For One Orthodox Teen, Writing Letters to a Boy Changed Everything

Leah Vincent Wasn't the First From her Family To 'Break Out'

thinkstock

By Leah Vincent

Published January 27, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(JTA) — The call came one evening in August. I was in Jerusalem staying with my oldest sister, Goldy, for the summer.

“It’s for you,” Goldy shouted from the kitchen. “Aunt Fraidy!”

Aunt Fraidy had been my host in my last year of high school. My parents, concerned about the influence of my modern Orthodox classmates in our hometown of Pittsburgh, had sent me to live with my aunt’s family in Manchester, the ultra-Orthodox environment that matched my parents’ yeshivish strict values.

“Leah?” Aunt Fraidy said.

“Yes?” I answered.

“We just received a call from Mrs. Kohn. She was cleaning house and found some papers she thought we should know about.”

Papers? I thought. What papers had my best friend’s mother found?

“Your letters,” Aunt Fraidy said, “to her son, Naftali.”

There was a tightening in my chest. It was hard to breathe. I had bared my soul in those secret letters to my best friend’s older brother asking Naftali what basis he had to claim that college was permissible and how his perspective on Israel, as a modern Orthodox Jew, varied from the ultra-Orthodox yeshivish view with which I was raised, and revealing, in my eager interrogation of his favorite holidays and hobbies and music, my unabashed interest in him.

The letters were a sin punishable by God, but no one else. Jewish law forbade reading other people’s letters. It was humiliating to be so exposed. It was infuriating to be held accountable for my transgressions by people who were breaking the law at the same time.

“We are flabbergasted, Leah,” Aunt Fraidy said. “Writing letters to a boy? We tried extremely hard to make you feel welcome. How do you expect my daughters to get a good match if people know they have a cousin running around with boys? You’re poisoning our family’s reputation. We don’t want you here in Manchester Seminary in the fall. We can’t have our name associated with a person who does such things.”

Her voice rose to a high-pitched shriek.

“Did you consider the effect of your actions? Did you think about how much shame you would bring to your parents?” she asked.

I dropped the phone and pushed past my sister, heading for the door, tears streaming down my cheeks. Gossip spread fast in our community. If my aunt knew about my letters to Naftali, every matchmaker in the world knew about them, too. A girl who talked with boys was inferior to a girl who never had. And I had planned on going to Manchester Seminary my whole life. If I couldn’t go there, I couldn’t go anywhere. All the other seminaries would quickly mine our close-knit information network to learn that they didn’t want a girl like me.


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!
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • 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.