that to a father who wants to see the good and potential in his child? He was so convinced I’d love it and put it out the next day. How do you let someone down? The question always pains me tremendously.
After encountering situations like these over the years, I’ve learned to always start with the positive. Every Yid needs your support. I say, “It’s amazing your son has so much music in him, and that he’s able to express such a deep part of his neshamah.”
Then I gently tell them the truth. “Music is a matter of taste, and I don’t see this particular composition being a good fit for any of my clients.” Even if the song isn’t my style, I try to let people down gently and tell them how much potential there is.
Afterward, I always like to give them guidance or next steps. “With a more professional demo, it’s possible you’d pique more interest. I recommend that you hire someone to create a higher-quality demo.”
Often, as soon as someone hears that there’s money involved, the dream fades on its own. If not, I tell them how easy it is to get started these days. Create a streaming account and put it out there. No one will sell the music better than the musician.
There are still people who get offended each time. People from rebbeim to rabbanim to 10-year-old children reach out, then feel crushed when someone in the industry isn’t a fan.
How could they not be — when it’s the greatest song on earth? I like to explain that if you try on an outfit in the clothing store and don’t like it, that’s not offensive to the designer. It’s not for you. And the likelihood is that someone else will walk in and love it.
If you want to be successful in this industry, like the clothing designer, you need to treat it like a business. You have to accept that not everyone will love everything you create — and be willing to work with people who do.
It’s rare for a composer to send out a song and have a singer buy it as is. First drafts are not the ones that blow up overnight. If you hear back from a singer who like most of the song, but not a specific part, don’t respond with “But I worked so hard.”
Don’t say that you composed it together with your sons at the Shabbos meal, and it’s so personal that you can’t change anything.
Instead, say, “What do you have in mind for that part instead?”
If you want to sell music, you need to approach it as a business — and not as a part of you. I think that’s the reason most composers don’t sell their songs. You need to be able to sit down at a desk and treat it like a business, not only sit with an instrument and treat it like an art. Whether or not your song will become a fan favorite is bashert from top to bottom, but you have to be ready to do the work.
If you’re coming for my opinion, you need to understand that I don’t represent the entire music world. I only speak for myself, and my opinion shouldn’t affect what you think about your abilities.
Adi S., director of HR:
Before I took on this role, I was in the marketing and sales department of the company. I was responsible for a multi-million dollar budget, which gave me a thrill. Everyone loves the team who brings in the money, because they’re the ones who support the bottom line of the company. You need money to do your work and make a profit.
If you don’t have money, the company isn’t successful. What made me move into human resources was that I realized the human aspect of it. The people who do the work themselves are perhaps more important than the money, and I wanted to be a part of that piece of it.
The job hasn’t come without challenges, though. I’m responsible for a team of more than 250 employees, which involves everything from the hiring process to approving raises, dealing with any internal conflicts, approving time off, requests for more responsibility or a promotion, and sometimes, unfortunately, with the termination process as well.
If there’s one word I could use to describe my job, it’s “dynamic.” I take my responsibility very seriously because I know the company is only as good as the team.
For the most part, it’s gratifying to see everything work out. I get nachas when I see someone find their place here and thrive. But it’s also difficult — when we can’t give a raise, when you have to have a difficult conversation about someone’s job status, or when you’re reviewing applicants and get the sense that someone is really keen on the role but isn’t a good fit. It’s hard to let people down. They’ve usually put so much hope into the request, and you’re the one denying it.
Those conversations always get to me. Beforehand, I get physically stressed — we’re talking sweaty palms, heart racing, deep breaths. I take my work personally, so when I need to have a tough conversation with someone, I have a hard time separating. I have to, though. There’s a line between wanting to sympathize on a personal level and representing the company. I always need to walk it because, at the end of the day, my responsibility lies with the company. They’re the ones I need to represent.
Recently, we had to fire someone who had been at the company for years. She was a loyal employee, but with all the shifts in company structure, there simply wasn’t a role for her anymore.
On a personal note, I happened to know that she’d been going through a lot on her home front. I started the meeting weighed down with so much guilt and sadness. I was about to give her even more to worry about.
