Shouting Doesn’t Have to Mean a Sore Throat

Stock image of a woman speaking into a megaphone. (Courtesy of svgsilh.com)

Once a year, my school hosts an overnight called the Shabbaton. The overnight starts once school ends on Friday and goes until Havdalah on Saturday night, hence the name. The program is a grade-wide activity, and in a high school, you might expect that a forced sleepover would feel just that, forced. However, my grade in particular loves the Shabbatons. We go crazy for Shabbos dinner and the babka at the late night tish. Students can’t wait to eat muffins and cereal between Shacharit and the Torah readings. While there is no food at Havdalah, the words to Ana BeKoach shake the whole cafeteria as we sing it to the tune of The Beatles’ Twist and Shout.

In fewer words: My grade loves the annual Shabbaton. Sadly, as seniors, this year’s will be our last. We fully intended to make our last overnight together the best experience with even higher expectations. On the Friday of the Shabbaton, excitement practically crackled like lightning around every senior I passed in the hallway.

Still, between screams of anticipation, there were whispers of concern that weather would make the administration postpone the Shabbaton. Since many seniors drive themselves to school, the concern was that the school didn’t want to let seniors drive back home on snowy roads.

Students kept trying to minimize the predictions: The snow is only supposed to fall at half an inch an hour, the plows could handle it. However, it felt like the school officials were intentionally finding the opposite forecasts, pointing to the increases in the predictions: Two inches jumping to six inches, what’s next? As both sides used “snow science” and snowday calculator to prove their points, it became an absurd reversal of roles. Teachers adamantly trying to send us away; students desperately begging to stay at school.

The heads of school had to decide what to email parents by noon. Our school dean gathered our grade together and broke the news to us that the Shabbaton would be cancelled; that they had already sent the email without telling us; that they had already made the decision; that we were not included in that decision.

It was at that exact moment that the rest of my classmates exploded into a roar of indignation and complaints. However, it wasn’t until a faculty member told us we couldn’t speak until they were done talking that my blood began to boil. I was upset about the Shabbaton. More than just upset, I felt cheated out of one of my favorite school traditions. But more than anything, I was upset that the school was taking it away from me without letting me fight.

I imagined the hand of the administration swiping through the air, stealing our voices like the Gentlemen in the Buffy episode Hush. Why did the school get to make a decision that meant so much to us without consulting any of us in the process? We were constantly reminded that, as seniors, we were the most mature. We were the students that lead the way for everyone else. We were told that our opinions mattered, and yet in the instant that the school had to make a real decision, we were told that this was a decision for the adults.

I saw hypocrisy in their actions, even if the school didn’t. Other seniors saw it too. We had been lied to. A friend and I decided to find the administrator that had made the final call to cancel the Shabbaton. As we stormed through the hallways, we were joined by other pairs and trios of seniors that had all had the same idea. By the time we found the person in charge of the Shabbaton, ten of us stood before the enemy.

We were an army. Soldiers each primed and ready to launch their attack: their argument. One senior would say the snow wasn’t enough of an issue. Another would pick up the thread offering a solution, asylum in nearby houses, if a snowstorm did take place. Then another outlined the consequences of cancelling the Shabbaton: Seniors would be left alone at home that night because their parents had made other plans. We were strategists. The school had spent four years teaching us how to form an argument, and we were using their lessons against them.

However, somewhere in the righteous cloud, I began to waver. After ten minutes of desperate debating, my will was waning. The effort I put into arguing didn’t feel worth the fight. For a split second, I thought maybe it isn’t so bad to cancel the Shabbaton. That second was all it took for me to wake up.

We were making good arguments, but we weren’t an army. This wasn’t a war. We weren’t arguing against the school, the system, the greater evils of the world. We were arguing with a Rabbi that taught most of us Jewish Studies freshman year. And he was just as upset as we were. His arguments weren’t carefully crafted onslaughts and pointed attacks. His argument was just reasonably that the snow may not be safe. He said so with disappointment and sympathy lighting his eyes.

And here we were, still fuming our gospel, shouting our rights, hearing our own voices.  

Here I was.

I didn’t want to see reason. I wanted to believe I was a heroine in a story, fighting the man. I told myself an epic tale of villains and clever words and battles for good. But this situation wasn’t good versus evil. I wasn’t a revolutionary. And most of the time, the people that think of themselves as perfect heroes aren’t heroes at all.

While at the time I couldn’t admit it to myself, I felt deep down that the world wouldn’t end if I gave up this cause. I didn’t want to admit I was wrong, so I ignored all the signs that I was. If you cannot put your beliefs under a microscope, view all of their flaws, and still believe, then you should reconsider them. Causes that cannot withstand challenge are not strong enough and are seldom right.

It feels good to rage against society, to fight power. But in my experience, there is no one beast to slay to solve everything. While anger and indignation are great catalysts for change, they can also cause a group of teenagers to angrily blame a Rabbi for taking away a sleepover. We have to harness anger, not the other way around. Some fights are worth fighting, but some aren’t. The Shabbaton was rescheduled to a few weeks later. We didn’t lose anything. We fought for our voice, made sure it was heard, but we should have used it for something better, something we weren’t afraid to believe in. We don’t want to go hoarse too soon.

This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.

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How to cite this page

Jacobs, Ilana. "Shouting Doesn’t Have to Mean a Sore Throat." 8 May 2019. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on November 17, 2019) <https://qa.jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/shouting-doesnt-have-mean-sore-throat>.

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