One Hasidic Housewife's Inspiring — and Unusual — Journey to College and Beyond

From Satmar to Sarah Lawrence

courtesy of frimet goldberger

By Frimet Goldberger

Published January 09, 2014, issue of January 10, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 3 of 4)

I knew I was capable of accomplishing more in life outside the confines of my modest kitchen; I had aspirations I could not quite name, or understand. And so, in September 2009, I walked into the registrar’s office at Rockland Community College armed with my useless high school diploma, a rusty brain and deeply bruised self-esteem.

The college scene did not bode well for me. I felt like an old prude who was witnessing salaciousness at the highest degree. These were young, fresh-out-of-high-school teenagers with hardly a care in the world. There were many moments of culture shock and complete befuddlement during those first few months.

I eventually found my niche, thanks in large part to the many Orthodox individuals roaming the halls of the college, located next to the hub of Orthodoxy: Monsey. But I struggled tremendously in that first year. Despite hiring a tutor over the summer to help me with basic math so that I could pass the placement exam, I was still placed in a remedial class, and even the basic concepts of algebra were foreign. Writing my first essay was excruciating — up there with giving birth to my two children. I remember the agony as I struggled to form a coherent paragraph, putting my Yinglish thoughts into an English paper. My best friend, a closeted Hasidic blogger, rewrote, err, edited that first essay for me.

I grew by leaps and bounds that first year, as did my self-confidence. I worked so hard, spending many late nights writing papers and wracking my brain over math problems. In my second semester, an eccentric psychology professor encouraged me to talk to the administrators at the college’s honors program. Since I was so surprised at his suggestion that I — a simple wife and mother who grew up on Satmar Drive and was famous for the best meringues in Kiryas Joel — was capable of being included in the program, I immediately declined. But he did not give up on me, and I eventually enrolled in the program, which would carry me through to Sarah Lawrence.

In the fall of 2012, a few months before I graduated with highest honors from Rockland Community College, I received my acceptance letter from four colleges, all in close proximity to my home. Sarah Lawrence was one of them. From the day I discussed writing courses with my then-close friend, Deborah Feldman — who has since published a sensationalist memoir, “Unorthodox” — to the day my best friend, another woman, was accepted to Sarah Lawrence’s graduate history program, I knew I fit right in with the misfits. The generous scholarship that accompanied the acceptance letter made the offer irresistible.

On my first visit to the Sarah Lawrence campus one frigid Monday morning in October 2011, the first person I saw when I rolled down my window to inquire about parking was a butch woman with more piercings than I could count on my fingers. On that first walk through campus, I discovered a female population for whom long, bohemian skirts were fashionable, not the jeans I coveted and wished to wear. I discovered a group of young adults whose behavior and manner of dress seemed so out of place in little suburbia. They were colorful, confident, liberal and mostly brilliant.

In no time, I fell in love with the unique pedagogy at Sarah Lawrence and its respect for all comers. I found my niche, alongside the bright and fully pierced Sally and the sweet, neon nail-polish sporting John. I discovered my passion for radio and my love for storytelling, writing and Jewish studies. I even delved back into my people’s past, researching Satmar history as my most significant undergraduate project.

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • This 007 hates guns, drives a Prius, and oh yeah — goes to shul with Scarlett Johansson's dad.
  • Meet Alvin Wong. He's the happiest man in America — and an observant Jew. The key to happiness? "Humility."
  • "My first bra was a training bra, a sports bra that gave the illusion of a flat chest."
  • "If the people of Rwanda can heal their broken hearts and accept the Other as human, so can we."
  • Aribert Heim, the "Butcher of Mauthausen," died a free man. How did he escape justice?
  • This guy skipped out on seder at his mom's and won a $1 million in a poker tournament. Worth it?
  • Sigal Samuel's family amulet isn't just rumored to have magical powers. It's also a symbol of how Jewish and Indian rituals became intertwined over the centuries. Only three days left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.