Why I Wish I'd Had a High School Prom

For Hasidic Girls, Secular Milestones Seem Larger Than Life

Slow Dance: Teenagers dance at a prom in New Orleans in 2006
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Slow Dance: Teenagers dance at a prom in New Orleans in 2006

By Frimet Goldberger

Published June 02, 2014, issue of June 06, 2014.
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Sparkly gowns, heels, corsages, suits, ties, teenage pimples. Why yes, I’m talking about the high school prom — that quintessentially American rite of passage.

Like many other Jewish girls who attended yeshivas or all-girls schools, my knowledge of proms is secondhand. I know about the gowns and heels and ties and Jewish nerds who take to YouTube to invite super models to be their date (like California high schooler Jake Davidson did with model Kate Upton) — but I never experienced it myself.

Recently, though, I had the honor of observing a real prom in action, sans Kate Upton. A few girlfriends and I took a trip to Atlantic City for the weekend to celebrate our graduations from college. (After leaving the Hasidic community, I finally graduated college at age 28.)

We stayed in the Sheraton Convention Center — a hot spot for local high school proms. Entering the lobby on our way back from the beach, we observed a procession of glitz and glamour: pretty young ladies shimmying up the stairs in their sparkly gowns holding hands with their dates, while the single girls — there were no single boys, who must be a commodity in that school — trudged behind, looking just as glamorous but perhaps not so confident.

My friends and I hung out on a couch in the lobby, which served as front row seats to watch a woman who must have been the school principal snap pictures of the princes and princesses. We oohed and aahed and passed judgment on the girls who strolled past us wearing little material to cover their birthday suits. When the principal politely asked us to take a photo so she could be in it, we eagerly jumped up but then realized we had to decline because it was the Sabbath. We later apologized profusely and explained why we declined. But I won’t bore you with those details.

I wasn’t feeling envious, not a bit. Okay, maybe slightly envious of the life ahead of these young people and of that one young lady who looked like the love child of Daniel Craig and Jennifer Lawrence. What I felt, mainly, was regret. Amid the brouhaha, I wished I had experienced a celebration of my own entry into adulthood.

Most Jewish girls, like their male counterparts, celebrate the age of maturity, at which point they are obligated by Jewish law to perform God’s mitzvahs, by becoming bat mitzvah.


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