“You can’t keep someone on as a chesed,” our CEO reminded me. It’s not right for the company and it’s not fair for them either. No one wants to feel like a charity case when they should be feeling fulfilled and happy with the work they’re doing.
Some people see the writing on the wall and know what’s coming before you start to speak. They’re usually pretty calm and composed during the conversation. In this case, she burst into tears, and it was all I could do to stop myself from taking it all back. When I finished the meeting, I left the office for a break until I decompressed.
I remember walking to get a coffee and thinking, Whatever I feel is only a fraction of what she’s going through. It never gets easier to be the bad guy.
Even when not hiring or firing, it’s hard to tell people no. There have been a few times when people approached us for a raise and offered to take on more responsibility to correlate with the higher salary.
I always start by saying, “Thanks for coming to me. We appreciate your team-player attitude and that you’re willing to have more responsibilities.” Then I looked into the situation — and very often, they’re doing great in the current position, but their manager doesn’t think they’re qualified for more. While the employee sees their achievements through one lens, their employer has another. Turns out that they don’t have the attention to detail, time management, or people skills for the role they want. Then I’m tasked with turning them down.
When that happens, I try to be constructive. I’ll get back to them and explain why they can’t get the raise or promotion, but, “These are the things we’re looking out for, and as soon as you can demonstrate those skills, we’ll have this conversation again.”
Often people take the feedback well. They internalize the pointers and use it as an opportunity to advance their performance. Other times, these same people get frustrated — and then fired — when they don’t make an effort to improve.
There are so many times when I’ve wanted to break the professional wall between me and the other person and say something like, “I care about you and I’m sorry you’re going through this, but I need to do what’s best for the company.”
I’m not sure that getting personal is actually helpful. Once you get personal, it gets sticky. On a practical note, it opens a Pandora’s box. “If you care about me, why didn’t you prevent this from happening?”
You also never know what someone has gone through in the past. I don’t want to make them feel like people who care about you abandon you. I don’t want to create — or trigger — trauma. When it’s non-personal, it’s practical. It’s not about whether or not we have a relationship. It’s about the job and whether you’re still the best fit.
I would say that, even considering the difficult challenges and uncomfortable conversations, I love what I do. It’s not only about supporting the company. It’s meaningful to watch people step into a role where they will thrive — and to know that you played a small role in helping them find their next stop in life, possibly even their passion.
If I could, I’d find a way to do my job without ever causing any pain. I want people to know that I see them as a person. Sometimes the person firing you really does feel for you at the same time.
Mrs. Rochel Chitrik, chutz l’Aretz coordinator, Bais Chana Seminary:
When my daughter was engaged, we went to look at apartments in Jerusalem. As we were leaving one place, the woman who lived there at the time said, “Mrs. Chitrik, I know you.”
I didn’t recognize her.
“Yeah. I’m one of your rejects.”
It wasn’t fun hearing that. I’m not out to make people’s lives miserable, and I’m sensitive to the fact that when someone gets a no, it’s an uncomfortable metzius they have to live with.
My objective is always to try to say no to as few girls as possible.
In Lubavitch, most of the seminaries work together on our acceptance lists. If a girl applied to more than one place, we discuss where she’s going, taking her preferences into account. If I know she’s accepted to another seminary, I don’t accept her as well. Instead, I give that spot to someone else.
This way, we avoid the long waiting lists and don’t have girls hanging around for months to get a spot while others decide between all the places they got accepted. Our goal is for as many girls as possible to know where they’re going as early on as they can. Because we don’t throw the ball back to the girls’ court and then need to wait for them to respond, we eliminate the waitlist.
Before girls even apply, there’s a natural sifting based on what they know about the seminaries. Girls know that Bais Chana has a high academic standard and that many of the classes are in Hebrew. If they don’t want to go through that, they won’t apply. It makes it easier for me because there are fewer applicants. But even with the natural sifting, there will always be a significant handful of girls we don’t have space for.
My job is not dinei nefashos. It’s dinei makom. We only have 145 beds and 145 seats in the classroom. Until someone donates a building, we can’t physically accommodate any more girls.
