Yeshiva Memories: Room Searches

Small clusters of students would stand huddled together to hear the latest bit of gossip from the front lines. Some would be sweating profusely, pacing back and forth wondering if their hiding spots for illegal contraband would thwart the Rabbis, beis medrish guys and spies planted within the underclassman’s ranks to seek out and discover the forbidden stuff brought into the dorm. Some students would result to that age old fear elixir called prayer, during these times you could always see someone shuckeling extra fast with fists raised to the air begging God to spare them their CD collections or cigarettes stuffed inside their toiletries bag, pounding extra hard for silach lanu was nice, but rarely ever worked to keep the snoopers at bay.

Most things would be found, confiscated and in the middle of English classes random students would be removed for further questioning, leading to shtender banging mussar talks about the evils of masturbation, secular music and smoking, school suspensions, kenasim (fines) and of course the dreaded expulsions which seemed to be a regular occurrence after the dreaded yeshiva room searches.

It always seemed to happen at times when we students actually needed to be in the dorm, like after shabbos when we had off and wanted to take the backyard for a game of basketball or to one of the several legal hangouts like the mall or bowling alley- as long as the girls school wasn’t at one of them that night. Instead we would all be dressed in our shabbos attire trying to peek into the stairwells where sentries were present usually wielding some sort of sefer and leaning on a portable shtender, that could be transferred to other stairwells if the crowds got to violent. We would try and garner small pieces of news from these unmovable guys hired to protect the identity of snitches and from seeing any contraband that was confiscated.

Folks who knew their days were numbered, would call home and already have reservations on the next train or plane home. They would kick themselves for being careless, because shabbos was definitely the time to lose track of thought in regards to keeping your contraband well hidden. The Rabbis went home and the dorm usually became a drunken free for all with stories of dodging Rabbis and meeting girls in Woodbourne for a night of Dougies and Kiamesha Lanes.

Then all of the sudden during one of the weekly musar shmuzim between shalosh suedos and maariv, someone would mention that a room search was about to go down, which made everyone switch their thoughts from the multiple sins they did according to whomever was speaking to hopes and prayers that they didn’t look in their cereal boxes or under the mattresses for dirty magazines.

Then as soon as it began it was over, the clusters dispersed and everyone ran upstairs to gauge the damage. Like Hurricane Katrina the damage was not always evident at first. Many folks forget what exactly they had that was not allowed in the first place. Was it a novel that had failed the “kosher novel test” that was shown to us on the first day of school during the assembly that all had to attend. To test a book, one would let the book open to any page, the Rabbis would say that most books would open to the most read page in the book, which was always some raunchy sex scene, and therefore pasul the book.

Then other folks would discover that their fool proof hiding spots were not fool proof at all. Like the multiple readily known porn magazine hiding spots, freezers, removable ceiling panels, cereal boxes, single pages folded and placed into pockets, shoes and other small areas, mattresses- under and inside ripped open pockets, gemaras, and behind radiators are all well known amongst folks in the yeshiva system.

Other folks would find a pile of broken CD’s and tapes, it was almost like a ransacked house search without a warrant. You know the movies when the couple comes home to find everything flipped over and broken, and cannot figure out if anything was actually removed. I always felt that way after room searches, though I was a pretty good boy in high school and never had anything too bad.

Then, like all environments in which men reside, came the victory stories. The stories of narrow escapes, and great hiding spots and tips of course. This was like the “after bar fight” in which both sides like to tell of their heroism.

There were always a few folks who were sleeping through the shmuz and were able to sense the inherent danger and remove questionable items to a safer location, usually a friendly beis medrish guy willing to borrow the item for a few hours. Then there were those that abandoned ship and just through the items out into the street in order to save them for later retrieval. Then there were always a couple Paul Reveres in the bunch who were able to get the word out to their close companions by signaling to the unknowing shmuz listeners that all hell was about to break loose upstairs, and they better come before it was too late. Then you have the guys, who slipped past the already expanding search party by claiming they had just woken up, and who had just placed large amounts of magazines, books, CD’s and possibly drugs in their pockets to find a better spot somewhere- that would not reveal the owner of the stash.

The next day always be interesting, sometimes you already knew some folks were goners based on the stack of luggage placed near the exit to the school. You had those folks who would negotiate a better deal and return, but many folks after being through many yeshivas would just become what most folks called “off the derech” even though reading pornography and listening to secular music is hardly so. Then you had the folks who for one reason or another gotten off without punishment, these were usually referred to as the folks who paid full tuition. This phenomena is an increasing in the yeshiva system, a system where rising prices have caused families to scramble for scholarships making the full tuition crowd highly sought after, even if it means trouble for the other students.

Have any stories about room searches in your yeshiva days? I would love to hear about them.