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On Boredom

            One of the most painful things I can hear from my students is “I’m bored.” I can work with “I don’t understand,” or “I don’t like to draw/read/write/sing/play.” But “I’m bored” feels like a condemnation of my ability to be the fun teacher.

            And I hear it all the time.

“That means you’re boring.”

            So, okay, that’s clearly one of my own issues. I want to be loved. I want to be the favorite. I want to be the teacher everyone thinks back on as the best, most insightful, blah blah blah. And I do need to work on that.

            But there might also be something going on with the students, something I need to help them work on. Because, first of all, walking into the class and saying “I’m bored,” as if the teacher is supposed to keep you entertained from the word go, with never a blank moment, is just not possible, let alone good for you.

            Some people say that kids have become more entitled, more used to having things done for them and given to them, and more used to having access to passive entertainment and whole worlds of TV and video to keep them from being bored. But I’m wondering if there’s more to it.

            I wonder if, for some of the kids, “I’m bored” means, I really need to be distracted from the low grade depression and anxiety that I live with on a daily basis, because I don’t see it letting up anytime soon. Or, I need you to keep me entertained because I feel under-loved and I equate your constant attention and energy with love. Or, what I really am is tired, overwhelmed, hungry, sad, or lonely – but no one responds when I say those things.

I remember being bored as a kid. I remember sitting in my bedroom on the weekends and not knowing how to fill my time when I didn’t have homework or a play date or something to read or something to watch on TV. We didn’t have smartphones and 24 hour TV and internet back then, so I really was left to my own devices if Mom was busy (and she was always busy keeping those plates spinning).

“Is plate spinning fun?

            But looking back, I was a kid with a lot of internal resources and interests, so it’s unlikely that I was legitimately bored. I was much more likely to be depressed, lonely, sad, angry, frightened, hurt, etc. I just assumed that the name for my problem was boredom. I would gladly do math homework or read social studies or do chores around the house, just to avoid having to sit with my own feelings for long enough to feel bad.

            And then, when I first started going to a commuter school for college, my classes were all packed into two days a week, because I couldn’t drive so I had to be dropped off in the morning and picked up at night, and I had classes starting at nine in the morning and ending at five or six at night, except, there was an hour and a half break in the afternoon with nothing to do and nowhere to go. If I’d been at home during that hour and a half it would have been fine; I could read, or exercise, or watch TV, or do my homework, or go for a walk, or whatever. But trapped on campus, in full view of other people, I could barely concentrate and I felt like there was a video camera on me at all times, judging my use of time, my personality, my outfit, my food intake, and on and on and on. That’s what I think of when I think of boredom: that overwhelmed state where I think I need to be accomplishing everything at once, and yet I can’t concentrate for five seconds at a time. But I don’t know if that’s what the kids are feeling.

Sometimes when my students say they’re bored, I think what they mean is that they resent having to be at synagogue school, and I know this because when I ask what they’d rather be doing they say, sitting in front of the TV at home, with the dog, eating pizza. And I wonder if what they’re actually saying is that they feel overstimulated and need a break from being productive and social. School, by its very nature, requires them to be both.

            Or maybe some of my students are bored because they really do need more of a challenge, or because they need activities that are better tailored to their specific abilities and interests, or because they need more structure and guidance from me. I don’t want to assume that I’m not at fault. But sometimes I have to accept that the task we are working on in class may be less exciting than they want it to be, but is still necessary. There are certain prayers they need to learn, and lessons from the Hebrew Bible, and that just may not be something they value at this point in their lives.

“I’m shocked.”

            I keep reminding myself that just because boredom was a sign of toxic things in my own childhood, that’s not necessarily true for my students. A little bit of boredom can be a spur to creativity, or at the very least be a manageable annoyance. But I feel bad when they seem bored, or distracted, or annoyed by what we’re doing in class, and it doesn’t feel safe to just let it go and assume it’s healthy or manageable boredom when it could be a sign that they are in pain or that I am failing them as a teacher.

            I remember, years ago, when my cousin’s son came to visit from France with his grandmother. He was five years old and learning English but still very French. We were sitting at a table full of adults and even though there was another child there, he was barely two years old and sitting at the other end of the table. And then there was me. I was twenty-three years old and not sure where I fit in. The five year old was sitting next to me and at one point he mumbled something under his breath in French that I couldn’t quite hear and I asked him to repeat it, because I was curious, and because I wanted to see if I could understand his French, but then he told me, louder, and in English, that he was bored. Immediately, his grandmother, sitting across form us, corrected him, saying that in French the term is reflexive, which is more correct, because you make yourself bored. And I got really annoyed and said, no, he’s bored because he’s five years old and sitting at a table full of adults speaking in a foreign language, talking about things he doesn’t understand or care about, and he needs something age-appropriate to do so he can feel engaged. I hope I said it a little less aggressively than that, but I was remembering so many times when my needs had been ignored, and it just pressed my buttons. And then, of course, I was volunteered to take him, and the toddler, into the living room to find toys to play with. The five year old, of course, complained that what he really wanted was to watch TV, and not to play with some baby, but at least he was smiling when he said it, and he wasn’t complaining about being bored anymore.

