Tag Archives: teenagers

How Mrs Bentley’s History Formed Me

by Megan Vered (San Rafael, CA)

The shop, narrow as a stick of Doublemint gum, was owned by Anna Bentley and her husband Oscar, originally from Bratislava, Slovakia. Their last name had once been Buchinger, but in 1939, after the Nazi invasion, they fled to England where they changed their name and opened a corset shop. Mrs. Bentley had been a corsetière in Vienna before marrying Oscar, helping women curve in all the right places. Being up close and personal with women was her sweet spot. In 1951, she brought her old-world skills across the ocean when she and her husband emigrated to Berkeley. They opened their store just as I was coming of age, ripe fruit for the picking. Mrs. Bentley had a home operation where she and her team of workers, which included her daughter and friends, dyed fabrics and garments in every shade of the rainbow. Tie-dye was all the rage. Until then, I’d been stuck with the ho-hum underwear selection at JC Penny’s; Bentley’s took the experience of shopping for lingerie to a glitzy new level. 

“You must fall into it, dahlink,” Mrs. Bentley commanded in a thick central European accent. She had swished open the dressing room curtain without asking permission, and now stood directly behind me, her teapot frame swaddled in too-tight clothing. There she was in the mirror, tiny teeth square as Scrabble tiles and the faint hint of a mustache on her upper lip. Her hands cupped my budding breasts. “Lean over and fall into it.” She urged me forward, peppermint breath hot on my neck. 

Once I righted myself, Mrs. Bentley’s sure palms smoothed the bottom of the barely discernible cups. She adjusted the straps with an efficient tug. “There. Much better.” She stood back and admired her handiwork, lips forming a confident knot. I couldn’t imagine that my breasts were anywhere near as glorious as those of the sophisticated, shapely girls who shopped there. I did my best, in my lavender lace, to adopt a 28 AA sense of cool. My body was still under construction, but in the dimly lit dressing room, I could almost imagine a day when I would have meaningful curves. 

So caught up in the insecurity of my own reflection, I failed to see the tragedy in Mrs. Bentley’s eyes as she shaped and shifted my budding bosom. Eighty-five percent of the Slovakian Jews were murdered by the Germans, which included Anna and Oscar Bentley’s parents and close relatives, although I understand that a handful of them made it to Palestine. I never thought to probe into Mrs. Bentley’s past or that of any other older Jew in my community. If my mother was aware of Anna Bentley’s back story, she never said a word. Even though we were expected to watch devastating black and white films in Sunday school, there was a collective hush when it came to acknowledging those who had brushed shoulders with the Holocaust. It would be years before I would realize that people I saw every day at temple, the grocery store, the pharmacy, had fled Europe, lost family, or had a number tattooed on their arm. 

Perhaps by surrounding themselves with color the Bentley’s washed away the heartbreak of history. Perhaps by tending to young girls like me on the brink of bloom they were able to forget, if only for one moment. Perhaps it brought a sense of repair to usher me and my friends into womanhood from the inside out, helping us become safe, secure, well-supported. Mrs. Bentley, whose dark wool skirts, modest blouses, and practical pumps read more school marm than sex goddess, brought a sense of daring identity into our young lives at a time when our knees wobbled with self-doubt. 

Mrs. Bentley intimidated me with her weighty touch and stern eye, but at the same time she offered me a delicious opportunity to explore the boundaries of my femininity, an opportunity to break free from my mother’s secret, suffocating life. The endless hooks of her long-line bra, the wiggling to squeeze into the girdle, the painstaking unfurling of sheer stockings that clipped into garters. My teenage lingerie drawer was stacked with excitement, unlike my mother’s monochromatic drawer.

