I sat down one day last week and wrote a 15 page piece which is the basis of a memoir I am writing about my Yeshiva years. I have a very good editor and collaborator (note that this is an unedited excerpt) and I have been writing, recording and getting chizuk from all sides- it shall be an interesting affair.
7:15am Wake Up –
wake up consisted of someone slamming open your door and screaming at you to get up, similar to the way they do during basic training for the army. Then this “wake up guy” an upper classman paid to wake you up and watch what time you made it to morning prayers, would turn on the worst music you could imagine without bass, and with the treble boosted all the way up, the guy would place this boombox at the intersection of the two hallways right next to the entrance to the bathroom, blaring the worst in Jewish big band (all Jewish music – no matter if it is rock or techno feel the need to mix it with a full brass band without bass) Imagine Duke Ellington and Marky Mark., this music would be blaring out of the shittiest sound system devoid of bass designed to make it uncomfortable for anyone to possibly stay in bed without earplugs. Plus you had to walk past it for your morning piss.
7:40am Shachris (morning prayers)
If you actually made it through wake up and got downstairs on time you were safe. You had to have your hat and jacket, and if you fell asleep which I promptly did upon arriving, a Rabbi was sure to come around and tell you about the sins that you were doing by sleeping during prayers with your tefillin on. I would then take off my tefillin and be told some other sin I was committing. It was never a win situation. Sometimes you could hide behind a shtender (lectern) and be safe from marauding rabbis for a short while.
8:30- 9:00am Mishna Berura Seder (Laws- derived from places we were too inexperienced to understand)
This was the worst class and the one most likely to be skipped, for if you left morning prayers early you could sleep from 8am until 9:40am which was when the main classes started.
9-9:10am Room Cleanup-
I never understood this because the rooms were never cleaned, it was impossible to do in ten minutes. This was also a time for quick room searches, just casual looks around the room would sometimes reveal things like secular CD’s and books that weren’t given the proper check.
Breakfast was almost the same every day. I mostly slept through it, they always served Cornflakes, warm white bread, milk and hardboiled eggs. Pretty much everyone had their own cereal, once in a blue moon they served this big vat of oatmeal, it wasn’t bad when you added raisins and sugar to it. Before the Yeshiva stopped “holding” of the local bakeries kosher certification, some enterprising young bucks sold bagels and cream cheese which saved some peoples days.
9:40-11:15am Gemara Shiur (Talmud Class)
I never liked Talmud, it was one of those things I never had a mind for, I like debates about things I could use. I just never thought much of arguing whether or not an ox that fell into a hole was on so and so’s property was his responsibility. I just felt it kind of useless to be sitting around wasting time telling stories of Rabbis telling stories. I would doodle and dream and hence after several years in Yeshiva they decided to make a remedial Talmud Class which was called Rucks Shiur which I termed the Dumb Shiur, we weren’t dumb by any means but many Rabbis feel the most important thing to spend a bulk of your on is Talmud and we just couldn’t handle that responsibility.
More Talmud and various boring events which made no impact on my life what so ever, besides for this being the time when two beautiful girls from across the street would sunbathe on their roof which was directly across from the Rosh Yeshivas shuir room and any room that happened to be above it. I remember one year I had a room directly above the shuir room and my room would be filled with guys trying to get a peek any way they could with the use of binoculars, video cameras and regular old squinting.
I think the fact I didn’t like cheesy items worked to my disadvantage because the government appeared to be very willing to sell us cheese, at least that’s where I think it came from, I didn’t like lunch, to make worse lunch was dolled out by this old cranky African American women with a disgusting plastic wig- she grossed me out and so I usually made my own lunch which was usually something along the lines of Oreos or a half pint of Ben and Jerry’s. Lunch was a great time for a nap or a stroll down the block.
1:45-2:15pm Chumash (bible class)
I found it ironic that we devoted so little time to studying the actual torah, I mean wasn’t this what everything was based on? Funny because out of all the stuff we studied this was the most interesting by far.
Sometimes at morning prayers a Rabbi would get up and announce that we were going to have a Schmooze that day during the Bible Class time. A schmooze was not a chance for us to meet the students from the girls’ school or to talk with Rabbis about what we were feeling. Nope, a schmooze was the exact opposite as it sounds, a schmooze was an ethics talk designed to help us improve our daily lives. As I recall these talks were pretty centered around several reoccurring themes. One of them was about how immoral secular society was and how we should not look at billboards or other pictures of naked women that people felt alright to place on advertisements for jeans and other evil substances, the second theme they liked to talk about was our lack of appreciation for what God has given us and how look what happened to the Jews throughout history for not realizing their gifts, they were killed, but now we just have holidays to celebrate their death and rebellions.
2:15-2:30pm Mincha (afternoon prayers)
2:30-3:00pm Hebrew Class
Hebrew was only required if you needed to pass the regents, funny that Yeshiva students traditionally study in Hebrew language all day yet get off the plane for their year after high school spent in Israel and know how to say two things in Hebrew “where are the bathrooms” and “I don’t speak Hebrew”.
3:00-6:20pm English Classes
I know what you’re thinking and hence the high poverty rates for ultra orthodox Jews. My school was actually pretty good, most of my fellow classmates went on to college and graduate school, but it definitely wasn’t emphasized as much as our non-hat wearing modern orthodox brethren. We had regents classes and non regents classes, upper classman also had night classes and in later years AP courses were offered when someone realized that bachelors degrees weren’t going to cut it anymore.
Dinner consisted of some interesting creations based on leftovers and what they had served over the Shabbat. Chicken Ala Kane was probably the worst, although I happen to be a firm believer that cholent should never be served after it cools off from lazy Shabbat afternoons spent congealing in the crock pot. Chicken wings were funny because people would have contests as to who could get their pile hire. Throughout the years different business sprang up to sell different more edible foods at suppertime including a canteen in my first year and something called “Lackeys Deli” which was a homegrown operation that sold you three pieces of empire lunchmeat on a Kaiser role with some dole iceberg lettuce for a few bucks.
After Dinner until 9:00pm
This was the free time portion of our days, you could do mostly as you pleased. I would ride my bike, go ice skating, hit up the mall or take walks around the city, during snow weather you could go sledding, but I never ran out of things to do, the Yeshiva was in a pretty central location and although kids from Brooklyn tended to complain about entertainment it was really their way of saying that the only thing orthodox Jews in Brooklyn actually did was eat kosher pizza and Rochester didn’t have any kosher restaurants at all.
9:00pm- 9:45pm Night Seder (as if 3 hours of talmud weren’t enough)
At this point I figure someone may be calling child services. Weren’t Lewis Hine and Upton Sinclair responsible for the passing of the child labor acts of the 1920s? Well if he were to see 13 year old boys on such a schedule I am sure a Jungle type book on the Yeshiva system would have been born.
Depending on what day it was we would have evening prayers at an earlier or later time and we would have Talmud class review or we would have Talmud class study with a classmate known as chavrusa- this was basically a time to shoot the shit and run around the made room and talk to everyone, most people didn’t actually do any studying.
10:00pm End of the day
10:30-11:00pm Curfew Lights Out
Curfew started at 10:30 and lasted until 11:00 and it went in ten minute increments depending on your year. Some dorm counselors were nice enough to let you go out after curfew. We had this one guy who would let a few of us go out late at night to the local lake and clear it off for ice hockey purposes, sometimes we went sledding late at night. During big snowstorms we would run around the middle of street and have snowball fights.