            That experience taught me that sometimes boredom is about not feeling heard, and not feeling like you are being taken into account, and I try to keep that in mind with my students. But it’s hard to balance everyone’s feelings at once, especially when most of them start out angry that they have to be at synagogue school in the first place, and nothing I say can convince them that learning Hebrew is more fun than watching TV and playing with their dog while eating pizza. Weird.

“We want pizza too.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

Waiting for the Vaccine

            Last weekend, my boss sent out a text to all of the teachers in the synagogue school with a phone number to call in order to get on the waiting list for the Covid vaccine in our area. The peer pressure to call right away was enormous, with all of the dings on my phone as texts came in from other teachers who’d been on hold for fifty minutes, fifty-five minutes, seventy minutes…

“Can we go for our walk first?”

            I put it off for a little while, because I was busy doing something else, and because I hate making phone calls, and waiting on hold brings up all of my social anxiety because I’m afraid I’ll forget what I called to say by the time someone finally answers. But I finally did it. I sat on hold for eighty minutes, getting other work done that didn’t require too much attention, keeping a notebook close by to remind me what information I meant to convey and why I was even calling to begin with.


            I felt awkward when I finally got through, because I always feel awkward on the phone. I’m afraid I’m going to misunderstand the questions asked of me, or lie unintentionally, or get myself in trouble in some way. My biggest fear with this particular call was that, as an after school Hebrew teacher, I shouldn’t really be identifying myself as a teacher, because I’m not all that essential, even though I do teach kids in person once a week, just not every day.

            I ended up chatting with the operator, a mom from Florida with a seven year old son in virtual classes, for ten minutes. She told me about her son’s second grade teacher, who had also taught her two older kids, and usually decorated the classroom but this year she couldn’t, but she’d managed to adapt to teaching online and she is saving my life. I asked if she could put my mother on the waiting list too, because Mom is over seventy-five and therefore also in group 1B, and she asked if my mom has any pre-existing conditions, other than boredom. I told her that Mom is busier than I am, with all of her Zoom groups, and that my great aunt (105 years old) is keeping busy too, but she just got her appointment, and the operator said that once this is over we should all go on a cruise to celebrate, because it’s been such a trying time for the older people who haven’t been able to hang with their girls all year. Then she told me about a time she went to the store and suddenly felt naked, and realized she’d forgotten her mask in the car.

            Basically, I made a new friend. And I was proud of myself for having done the grown up thing, the responsible thing, and signed me and Mom up on the waiting list for the vaccine. I was so relieved and proud of myself that I actually felt like I deserved my three hour nap in the aftermath (usually I still take the nap, but I feel guilty about it).

“Naps are ALWAYS good.”

            By Monday, though, the teacher text chain was buzzing again. Individual teachers had found different websites where you could actually make appointments to get the vaccine. Try here! No, try here! But hurry! Hurry!

            But, what was my ninety minute ordeal for over the weekend? What about my big grown up accomplishment? Was I really supposed to sign up in a whole new location? Then someone texted that we’d need proof that we’re teachers, and would our paystubs be enough? I hadn’t even thought about that.

            The dings from the texts just kept coming, so I went to one of the websites, but when it asked if I was a teacher it specifically asked, are you a P-12 teacher or do you work in a school district, and I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to answer. There was no option for after school Hebrew school, and I knew I didn’t work in a school district, but did I qualify as a P-12 teacher? I had no idea.

            I was so afraid of getting into trouble that I didn’t finish the form, even though the website link had been sent by my boss, who certainly knows what kind of teachers we are. I was afraid of jumping ahead in line before it was really my turn. And I was afraid of getting an appointment at a distant vaccination site and finally getting there and handing over my pay stub and being told, in front of the real essential workers, that I was a fraud.

            But I also felt guilty for NOT pushing to get the vaccine appointment, because I was failing in my duty to be a responsible adult and get vaccinated as soon as possible, to protect my students and fellow teachers, and Mom, and everyone I come in contact with.

“Am I going to get sick too?”
“Don’t be silly.”

            Once Mom woke up from her nap, I told her about the website and the question that tripped me up and she said, Duh, of course you’re a P-12 teacher. Well, she probably didn’t say “Duh,” but I heard it anyway.

            A few hours later I got an email from the original waiting list, telling me where to go to make an appointment (a different website than either of the ones mentioned on the text thread), but all of the appointments were taken and I was told to keep checking in case new appointments were added.

