I therefore already had high school on the brain when I read Loralee’s post last week, inviting all of her readers to share their prom stories (which you should totally send her, by the way). I told her I did not attend a prom since I went to a very religious all-girls high school, and proceeded to tell her a little bit about our prom alternative (as you'll soon see, it involved stale potato chips and a modesty curtain). She and I then passed a flurry of emails back and forth about my singular high school experience, and it rapidly dawned upon me that mine is a story which must be shared with the world. (Or at least my blog.)
As most of you know, I'm Jewish. And as I told Loralee, I attended a very small, all-girls Jewish high school. Now, when I say "Jewish," I mean "really, really, really religious X-treme Ultra HyperJewish." Before I go on, I feel compelled to point out that in some ways, this was a really good school. The classes were small and focused, and most of the teachers were top-notch. I was also able to come out of my shell there, and go on to become co-captain of the debate team, editor of the yearbook, and other, equally nerdly pursuits. Yes, in some ways, I got a fantastic education there.
IN SOME WAYS.
In others, well…where do I begin?
I guess we should start with a picture of me from that time. You know, so you can properly visualize lil' me:
Don’t be jealous--Not many people can rock a mock turtleneck bodysuit/denim skirt combo like I can. Or the peace sign choker (a gift from MY BOYFRIEND at the time, thank you).
I guess while we're on the subject, we should talk about my school’s dress code. Religious Jews have specific standards when it comes to what is considered modest dress, and my school did not take this matter lightly. No pants were allowed, and only skirts that fell below the knee WHEN SITTING were permitted. Oh, and there could only be a "fist's-length" of skin showing between the hem of your skirt and the top of your socks. This meant either wearing (a) tights; (b) knee socks (if you chose to wear a "short" skirt); or (c) floor-length skirts. Personally, I often chose the latter, rocking a floor-length floral skirt topped with some kind of vest, and clearly, I couldn’t have been happier about it.
"What a feeeeelin'!"
If you dared attend school wearing something considered inappropriately short, or that had a *gasp* SLIT in it? Why, you had to wear The School Skirt. The School Skirt was a shapeless brown...thing made out of what appeared to be a potato sack left over from the Roosevelt Administration. It was a size 18 (so that it could fit almost anyone who dared break the rules), extremely itchy, and generally something you wanted to avoid at all costs.
Exposed collar bones were another no-no, hence my extensive collection of mock turtlenecks and bodysuits.
It just made sense, you know? Particularly when you considered the awful possibility of getting stuck wearing The School Dickie.
Yes, you heard me right.
Let's say you came to school one morning rocking a cute little v-neck sweater. If even the teensiest bit of collarbone was exposed, it was Dickie city, sister. You were made to wear this:
Makeup was also forbidden until twelfth grade. During our first few years of high school, my friends and I spent a lot of our downtime during the weekends applying various cosmetics and snapping pictures of each other in our “post-makeover” states. You know, when we weren’t taking Seventeen quizzes, making mix tapes, and in my case, attempting to break the world record for largest number of hideous floral skirts owned by one girl. I present to you Cool Weekend Metalia, ready to take on anything with her fuchsia lipstick and EXTREME SIDE PART.
(Does it make it better or worse that I actually had a boyfriend at the time?)
And then there were the Pra--You know what? I was going to devote some time to the Prayer Monitors, but I don’t want to scare you, so I’ll just move on.
Don’t you go feeling TOO bad for me just because I had to dress modestly, refrain from wearing makeup to school and didn’t have a prom. My school still knew how to have a good time! Yes, many happy hours were spent at our school’s (mandatory) parties, thrown in honor of major Jewish holidays. Stale potato chips, streamers, and a bearded man with a Casio were fixtures at these events. He played traditional Jewish songs while we danced around in circles, holding hands. Now, I know what you’re thinking: A man? In a place of such modestly-attired girls? HOW COULD IT BE?
Fear not! He played the Casio in the corner of the room, safely hidden behind a curtain. And by “curtain” I mean “opaque vinyl shower curtain WITH DUCKS ON IT.” Don’t ask me why they couldn’t spring for a wooden divider of some sort, or even a regular fabric shower curtain, but the Modesty Duck Curtain was just one more of those weird things that seemed normal at the time.
Sadly, I don’t have a picture of the Modesty Duck Curtain, but here’s a shot of one of the parties. Just so you can see what it was like. I know it's a lot to ask, but just TRY to look past my lace vest and velvet scrunchie to see the bigger picture, okay?
Now that I’ve written this, I don't want you to think I harbor any ill will towards my high school,
or my religion at all. Really, I think I got a good education, all things considered, and--oh, man! Cool Weekend Metalia won't even LOOK at me!
C'mon, Cool Weekend Metalia! You know it's not like that!
I guess what I'm trying to say is that I don't want to seem as if I'm mocking my religion at all. Even though I don't practice everything that I was taught (particularly the "modest attire" thing...I need my jeans!), I am proud of what I do believe in, and I love it when people ask me questions about Judaism.
Therefore, to mitigate the image of the Modesty Duck Curtain that you no doubt now have embedded in your memory (I'd hate for that to be the association I'm leaving you with) as well as my guilt, please feel free to consider the floor open to any "Ask A Jew!"-type questions that you may have, and I'll answer them for you as best I can. If there are enough, I'll do a Q & A in the next post.