When the lists are out and people ask if they can push in, I’m happy to say that my heart isn’t made of stone. We give in if we can — if we have the space. There was one year when, the night before we gave answers, I realized that around 30 girls would be left without any spots in seminary.
I went to the hanhalah and asked if we could build another caravan classroom to accommodate them. When they said yes, we were able to accept an entire extra class of girls.
Parents — who are often even more hurt than their daughters — have a hard time accepting that it’s a matter of space, but it’s the truth. If we have room, we can accept more girls. If we don’t, we can’t.
That being said, I think it’s important for girls to only apply to a seminary that’s appropriate for them. Just because your sister or cousins went, it doesn’t mean it’s the right place for you.
When we accept someone, it’s because we think that our seminary can give her what she’s coming for. If what she needs out of this year isn’t what our seminary can provide, we’re not doing her any favors by giving her a spot. If a student will end up feeling bad about herself because she underestimated the academic standards, and they don’t align with how she perceives herself or her future, it’s not a good place to be. We want our students to be happy where they are.
I don’t want anyone to feel they’re not “up to par.” That’s why we’re looking out for the student’s benefit — even when we say it’s not a good fit.
Making that decision isn’t simple. We try to look at a number of factors. There’s a registration form with questions like, “What are you looking to gain from the year?” We give an entrance exam, review transcripts, and speak to high school principals. Sometimes we call camp references to hear about shmiras hazmanim and responsibility.
When I meet applicants in person, I try to have a schmooze rather than an interview. It’s hard for people to talk about themselves, so I ask third-party questions. For example, one year I asked, “Which kitchen utensil resonates with you and why?”
This year, I held interviews on Tu B’Shevat, so I brought pictures of trees and asked girls which they felt a connection to and why, or what life lesson they could take from which tree.
It’s not about the answers as much as the conversation. Some girls have an easy time answering. Some have a harder time, so we end up discussing the question itself — which is also a good springboard for conversation.
One year I did a short interview with each girl, then brought five of them together and asked them to prepare an activity. For example, “Find a fun way to teach a preschool class about kashrus.”
I watched the dynamic — who was taking initiative? Who took the back seat? Which conversations or hashkafos came up?
The girls are usually nervous, so I’ve had to learn to look and see the person behind the nerves. But even a 10 to 15 minute interview is just a grain of salt. All the factors come together to give a picture. For example, people communicate volumes with their body language. A lot can be picked up from those nuances. If a girl can look me in the eye, I can sense confidence. If she has a hard time doing that, it doesn’t mean she lacks confidence, but it contributes to the picture.
At the end of the day, I believe it’s all Hashgachah pratis. The Eibeshter created the dynamic of the interview. He decided that one person should relate to another in a particular way. I’m just His pawn. The same way I can’t and don’t take credit for making the “right” decisions, I can’t take credit for making the “wrong” ones. I don’t carry that responsibility or guilt because it’s all Him.
That’s why I don’t like referring to it as “rejections.” No one is rejecting you. B’Hashgachah pratis, the Eibeshter wants you somewhere else.
It’s a numbers game. There are more girls applying than there are spaces. Sometimes I speak to the other seminaries and say, “One of us has to take her.” We’re not here to build our seminaries. Our role is to be there for as many girls as possible. If we can’t take them into our program, we try hard to make sure she has a space somewhere else.
Running a seminary is rewarding, but there’s nothing rewarding about the acceptance process — except maybe the trip to New York. I’m definitely not looking forward to giving din v’cheshbon after 120. I simply try to do it in the way that causes the least possible damage.
Yet when people say they don’t envy me, I say that they should. I work with wonderful girls and have the opportunity to make an impact on thousands of future families. Life is a bowl of cherries, which means you’ll get some pits. The acceptance process is part of my job and part of my shlichus.
If a girl isn’t accepted, it’s not a reflection of her qualities. We’re limited by space — and if you believe in Hashgachah pratis, it means the Eibeshter has a different and better plan for you. By the end of the year, 85 to 90 percent of girls are happy with where they went, even if it wasn’t their first choice. We need to relinquish some control and rely on the Eibeshter, because He does what’s best for every person.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 862)
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