            It’s not clear to me why this is being run as survival of the fittest (or most persistent), rather than genuinely being organized by the priorities already set in place. Why are there still health care workers who haven’t been vaccinated yet? Why was the age range lowered to sixty-five, rather than seventy-five, at the last minute, if we’re still so low on doses and appointments? Will the list of people who end up with appointments even resemble the original priorities stated by the CDC? Or will it prioritize the people with the right contacts or the most patience, and free time, to sit on hold?

            I’m told that in other states, where they’re struggling to convince people to take the vaccine at all, you can just walk in at the last minute without an appointment. I’ve also heard that only five hundreds doses were sent to Long Island to begin with, which would explain why it’s so hard to get an appointment out here in the first place.

            Meanwhile, the reports on Covid cases and Covid deaths are now in horror movie range, with over four thousand deaths in one day, and hospitalizations continue to rise so that in a few weeks the four thousand a day number will seem miniscule.

            And people are still refusing to wear masks in crowded indoor spaces (Congress people?! Police officers?!) And there are new, more contagious Covid variants, and forget about the insurrection at the Capitol building, and constant threats of more violence there and at state capitols across the country.

            Why can’t I just hide in my room until it’s over? My fellow teachers keep ding ding dinging with new vaccine locations, and cancelled appointments, and my email and Facebook feed are full of the hurry hurry hurry, but I’m not up to fighting for my spot in line. Except, I’m worried that, the way things are going, we will all be infected with the latest Covid variant which will inevitably make us into zombies, all before we get enough doses of vaccine on the Island. But that’s crazy, right? I mean, we’ll all be fine. Right?

“Uh oh.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

Miss Lichtman


Miss Lichtman’s hair was dark blond and curly in a way that her wig would never be. She’d have to settle for a coarse, honey colored sheitel that fooled nobody, so for now, in her last days as a single woman, she was vain about her curls. I imagined her standing in front of the bathroom mirror in the Brooklyn apartment she shared with two other orthodox Jewish girls. She’d spend hours wrapping the curls around her ring finger, just to feel the hair as much as she could before she had to shave most of it off.


Miss Lichtman looked sort of like Cricket’s old friend Coco, but, you know, human.

I envied those curls. My hair was stick straight, bangs rubbing between my eyelashes. I wanted to be thin like her too, no hips. Everyone liked her, even the cool girls, even the girls who were Born Frum, born into religious families, unlike me. Miss Lichtman played basketball with the senior girls and giggled with the sophomores after class. I was too young to giggle with her, at twelve.

She was twenty-four years old and had gone on too many shidduch dates before deciding on the right man to marry. How else explain being 24 – so old! – and unmarried and still teaching Jewish Law to teenage girls.

I sat in the back of her class and listened to the list of rules I was supposed to live by, the rules she seemed to take in stride as if it were not humiliating to have to shave your head and wear a wig, as if it were not intolerable that boys had to do no such thing. And then I was crying. I cried quite a lot at home, but usually not in school, and definitely not at my desk where people could see me.

But Miss Lichtman could see me. She stood in front of the blackboard in her modest blouse that covered her elbows and collarbone, and her knee length skirt that cinched at the waist, and she raised her eyebrows and finger waved me outside. I followed, with my head down, and leaned into the brick wall while she stared at me.

I probably told her that I was having trouble with my best friend, who wasn’t talking to me that week. I could have safely told her that I hated school, and didn’t fit in with the other girls, and didn’t like most of my teachers, except for her, of course, which would have made her roll her eyes. But I couldn’t tell her the truth. She stayed with me for most of her next class, offering me her phone number and asking if I’d like to visit her brother’s house for Shabbos. She knew something was wrong and she stared through the back of my throat as if she could see the words piling up there.


Butterfly has lots of words piled up in there too.

And then she cuffed my shoulder and told me to go back to class, and pushed her curious sophomores back into their classroom down the hall, and disappeared with them.

Our school provided a bus to take all of the interested girls to go to her wedding. It was awful to see my teacher all in white and looking terrified and not like herself. It wasn’t an arranged marriage or something she was being forced into, and most likely it was exactly the life she wanted for herself, but I was devastated. And then she disappeared altogether. From school. From New York. To Israel and her life and her husband and her own children.

Cricket has certain people who imprinted on her from her puppy year, especially a neighbor she hadn’t seen for years, who happened to be on the boardwalk at the beach one day. Cricket recognized her from thirty feet away and tried to break my hand pulling at the leash to get to her, long before I ever saw or recognized her in the distance, or remembered her name.





I took each of my teachers so personally that their limitations and flaws broke my heart, or enraged me, but even their smallest kindnesses stayed with me for years.

If I saw Miss Lichtman today, she’d be in her fifties, and wearing a wig, with who knows how many children, and maybe grandchildren too by now, but I’d still recognize her voice, or the rhythm of her speech, I think. I hope.

puppy in the leaves

“Do you remember me?”