The Right School // How a chance encounter opened the doors of high school for my daughter

“I don’t understand what you were thinking,” the principal scolded me, filled with righteous indignation.

I stood mutely, next to my daughter, absorbing the brunt of her disdain.

“How could you have moved to Lakewood without finding a school for your daughter first? Didn’t you realize how hard it is to be accepted into schools? What did you think? Did you assume that everyone would just take you with open arms?”

“No, I had no idea,” I replied, and that was the absolute truth. I had been a bit too naïve, a bit too optimistic about the situation in most schools, where there was simply not one available seat in any classroom.

The principal continued to lecture me about my foolhardy choice to pick up roots and move into an established Jewish community, expecting everyone to go out of their way to find my children a school. I stumbled back to my car, choking on my sobs, wondering where I had gone wrong. “Hashem, what do You want me to do now?” I asked. I was accustomed to speaking to Hashem all day, asking Him for guidance throughout my interactions. Now I spoke with pain and anguish, pleading for the spiritual growth of my precious children, who were my pride and joy.

“How will my children receive a Torah education?”

Sam* and I began our married lives in Las Vegas, becoming baalei teshuvah and making aliyah in 2009. We settled in a peaceful dati leumi community in Israel, where our children were thriving, and where we had been accepted with open arms. For various reasons, we made the fateful decision to move back to America in 2012. We were vacillating between settling either in Lakewood or Monsey, since we wanted both the quality of suburban life and the beauty of an established Torah community where our children could reach their full potential.

We arrived in Lakewood in August of 2012, jet-lagged and shell-shocked. We stayed in a hotel for a couple of days while we tried to find lodgings and get our bearings. On our first day in Lakewood, we passed a pizza shop and went inside, as our children were hungry and it was well past lunchtime. I had no idea what made me choose that particular pizza shop; I now realize it was the hand of Hashem, guiding us to our destiny.

In the pizza shop I just “happened to” find our rabbi, who had married us more than a decade earlier. He was surprised and delighted to see us. When he heard we were settling in Lakewood, the rabbi enthusiastically expressed, “Lakewood is the best place for you to raise your family!” At the time, we had no idea just how many obstacles we would have to undergo until his prediction would come true.

The rabbi advised us to find a community directory to help us find a home and get our bearings. I walked into the nearby ShopRite and stopped the first Jewish woman I found, asking her where I could find the directory. “Well, you won’t find it in ShopRite,” she said. “But if you tell me what you need, perhaps I can help you.”

“We just landed from Eretz Yisrael, and we need a place to live,” I said. I hadn’t even finished the sentence when she enthusiastically said, “I have an idea for you. My next-door neighbor just moved to Florida and his house is empty. I’m sure he would be happy to rent it to you. Would you like his number?”

Within a few moments I had reached the owner, who gave us directions to his home, and the combination to the lock on the front door. A few days later, after some minor touch-ups and a thorough cleaning, we moved into our new home in a beautiful neighborhood.
Now began my saga of finding schooling for my children, two boys and two girls. The little one was playgroup age, and finding the right kindergarten group was no big deal. But I quickly realized that the principal who had lectured me wasn’t just being rude. Unfortunately, the situation she described would become our new reality.

My new neighbors, who were wonderful and welcoming, told me stories of girls who were born and raised in Lakewood, who were sitting home without a school to attend. How could I, a new immigrant and baalas teshuvah, hope to have my children enrolled in school? But I refused to give up. I cried and I davened, and continued driving around Lakewood, stopping at local schools and begging them to accept my children. By now, the school year had begun, and the older children were sitting home, bored and restless.

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