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The Great Walls

Elky Pascal

Like the walls of the succah, the walls teens build in difficult situations create a quiet space filled with security

Thursday, October 13, 2016


Photo: Shutterstock


Generally, teens don’t want to build walls around themselves because they so badly want to fit in. 

I too always had a strong desire to fit in. That’s until I found myself in camp with a bunk of girls who didn’t bring out the best in me. They actually didn’t bring out the best in each other, either. Suffice it to say the camp wouldn’t have approved of certain things that went on in our bunk. 

Of course I wanted to be part of things. But I felt awful when I crossed certain lines. In the heat of the moment, their dynamic conversations were so thrilling and exciting. It felt awesome to really be part of the popular clan and to chime in with a great line that made everyone laugh. But then the awful feelings and thoughts would quickly follow: Uch. I can’t believe that was me. I can’t believe I talked about that. 

At times I’d try to push these feelings away and quiet my conscience, but they’d inevitably return the next time I looked at something or said something I shouldn’t have said. 

There was one Erev Shabbos that I borrowed some flashy makeup from one of my bunkmates. I hated the way I looked and I felt so gross. That night, I decided I’d have to start creating boundaries for myself. There were certain things I couldn’t — and wouldn’t — talk about, certain words I wouldn’t use, articles of clothing or makeup I wouldn’t wear, and music I wouldn’t listen to. 

It took a lot of strength. There were times I faltered, but I’d say those instances ultimately encouraged the boundaries I set for myself. The temporary “highs” lasted for about 45 seconds. The subsequent guilty, down feelings were just not worth the price. It’s hard to explain that feeling. Was I thinking, Mom would be so disappointed? Well, she would be, but it was deeper than that. It was more like I was disappointed in myself. It wasn’t who I wanted to be. To stay on the path I wanted be on, I had to stick to my guns. 

I have to say that I felt amazing by the end of the summer, so secure and serene. There was one song I listened to all summer long: Yaakov Shwekey’s “I Can Be.” These words especially resonated with me: 

I can be stronger 

I can be braver 

I can be, I can be anything 

Anything I wanna be 

Ooohh anything I wanna be 

I have the power 

I have the courage 

I am a hero 

Everything I need is inside of me 

Is inside of me 

—Hadassah P.


Within a two-year span, my father was diagnosed with a dreaded illness, he passed away, and my mother remarried. It was quite a tumultuous time; I have very difficult memories, many of which I try not to think about. The predominant feeling I recall from that period is heavy loneliness, specifically when my mother got remarried. 

My father was gone. My mother was completely preoccupied. (I’m not judging or blaming her! But that was the reality.) My older brothers were in yeshivah leading their own lives, and my older sister did her own thing. She had her own friends, her own coping mechanisms, and was rarely in the mood to hang out with me.

Photo: Shutterstock

Thus I often found myself alone, in an eerily quiet home. As winter set in, and with it the cold, dark evenings, I felt lonelier than ever. 

It would have been easy to throw a pity party and fall into a rut. Yet I made the conscious decision to build happy walls within my lonely existence. 

I wish I could say it was easy. It wasn’t. 

I filled much of the awful silence with talking, and sometimes with music. I spoke to friends, classmates, cousins, and teachers. Yeah, I know a lot of girls would say it’s nerdy to speak to teachers… but some teachers are so normal and down to earth. Their job isn’t only to teach quadratic equations and ancient history. For the most part, they want to help you. I just had to reach out, show a bit of interest, and resist my initial temptation to play it cool and brush them off. 

I’ve actually stayed in touch with them over the years. Of course, friends are awesome. I totally need them every day of the week. Yet a sound, logical opinion from a levelheaded teacher can sometimes be useful. In fact, their opinions and guidance have gotten me very far over the years. Think of it this way: bochurim often have connections with their rebbeim. Why can’t girls forge such relationships as well? 

—Rochel Leah G.


Looking at me, one would assume I had a pretty regular upbringing. I have a nice circle of friends, dress like everyone else does, and have a nice family. But some of my closest friends aren’t even privy to some of the difficulties I’ve faced over time. There have been some sticky family dynamics within my home that have trickled down to every family member, including myself. 

At times there was tension all around me. And here’s how I’ve attempted to cope: I try to control my thoughts. I try to refocus my thoughts. I’ve learned that I do have control over the thoughts that consume me at night and the way I view situations. Harping on negative thoughts only escalates things. So when negative thoughts come into my mind, I try to push them away. 

Believe me, it isn’t easy. I’m still working on it, and I’ll probably still be working on it for many years! But this tactic works. 

My sister was very nasty to me. I can either think about my pain and every minute detail of what she did wrong until everything blows up and then I blow up too and barely manage to function — or, alternatively, I can move on and try not to harp on it. I can think about other things and move on to other outlets in life, hang out with other people, and let things settle down on their own. I can try to physically remove myself from the stress by taking a walk or chilling with a book in my bedroom (whenever feasible). 

On a practical level? Use distraction. If things are “exciting” at home, get out, call a friend, hop over to study, or even go out by yourself. This allows your mind to wonder away from the difficulties. It allows you to build an oasis of tranquility within your very own mind. 

—Toby N.

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