Shavuos is a time of choices. Matan Torah was a life-changing event when HaKadosh Baruch Hu chose us as His nation and we chose Him as our King. Join us as we meet teens from around the world who share the courageous steps they took on their personal journeys of spiritual growth.
Choices. There are tests and struggles that come up on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis in the life of a teen.
Can you share an instance when you had the courage to say no?
No to an item, dress, website, place, conversation… or anything that doesn’t quite make the cut?
That was the question we presented to teenagers from around the world. And the responses came pouring in!
During the year, Bnos Melachim’s Teleteen hotline is full of stories, Q & As, songs, features, and comedies. Thousands of girls call in on a daily basis, but for the Yamim Tovim, they take it to the next level.
Last summer, Miss Faigy Feintuch, special program coordinator, put a lot of thought into the Yamim Noraim Program. She asked herself: What “muscle” do the girls need to use to hold on to their values, despite the tide pushing them in the opposite direction?
“The word no popped into my head,” she says. “Being courageous and being able to say no seemed like a really major deal for teens. There’s something exhilarating about knowing you said no, on your own, without anyone making you do it. When you say no, you’re a fighter!”
The Yamim Noraim program was based on, “The Power of No.”
“Then I wanted to take it further,” she says. “If the girls could hear that hundreds of other teens could do it, it would strengthen their own resolve. So, I wanted girls to share their stories. As motivation, we needed to run a contest, and a contest needs a prize! I called Mrs. Bar, the director of Teleteen, and told her, ‘We’re creating a contest and offering a $1,000 cash prize.’ Mrs. Bar thought I was a bit nuts! But I told her, ‘Give me one day to work it out.’”
Phone calls were made and a sponsor happy to have the zechus was found. And then the contest went live! At first, they weren’t quite sure what the response would be. Would teens really sit down to write about their struggles and triumphs in life? Would they get any responses?
Yet within days, the stories were pouring in! “It was beyond our wildest expectations!” says Mrs. Chaya Faigie Bar, director of Teleteen. “There were so many beautiful entries. I cried as I read some of them. Getting so many submissions from all around the world was so powerful. We saw that teens today are fighting, and giving, and growing….”
“I was blown away!” adds Miss Feintuch. “Our inbox, mailbox, and fax submissions were full, full, full of letters from teenagers. They were honest letters, showing the fierce battle and the real fight that they live, holding on to what’s true and right. The letters were so full of passion and energy that they energized me! Some letters made me cry, and some made me smile. It’s moving to see countless girls from around the world, who don’t even know each other, battling and overcoming the same challenges!”
“People keep saying: ‘There are so many problems with teens today,’” says Mrs. Bar. “Yet, I completely disagree! Our girls are idealistic, motivated, and want to grow! No one is asking the girls to call into Teleteen. Yet each day approximately 4,000 girls call in for inspiration, and over 20,000 girls call for the special Yom Tov programs. They do it because they genuinely want to grow. They have so many other obligations in their life. And yet, they prioritize Teleteen because they want to learn and they want to grow.”
There were so many incredible submissions. Teen Pages chose several to share with our readers.
Real Model or Role Model
I am a pretty typical teenager, who is privileged to attend an amazing school that really instills in its students a deep sense of tzniyus. Perhaps that is what gave me the power to say no, when logic voiced a resounding yes. It happened when I was going Yom Tov shopping in a very well-known clothing store. I picked out a couple of things and tried them on. I liked one particularly pretty dress and came out of my dressing room to ask my mother her opinion. It happened that when I came out of the changing room, the owner of the store came by. I was wearing a perfectly tzniyus dress, which really suited me well, and everyone in the area was complimenting me. The owner loved how it looked on me and asked if she could photograph me to post it on her Instagram.
Everyone seemed fine with it, and I was excited by the idea of being a model. I am a teenager after all, and I knew that a lot of people would see this as a dream come true. But then I realized that being on Instagram meant that everyone and anyone would be able to see me and that was exactly the opposite of what a tzanuah stands for. At first I rationalized, trying to convince myself it was fine; they could always blur my face. But I knew the truth and I refused the offer. I politely told the owner no — while in my head, my mind and emotions were screaming: “What? Why not?!”
