By now everyone has heard how fifty super wealthy parents, including Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, were arrested for committing fraud to get their children into college. My story – one of a young woman, who fought against all odds to get an education – will never make the news.
I grew up in an insular chasidic community in Canada and went to standard chasidic schools, but secretly, I dreamed of becoming a lawyer. I started out in community college, the cheapest option I had. As the first and only person in my family to go to university, I had nobody to help or guide me. I just figured things out by myself as I went along. I felt like a stranger on campus, surrounded by people who had support from their families and friends and who seemed to know what they were doing.
I was completely clueless as to how anything in the world of higher education worked, but I did my best and wished for the best. Then, I began to feel like a stranger back home. Whenever I told someone in my community that I planned to become a lawyer, I was met with raised eyebrows. That’s weird, I could almost hear them thinking. It was just strange for a chasidic girl who went to standard schools to want to go to law school. Nobody ever said to me, “That’s awesome! That’s so cool! I’m glad you’re following your dreams!” But it was a dream, and I was determined to go after it, even with no support of any kind from anyone.
I needed more space from my family and community, so I transferred to a four year college in New York where I hoped to start anew. Shortly thereafter, I heard about and signed up for Project Makom. I wasn’t sure what exactly I would find in Makom, but I did know that I was feeling less and less like I belonged in my community or maybe even in Orthodoxy at all. I wanted to know if there was an observant Jewish community out there that wouldn’t reject my choices, that wouldn’t make me feel like there was something wrong with me for wanting a solid education and a career that I was passionate about.
The staff members at Makom thought law school was a terrific idea and cheered me on. They immediately began looking for cool frum female (and male) lawyers who could serve as mentors for me. They set me up to eat Shabbos meals with them, giving me opportunities to get to know them on a personal level and ask all the questions I wanted.
It was an enormous revelation for me to realize that there are Orthodox Jews who enthusiastically support higher education and pursuing one’s dreams while living serious and sincere observant Jewish lives. When I told these people that I was planning to become a lawyer, they always responded with words of encourgement like, “That’s so cool! That’s awesome!” Whenever I received what would be considered a typical response, I got teary-eyed. Those little supportive comments meant so much to me. I hadn’t realized how badly I was hurting to be missing that validation until I met a community of people who gave it to me.
The mentors that Makom put me in touch with helped me craft the best application possible, and I was eventually accepted into some of the best law schools in the U.S., one of which I now attend. Makom helped me make what was once a dream a reality. Without Makom, I probably would still have pursued that dream, but I don’t know if I would have succeeded. I’ve received so much support and help from my mentors and Makom staff. They’ve encouraged me and believed in me even in times when I didn’t believe in myself. They also gave me so much practical advice and help, without which my applications would have really suffered.
When I think about those celebrities who cheated their kids’ way into college, it makes me sad that people feel the need to go to those lengths. As someone who worked day and night to put myself through college from the very beginning, it’s pretty infuriating that some people manage to scam the system. On the other hand, I’m also very used to being surrounded by people who have advantages that I don’t: family support, parents paying for some or all of their tuition, friends sharing the process with them, and general knowledge that comes from growing up in a community where going to college is the norm.
By joining Makom, I’ve been given the chance to make up for some of the privileges I lacked. I now have a surrogate family that supports me, celebrating all my academic achievements and holding my hand when things don’t go as well, giving me advice and guidance and love. I never dreamed I would have a team of people standing behind me and helping me achieve my dreams. Parents who cheat so you can get into college? I don’t need that, not when I have my Makom family who has helped me become my best version of myself.