by Moshe Schulman, Tablet Magazine
It was a cold and windy December night in 2004, when four teenage girls walked into Jerusalem Pizza, a kosher pizzeria where I was working in the heart of Monsey, N.Y.
When the girls took off their coats and settled into a booth, I noticed three of them wearing the strict uniforms of Bais Yaakov of Monsey, an Orthodox girls’ school: dark flats, high black socks, pleated skirts three inches below the knee, and blue button-down shirts. The fourth girl, however, her blond hair in a ponytail, wore sneakers, short white socks, a denim skirt an inch above her knee, and a light blue top that said “FBI.”
Growing up in Monsey’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, I was taught from a young age that it was forbidden to look at, touch, or talk with girls. Looking, touching, and talking would be acceptable only when I was married, my rabbis said. The summer before, my parents had had a loud and chaotic divorce, and I had switched from Mesivta of North Jersey (my yeshiva) to East Ramapo High School. I was 16, and it was my first time attending public school, the first time in my life rabbis weren’t telling me what I could eat and wear, or whom I could talk to. But I still didn’t know how to do the things kids in public school seemed to have been trained to do all their lives: order a sandwich in the cafeteria, change in the locker room for gym class, or talk to girls.
I couldn’t take my eyes off of the girl in the FBI shirt, while she ate her pizza. I wondered why she was wearing a shirt that said FBI. But I hoped that her secular clothes meant that she had left the fold, too. She had crystal-blue eyes and a beautiful smile. I wondered if this was love. I had learned the word “love” six years earlier, when my grandmother yelled at me for signing a letter I wrote to her, “Sincerely, Moshe.” I didn’t understand why that upset her. Growing up, my parents and seven siblings didn’t hug me or use the word “love.” Instead, they yelled and hit. To feel warmth, I wore layers upon layers of clothing or lay down on the carpet where the sun was shining.
The next night, as I was closing the restaurant, the phone rang.
“My friend who was there last night likes you,” a girl told me.
“Really?” I answered skeptically.
“The one wearing the FBI shirt.”
“OK, put her on,” I said calmly, but my heart was pounding.
I asked the FBI girl to give me her phone number, so I could call her back when I got home. After we hung up, I pumped my fist and yelled “Yes!” into the empty restaurant.
When I called her from home later that night, she told me that FBI stood for Fabulous, Beautiful, and Intelligent. She said it was an old shirt she bought at the mall. I told her I liked it. She was a senior at Bais Yaakov of Monsey, she said, but she hated the uniform, all the people, and her parents.
“I think you’re really cute,” she said.
“Thank you. I think you’re really cute, too. And fabulous, beautiful, and intelligent.”
She asked me what my favorite color was. No one had ever asked me that before. I thought about her denim skirt and light blue shirt and answered, “Blue.”
It was late when we hung up, but I couldn’t fall asleep. I wanted to stay up all night and talk with her.
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