I walked out of the store, without the glory and splendor that comes along with being a real model, but I had real splendor and glory. Tiferes. That allows me to become not a real model, but a role model.
Let me preface my story by telling you that I’m a regular Bais Yaakov girl who tries to do the right thing, and this is a story illustrating the power of saying no to oneself.
It was the summer of eighth grade and I went to buy uniforms for the upcoming school year. At the uniform store I was faced with a dilemma. You see, I was entering high school and I was nervous about what others would think of me. On the one hand, if my skirt was a nice length, I might be labeled “yeshivish.” But on the other hand, if my skirt was too short, I’d maybe be thought of as “a girl who isn’t so careful with tzniyus.”
As a result, to play it safe, I got a skirt that was just the perfect length — not too long and not too short. As is the norm, as the year progressed, I grew taller, and to my dismay, for every inch I grew, my skirt shortened an inch as well! Occasionally, before leaving for school I would check the mirror to make sure that everything was just right. You see, I would check if my skirt was the right length because deep down I knew that my skirt wasn’t that perfect anymore. So, I would give my skirt a little tug and be on my way to school.
Over time though, through stories from Bnos Melachim and my teachers’ inspiring lessons, I decided the time had come for me to act! What should I do? If I would get someone to take down the hem of my skirt it would be such a hassle… and my skirt really was fine… it wasn’t SO short… there was nothing halachically wrong with it.
I discussed this with a friend of mine, and at the end of that conversation I decided the time had come for me to say NO! I was above this! I would not give in to my yetzer hara’s excuses, persuasions, and arguments. Then and there, before my inspiration fizzled, I took out my skirts and started taking out some of the stitches so I would have to bring it to the dressmaker.
It wasn’t easy, but the feeling after one overcomes such a nisayon is one that cannot be put into words. Now when I look at myself in the mirror, there is no need to tug and to push my skirt down. My skirt is just the right length! I am forever grateful to Bnos Melachim for empowering me with the strength to say no!
—A student at Bais Yaakov High School of Toronto
When No Becomes Yes
Clothing shopping in an out-of-town community is a big issue. We have no frum stores and don’t always have time to shop in clothing stores when we are “in-town.” My problem solved itself when I heard of a website that sold clothing for really cheap. Ignoring the untzniyus pictures, I was ecstatic about finding a convenient place to buy cute, tzniyus, and in-style clothing. I ordered things for a minimal price, and sent back whatever I didn’t want. Immediately, I was hooked, and started shopping once every other month or so. I ordered Shabbos clothing and shoes, T-shirts and long skirts for camp, nice weekday clothing, and even jewelry! The whole time I overlooked the uncomfortable feeling that I was being exposed to the inappropriate pictures on the site.
At some point, I attempted to cut back on the shopping, so I set timers to limit how long I’d be online. Then, as I was speaking on the phone with my camp friend one night, she told me a story about her teacher, a typical kollel wife who spent a fortune on her baby’s Shabbos pajamas at a frum store in Lakewood, instead of ordering online for a fraction of the cost. She explained that just like Yidden buy expensive lulavim and esrogim for Succos, this would be her mitzvah to spend money on. Inspired, I developed a strong desire to stop shopping online but didn’t feel ready to quit yet.
The last push I needed came during the livestream of the Nekadesh event. As I sat there listening to speeches, I came to the realization that the pictures I had seen so many times would remain with me forever. I wanted to cry, and before going home that night, I decided that I would say no! No! to the hours wasted in front of the screen and No! to those offensive pictures. No! to the immodest models, and No! to my old shopping habits. Before I lost my nerve, I requested that my father block the website from our computer that very night!
