Though the University of Miami student body is made up of a large percentage of Jewish students, most don’t know the differences between the branches of Judaism. Syrian Judaism, in particular, is one such branch that is not well known, even within the Jewish community.
Lindsey Falack, a sophomore at UM, grew up in Brooklyn, NY. She is a third generation American. She spent time with the same people for most of her life. They all went to the same school, attended the same summer trips, participated in the same activities. They all followed Syrian traditions – some more than others.
“The women generally get married at the average age of 18 or 19 to guys who are 6 to 10 years older than them,” Falack said. “There is an expectation that the woman will not go to college or not graduate and become housewives.”
Falack recounts that once in the community, it’s rare to leave. If a woman was lucky enough to go to college it was a state school or one in the city. It wasn’t until she went to a school farther from home that she began to see what life was like outside of her community. Although Falack’s family participated in Syrian-Jewish traditions, she never thought she would be expected to put her life on hold for marriage.
“Growing up I was kind of one foot in, one foot out of the community – going to a different high school than everyone, different summer programs as I got older.” She saw what other Americans consider the norm – people taking the SAT and ACT, applying to colleges. She followed their lead and worked hard in high school in order to go somewhere she could succeed.
“When it came time to apply to colleges my dad all of a sudden put all these restrictions on me,” she said. These restrictions came as a shock to Falack, especially when he told her she would not be able to leave her hometown. She was disinterested in all of the schools around her. She wanted to go somewhere and experience new things, not stay home and be married at 19. She was distraught – all the work she put in was being shut down in an instant.
Falack’s mother, a University of Miami alumna, had a different view on college than Falack’s father. She married into the culture and had her own career. With the help of her mother, Falack toured schools all over the country. When she finally came to UM she knew, “it was the perfect fit.”
She still had to deal with the obstacle of her father, who had begun to recruit members of her family to dissuade her from breaking from tradition.
“My mom was trying to help me in this fight against my dad, as it was her dream for me to attend this school considering she had the best years of her life here.”
Together, they decided that she should apply early decision without telling her father until she was accepted. Why take this route? “I decided to apply early decision to this school, so if I did get in I would have no choice but to attend or have to pay a year’s tuition and not go.”
When Falack received her acceptance letter she was ecstatic; but now came the tricky part: telling her father. “When I did get in, I think he was happy for me but also extremely upset that I went against him,” she said.
Although Falack’s decision to go against her father’s desires caused tension in her household, she sticks by her decision today. “I like to think I set an example for other girls in my community who want to create a better life for themselves and not fall into the expectations of others,” Falack said. Mainly, Falack hopes that, in a few short years, her younger sisters will feel confident enough to follow in her footsteps down the path toward their hopes, dreams and goals.