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The Hazards and Hilarity of Teenhood: Unqualified and Other Disasters of the Untalented

Malka Hillelsohn

I could not get my tenses straight, read a Rashi, or sit through a single class without somehow acting up

Thursday, December 22, 2016

C hanukah is already here and I still haven’t truly recovered from my Succos cooking marathon. I cannot even begin to tell you how many challos I baked. Or how many roasts I put up. Or how many side dishes I made and threw out because you have to make side dishes for Yom Tov to put color on the plate, but nobody really eats them! I ran Bubby-day camp for the grandchildren (while their mothers slept late), read stories, and entertained my grandchildren with drama and singing and gymnastics in the park. Let me tell you, I was a class act.

But as I was saying, I was super talented this past Yom Tov. And boy, was I proud! Why, you ask? Because I’ll always remember the problems I had in high school. Let’s just say I was not very geshikt. Geshikt means talented. But it’s way more than that.

Let me tell you all my problems about being the most untalented, inept person in all of the United States of America during my high school years. If you think I’m exaggerating, I am. But what I’m not exaggerating is how I felt, not what was actually true. You want to know who was amazingly talented?

Frieda and Raizy. They were always heads of dance and were unbelievably graceful. Ruty, who had the zaniest sense of humor that put everyone in a fabulous mood whenever they were in her vicinity.

Miriam, who effortlessly breezed through school. She never sweated over any math assignment, essay, or Regent. And I mean never.

And who can forget the members of the Solomon family, who starred in every single play and performance in camp and in school, continuously bringing down the house with their incredible acting and singing?

Tzivi, Rivky, Malya, and Hindy, who were just simply brilliant, their conversations beyond most of us mere mortals as they talked about Calculus or a Ramban we had learned. Sori, whose prowess at baseball, machanayim, and basketball helped win every tournament and inter-camp leagues.

Chany, whose creativity and ingenuity was the envy of all, her projects original and colorful, her ideas out of the box, garnering everyone’s admiration. And what did I know how to do?

Nothing much.

While I slaved over a writing assignment in ninth grade, Tzivi got an A on some composition extolling the virtues of cockroaches. Cockroaches!

When I was sure my teacher had given me the wrong mark on my History Regent, because I could not believe I actually got a 96 (I thought she’d mixed me up with Esther Davidson whose name preceded mine in the class list). My teacher reassured me that the 96 was mine; Esther had gotten a 100. I was in the French class, part of the elite allowed to learn a foreign language, and when I received a 95 on a test conjugating French verbs, my teacher accused me of cheating. My scrapbook on the Lamed-Tes Melachos looked like the work of a third grader, my artwork hopelessly messy and immature.

I was Beggar Number 3 in the school performance and had stage fright when saying my lines. I was Head of Sports in 11th grade and even though we won, I acted like a sore loser all through a game against another school.

I couldn’t sing or dance or play an instrument. I couldn’t bake or cook or figure out geometry. I could not get my tenses straight, read a Rashi, or sit through a single class without somehow acting up.

Whatever the antonym is of geshikt, that was me. Which makes it funny when my high school friends (the ones I didn’t know I had but who I hung around with because I thought they were just being nice to me) meet me at a wedding and say, “Hey, Malka, just read your column in Mishpacha and you are soooo funny!”

And I say, “Funny? What was funny?”

And they say, “You know, how you pretend you were such a failure in school!” And then they tell me interesting stuff about me I hadn’t known. Or really, maybe I knew, but I was so insecure as a kid, in so many ways, I didn’t really believe the things I should have known.

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