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Wednesday, August 16, 2006


In What Yeshiva Did You Learn?

There are a lot of "blogworthy" things that happen to me, almost daily. If I had more time and motivation, like some others, I'd write 'em all down and post a couple of times a day. But I don't, usually. Yesterday, however, a conversation I overheard on the bus screamed "blog me!" (The way certain pesukim in chumash cry, "Interpret me!")

First off, if you're going to have a conversation on the bus, please keep your voices down. The guy two rows in front of you may be trying to sleep. The guy across the aisle may be trying to read. The guy behind you may be listening to every word you say, taking notes, and planning to blog about it later.

So - two guys, a Lubavitcher and another chasidishe yingerman, were talking about the whole kollel vs. working-for-a-living controversy. The guy in front of them turned around and asked them both, "In which yeshiva did you learn?"

This is not just a friendly question. It's a challenge. It's the equivalent of a border guard asking to see your credentials, or a bouncer asking to see your ID. Your yeshiva affiliation (l'shitasam, speaking generally and judgementally) determines your politics, your erudition, your legitimacy and eligibility to discuss matters pertaining to Yiddishkeit. And many people, I've noticed, are loathe to reveal the information.

When you're a child and a teenager, that question is usually a knee-jerk reaction from people who see you misbehaving. "You see how those kids are dressed/running around/making trouble? Hey! What yeshiva do you go to?"

In yesterday's context, it was a guy who wanted to know who he was dealing with and how qualified they were to be discussing the topic at all.

So the Lubavitch guy said, "I learned in the Lubavitch yeshiva in [a major city]."

The inquirer turned to the other conversant, "And you? From which yeshiva are you?"

The chasidishe guy said, "I learned in a bunch of yeshivos."

The questioner persisted: "Chasidishe ones or Litvish ones?"

"A mixture," the chasid replied.

He wouldn't give a straight answer. He wouldn't come out and say "I learned in Darchei Whatever by Rabbi So-and-So." Either because he's self-conscious, or because he's embarrassed, or because he simply didn't want to give this stranger any 'intimate' information, from which he could draw conclusions.

I think this is sad on a number of levels - the main problem being that we feel completely justified in asking intrusive questions and judging people based on their yeshiva affiliation.

The secondary problem is that we feel like we can't--or don't want to--open up to people. I certainly feel that way. I don't even like it when someone calls me by name on the bus. "Don't use my name," I hiss, only half-joking. "I don't want these people knowing who I am!"

In our community, unfortunately, anything you say can and will be used against you in the court of lashon hara.

Sad, but true.
You're absolutely right and couldn't possibly have said it better. I just wish you had given us some names. Personally, I attended JERK Academy (Jewish Education for Retarded Kids) and am goshdurn proud of it. You can tell the freaking busdriver himself, for all I care. In fact, three cheers for the husdriver who drove us today! Yalah mashiach! Oy, when will this golud end?
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