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A36 semgirl3

That night I ate dinner standing up and leaning over the sink in my suite’s kitchenette. They were serving baked potatoes and roasted vegetables in the cafeteria, but I was afraid to sit at a table with other girls right away, as if they might have some way of sensing that I had just accepted a date from an Arab. And I wanted to tell someone. I could picture my friend Yona’s face as I told her, and I knew she’d be embarrassed for me, would pity me for being so desperate, but that didn’t change how simple and strong the feeling of being wanted was. When I focused on it I could feel a little shame, but not enough, really, and that surprised me. I wanted myself to be stronger or smarter.

I took a mug of coffee to my first class the next day, where Rebbetzin Mizrachi, a small woman with birdlike features and a massively pregnant belly, led us through several pages of dense text. In the beginning of the year she had given a lecture comparing Midrash to icing on a cake. She said it bound all the layers of law and text together, and smoothed out areas that otherwise would be unattractive. Sometimes it could be too sweet for our taste, or we’d be frustrated by how much of it there was, but it was so important, so vital, that we needed to stay absolutely focused in her class. She would not tolerate daydreaming.

I sat in the second row and tried to take notes, but ended up emptying six packets of sugar into my mug, creating a white mountain of sweetness melting into the cold brown coffee.

After an hour we had a five minute break. As I closed my notebook, Rebbetzin Mizrachi, who had lowered herself into her desk chair, raised her eyebrows at me. “I’m sorry you’re having such a hard time paying attention.”

This was seminary code, and I understood it perfectly. Most of the other girls in the class were the sincere types who never missed a class, always buttoned their shirts to the top button, sewed up the slits to their skirts, and couldn’t wait for the days when they would be married to rabbis, pregnant, complaining about how itchy sheytls are. Their fingernails were French tipped, and their hair was silky and long. Their fathers were computer programmers and bankers and businessmen. They ran into their friends at the open market, and shrieked, “Rivki!” while hugging and kissing each other’s cheeks emphatically. Some of them vomited after every meal, and some of them were fat, and all of them had perfect rounded handwriting that they used to takes pages of notes for each class. Named Shoshi and Nomi and Tali, their clothes were always clean, and they smiled constantly in a way that made me sad. Rebbetzin Mizrachi loved those girls, and usually I made an effort to mimic them, but that morning I hadn’t been able to gather the necessary energy.

“I’ll be more focused for the rest of class,” I said, “I think I just need to go outside and get some fresh air for a minute.”

“Make sure that you’re back on time.” Rebbetzin Mizrachi flipped through some pages in her notebook.

I shuffled out of the classroom, and then reached into the pocket of my skirt, pulling out my cell phone as I headed for the front door. I hadn’t allowed myself to turn it on in the morning, too sure that a message from Sami would distract me, but it was obvious I was going to be distracted anyway. Pushing through the revolving doors and nodding at the Ethiopian security guard I stood on the front steps in the shade of a slightly stooping palm tree. For a minute I looked out at the bright street in front of me, gardens just beginning to send up warm shocks of tulips, adobe style houses glaring white in the sun, and an extra-long bus rumbling by, its accordion middle swaying. I pressed the power button on my phone, and then listened to a series of chimes before being informed that I had no new messages.

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Author of Jewrotica's Double Mitzvah column, Tamar Fox is a writer and editor in Philadelphia. She will try anything once, including open relationships, dating someone who is chalav yisrael, and going to Suriname.