Hi! I'm 11 years old, and until this year I was in public school. This year I am in a Chabad school in xxxx and I have a lot of questions. I was hoping you could help me out.

Why learn only about Judaism, there's so much else out there? Why focus only on Judaism? The more you know, the more you can talk to other people... Not so that you can become like them — but just to understand them. How come we're only supposed to listen to Jewish music, can't explore other cultures' music?

Girls in this school are so sheltered — preschool to marriage — and can't associate to people on the street… In public school we would learn all things!

Please answer me, I would love to know!!!

Thank you so much!!


Then there are going to be lots and lots of questions. But that's good, because it means you're learning. Learning about a very different way of life than the one you're used to.

I'm not going to be able to answer all of your questions. But I'll try to just explain a few things.

For one, you have to realize that what your school—and Chabad in general—is trying to do is not so easy. But it's really what Jews have been doing for a few thousand years, so we're used to it. The idea is to remain a distinct people within a larger, dominant culture. We started that way in Egypt and we've spent most of our history living in other people's lands doing just that. It seems it's a big part of our destiny.

There's a parable told by Rabbi Meir in the Talmud: One day the king of the jungle, the lion, was roaring without stop. But this roar was different than other roars—it was a roar of pain. The lion had swallowed a prickly thorn and it was stuck in his throat.

So the lion offered to any beast of the jungle a great prize if he could remove this thorn from his throat. Each animal came to look, but either they had no idea what to do or they were simply too afraid to reach inside that fearsome mouth and pull out the thorn.

Finally, a bird with a long neck approached the lion. She told him to keep his mouth wide open, stuck her head deep down his throat and pulled out the thorn with her beak.

The lion was happy and grateful. The bird asked, "So what will be my prize?"

"Your prize," the king of the beasts replied, "is that you may go and tell all the beasts of the jungle that you have placed your head within the lion's mouth and come out alive."

I believe Rabbi Meir was talking about us when he told this story of the bird. By the lion, he meant the Roman Empire. We lived within this Empire and not only did we survive, but the Roman's began to adopt our ethics and our laws, abandoning idolatry and turning to monotheism. And since then, as well, we have continued living within other nations and empires and they have learned from us and—though rarely willing to admit to it—adopted so many of our ways of thinking.

Why am I writing all this? Because you must realize that to remain a distinct people while within the lion's mouth is not an easy task. It never was—all the more so today. In previous times, there were no billboards, no magazines, no TVs, no radios, no internet, no chats and blogs and all the other media that bombard us today constantly.

Today, the average city-dweller sees four to five thousand advertisements a day. All of them are enticing her to spend more money in order to be whatever they want her to be—so that they can make more money. They change the styles so that people will have to buy new clothes. They upgrade technology so that people will have to buy new machines. It's just the way society is set up to provide a continuous barrage of messages telling you how to be and what to do.

So your school takes two strategies: One, to shelter the girls to some degree from that bombardment. Two, to provide a strong sense of belonging and pride in who we are.

Personally, for me, neither of these is enough. So Chabad has another secret weapon. It's called chassidus (chassidic teachings). Chassidus has some magnificent, beautiful teachings that lift up your soul and your spirits. Of course, you need a good teacher to explain those teachings properly—some teachers can make a real mess of it. But once you get it, I'm sure you'll see that there's nothing like chassidus to light a person up and make her into a bright light to illuminate all her world around her.

That's quite a bit more than I had planned to write. Of course, it's still not enough. But you sound like a very intelligent girl, so I'm sure you'll find more answers and more questions and more teachers to answer those questions. There are plenty of good teachers in xxxx, if you are looking for them.

Keep in touch. Let me know if this helps.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman for