I'm a sucker for nostalgia and went to an unofficial 15-year high school (Modern Orthodox, co-ed) reunion last night. Probably less than a third of the grade showed up, but I had a great time. Here are some random thoughts running through my head that I probably should keep to myself but lack that kind of discretion.
I remember saying that when you have friends whom you haven't seen in years, you're getting old. At this point, I have friends whom I saw after not having seen for years and then again did not see for years.
Too many people were kvetching about how tired and worn out they are (myself included). It's not old-age; it's lack of exercise. Get to a gym every once in a while and you won't feel that way.
People outgrow their dorkiness (myself excluded). I was surprised how everyone who showed up was much more well-adjusted then we were in high school, although I guess I shouldn't be. One guy, whom I love dearly and have known since we were 10 (and have not seen in years!) but Lord help him he was as much of a nerd as I was (he held the record for shoving the most cans of breakfast juice into his locker until the locker literally could not be opened), showed up with his beautiful wife and pictures of his adorable kids. Others blossomed similarly and seem to be doing great. Although there might have been some selection in the sample of who showed up.
Some people found themselves. The girl on whom I had a crush for most of elementary school (and whom I haven't seen since high school graduation) is a professional artist. One woman could not stop talking about how much she loves her out-of-town frum community (I saw her once since graduation in a pizza store). One guy who did not attend, and who was one of the wildest and craziest guys in school (oh, the stories!), is now reportedly frum and offering free plastic surgery (he's a plastic surgeon) to Jews who marry within the faith. Another guy who didn't show up is having his second screenplay made into a movie (starring Meryl Streep). One rabbi (a real rabbi, not like me) and one rebbetzin (other than the aforementioned rabbi's wife) showed up. Probably the smartest guy in the grade, who I thought would definitely go into a science or math related field, is a professor of Yiddish literature. Bizarre but kind of cool (I'd like to put him in the paragraph of people who outgrew their dorkiness but let's face it, his specialty is Yiddish literature).
Fewer yarmulkas than I expected. I mean, come on, just put one on for the reunion. There were also fewer sleeves on women than I would have expected. But that just might be my having lived in Brooklyn for so long. Thinking about it, there were only a few frumkeit surprises (me being one of them). Religious-wise, most people are pretty much where you would have expected them to be. Granted, the sample is skewed because most of the frummies live in Israel, including most of the "klei kodesh" (teachers, rabbis, talmidot hakham[ot?]*, etc.). And people who went way off the path might have been embarrased to come, which, in my opinion, is a shame. The only female rabbi from our grade didn't come, which is also a shame, because we were good friends once upon a time and I would have liked to see her (it was no shock at all that she became a rabbi).
No surprise here -- I'm terrible with names. There are some people whose names I just could not remember. I made a point of starting conversations by telling people my name so no one would be in that awkward position of saying, "Who are you exactly?" Unfortunately, not everyone was as kind in return. We played a few rounds of "What was his/her name?" about people who didn't show up, especially those who responded that they weren't coming and we had no idea who they were.
Only one guy claimed to be unable to recognize me. After I told him my name and he absorbed the shock of my semi-Haredi attire, he gave me a big hug (he's doing great and his wife is expecting their first child). And, of course, kudos to the woman who said that she didn't notice my lack of hair (I think I was the second baldest in the room, but a distant second). As usual, I forgot to bring an updated picture of my family and only had my 11-year old wedding picture and a 4-year old picture of my kids.
Someone pointed out that in a comment on my blog, I once wrote that my high school was a kiruv school. Evidently, he found that surprising. As I drove home last night, I wondered whether the school was a failure or a success in kiruv. You can point to individuals as either failures or successes, but overall, how did the school fare? Was my grade a net gain to Judaism or a net loss? It seems to me that it was an umitigated success. Aside from my unsubstantiated belief that more people became frum than the opposite, just about everyone there is much more Jewishly aware than had they gone to a public or prep school. If you define success as something less than becoming fully observant, which I think you must, then my gut feeling is that most of the grade is better off religiously than they would have otherwise been. I can think of one fellow who keeps a kosher home and attends a Conservative synagogue regularly. I knew him before high school and, had it not been for the school, he'd be a once-a-year Jew at most. Others are dating/married to Jews because of their experience. Not to mention more than a few who are teaching in yeshivas themselves. The ones who started out non-frum might not be frum now, but they are frummer. Granted, some went the other way. Some of them, unfortunately, due largely to their experiences in high school. That place is certainly not perfect. But I'd still call it a success.
* OK, I've decided that since this is a difference between Mishnaic and Modern Hebrew, it should be either talmidos hakhamos or talmidot chacham.
FURTHER UPDATE: Whatever