With no computer access during sleepaway camp, the summer proved not to be a challenge. It was only when I returned home and needed school shoes did the challenge arise. I said, “No!” and went to the shoe store instead, but dejectedly came home empty-handed. I ended up ordering from a much more kosher site, settling on shoes that weren’t necessarily this year’s latest style. As Yom Tov came closer, I started thinking about winter clothing, but again said No! Even if it meant sufficing with just a new bracelet or top I found in the mall, I felt so proud of my decision. Telling my yetzer hara No! and my yetzer tov Yes! never felt so good. I had told convenience, No! but said Yes! to hard work and growth. I had screamed No! to all the negative images and invited in kedushah and taharah with a confident Yes!
Keeping a Secret
I’m assuming that the majority of the submissions you received were about short skirts and tight tops, or perhaps an extremely eye-catching dress. All of them are difficult challenges. Listening to so many girls who share their experience of making the right decision is extremely inspiring. But today, I’d like to share a different aspect of tzniyus I worked on. I was recently asked to daven for someone. The person was going through a very difficult time. I was made aware, though, that the situation was a secret, and that I should please not discuss it. The first part was quite easy for me. I mentioned the name in Tehillim and had him in mind in Shemoneh Esreh. But the second part was a real challenge. For me. I had some close friends I knew were probably told about the situation, but we couldn’t talk about it. Every time I saw them I felt like I’d explode. One day I was sitting with my friends and I decided I’d had enough. I was just going to tell them everything and stop keeping secrets. I opened my mouth to say something… when it hit me. Do you understand what you’re doing? Are you really going to use someone else’s hardship as a good topic of conversation? Just because you can’t keep a secret?
No! No! No! I said to myself. I closed my mouth and kept the secret safe.
My name is Rivky, and I’m in high school. I talk on the phone for hours (like you), and I also have tzniyus challenges (just like you).
My story starts when I was a young girl. I loved looking at all the billboards on the highway; I found them really entertaining. It got to the point where I would be looking out for all the billboards whenever we traveled. Recently, I started noticing that the billboards are really inappropriate. One day, while driving on the highway, I saw a billboard that at first glance made me think, Why am I looking at these things? Why am I looking for such things? I told myself, No! Rivky, you’re not doing this anymore. I took a kabbalah upon myself not to look at the billboards on the New Jersey Turnpike. I did it as a zechus for my relatives who were married for quite a few years and hadn’t yet merited to have children. Baruch Hashem, a few weeks before Rosh Hashanah, exactly nine months after I took on my kabbalah, they had a gorgeous baby girl. Now, every time I refrain from looking at a billboard, I use it as an eis ratzon to daven for any zechus I need.
Behind the Scenes
Teleteen Fun Facts
We receive about 50 messages each day. We listen to every one and do our best to respond. We care about each Teleteen listener!
I can be in a random place and teens will look at me strangely; they recognize my voice from Teleteen!
I announce the date on the daily updates (every morning) and for a while, I accidently gave the wrong month (Teves instead of Shevat), and no one noticed!
Sometimes mothers tell me that they also listen to Teleteen — the lessons are applicable to all ages — but they don’t want their daughters to know that they call in, too!
I’m a sixth-grade kodesh teacher. I often record for Teleteen during my breaks at school because those telephones with the long curly wires (you know those?) seem to have a really clear connection. Sometimes, when I’m sitting in an office recording, I can get pretty dramatic. I often see groups of girls passing by the office making faces, “What is Miss Feintuch saying in there?”
The girls would never dream where the recordings take place! I try not to miss a day of updates, so that means I have done recordings in an airport, a motel, in camp, Eretz Yisrael, Texas... basically all around the world!
We plan our themes way in advance! For example, we thought of our Tu B’Shevat theme shortly after Succos. We are always trying to be a step ahead to think of the girls’ needs and we try to be ready for them!
I used to be a principal. I left three years ago to join Teleteen, after I had a baby. I realized it was the perfect opportunity to combine chinuch with enjoying time at home with my baby.
I set up a little office in my house where I work. I often spend hours listening to the messages and preparing the recordings. My three-year-old daughter prefers my attention, so when she sees me go into that room, she says, “Mommy, no more work!”
Teleteen can be reached at 347-498-TELE (8353).
(Originally featured in Teen, Issue 97)
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