Thomas Wolfe, a famous American novelist of the early 20th century, once said, “You can’t go home again.” For members of the Orthodox Jewish community, this isn’t true.
A few months ago, I received a message from a former student who had found me via some of my posts online, where I maintain a website and share a list of book recommendations. This woman knew me as her language arts and history teacher when she was in the eighth grade at Prospect Park Yeshiva Elementary School in 1979. Her message was not only sweet and complimentary, but it brought back memories of my time with this extremely intelligent and creative group of young women, who were also refined and had stellar middos.
In 1979, I had already been teaching for a while, having graduated from New York University in three years and gone on to earn my master’s degree by 1975. The class that graduated in June of 1979 was a gem. Whether engaged in stimulating literary discussions or teaching historical events, I loved working with them every day. I almost felt like I was one of them; I probably enjoyed their senior trip to Washington, DC, as much as they did.
The woman who reached out to me reminded me of the following incident. One day, I had confiscated a note a girl was writing in class and proceeded to read it aloud. I wrote back to her that in retrospect I regretted having done so, having since realized that it was an infringement of her privacy, and that I should have just given it back to her later. No, my correspondent corrected me, the reason I’d read the note aloud was because of its content. The girl was asking her friend for a book recommendation. Apparently, after reading the note to the class, I told them that if they wished to write notes to each other on these kinds of topics, I would be very proud. My former student concluded by stating that she had enjoyed my classes, particularly our discussions of history.
Over the years, I had occasionally thought about my students at PPY. I even loved one of their names so much that I gave it to my eldest daughter. It started me thinking about what had happened to those nice young girls. Where were they now? Had most of them ended up getting married and staying in Brooklyn? I thought it would make an interesting article to share with others, but where would I even begin?
I started looking through their yearbook, for which I had been the adviser, and searching their names. Surprisingly, some of them showed up with the inclusion of their married names. The online White Pages sometimes provided me with an address as well. Some of the women had accounts on social media and I was able to message them. The thrill I felt every time I found another phone number made me think I should have become a detective.