I lost track of Mrs. Bentley once I graduated from high school and moved away, but to this day, when my high school girlfriends and I get together someone invariably shimmies her bosom and cries, “You must fall into it dahlink!” We all remember the dozens of bras that dangled from Mrs. Bentley’s right wrist like colorful bangles as she bustled around the tiny store. She was always ready to size you up and had all the tools for a quick alteration. A worn, yellow measuring tape hung from her neck and a red pin cushion hugged her left wrist. Pins poked out from between her teeth like miniature pick-up sticks. We all remember the terror of being topless in her dressing room and the feel of her strict palms against our budding chests. And yet, in today’s faceless world of on-line and chain store shopping, there is no comparison to the personal touch we received as girls. 

Anna Bentley died in 2009 at the age of 96, having outlived her husband by thirty-five years. I was just one of many giddy girls who visited her shop, one of many self-obsessed teenagers with no regard for her past. It is only now as I explore the contours of her life that I see a woman who saved herself and us by turning her sorrow into bursts of vibrant color. 

Megan Vered is an essayist and literary hostess. Her essays and interviews have been published in Kveller, The Rumpus, the Maine Review, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and the Writer’s Chronicle, among others. Her essay Requiem for a Lost Organ was long listed for the Disquiet 2022 Literary Prize and she was a finalist for the Bellingham Review’s 2021 Annie Dillard Award for Creative Nonfiction. She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Megan lives in Marin County, where she leads local and international writing workshops and serves on the board of the UC Berkeley Library and Heyday Books. Her memoir, A Dance to Remember, Confessions of a Medical Maid of Honor, is currently under review for publication.  


Filed under American Jewry, history, Jewish, Jewish identity, Jewish writing, Judaism

Teenagers and Interfaith Dating

by Amy Krakovitz (Charlotte, NC)

Here’s my guilt and my joy: my husband isn’t Jewish. And yet we’ve made a wonderful life together for 35 years. We have two grown sons, and I love him more today than I did 35 years ago. But ask me what I want for my own children: I want them both to find partners who are Jewish or who have some Jewish ancestry. I want grandchildren who will identify as Jewish and who will love Israel, Hebrew, and Judaism the same way that I do.

So when I asked my 8th and 9th graders at the Consolidated High School for Jewish Studies in Charlotte, NC to write an essay on how they felt about interfaith dating, I didn’t want to influence their opinions. I can imagine how their parents feel about it, whether they are the children of two Jewish parents or one, whether their parents were born Jewish or are Jewish by choice.

Every one of these teenagers goes to a school in North Carolina where they are in a tiny minority; in some cases a student might even be the only Jew in the entire school. So the desire to date and have a relationship with someone is profoundly impacted by their exposure to a Christian majority. Most of their peers are not Jewish. It’s likely that most of their friends are not Jewish. This reality is evident in their essays. One hundred percent of the essays that I received approved of interfaith dating, at least for now while they are young.

They’ve exposed themselves in a very visceral and sometimes humorous way. I am truly proud of what they have produced.

As a class, we will continue to write about Jewish subjects and I hope these teens will continue to be as honest and forthright as they have been here.


Responses from 8th Graders:

As far as I know, Harrisburg, North Carolina, isn’t exactly known for its Jewish community. The only Jews who I’ve ever met in North Carolina are from the Charlotte JCC, which happens to be a half hour away. I don’t have the money, time, or license to ship myself to Charlotte every day (or even every other day) to see my Jewish friends. So how can I be expected to hold a committed, romantic relationship with one of them?

Exclusively dating Jews is not an option for me, nor has it been for most members of my family. My mother married an atheist, my aunt a Christian, and there have certainly been no special Jewish boys or girls in my own or any of my siblings’ lives. For the time being, I don’t foresee my siblings or myself with a Jewish counterpart. But that is not to say I wouldn’t date a Jew, for I certainly would. I’ll date whom I love regardless of gender, race, or religion. – Leah Kwiatskowski

* * *

I am only 13 years old and I have not been in a serious relationship yet. For now, I would play the field for it does not really matter whom you date now or if you do not date at all. For now, religion is not a factor in whom you date. Religion does matter as you get older and develop more serious relationships because if you believe you have found your wife and you are planning on having a child with her, deciding the religion of the baby will be a lot easier if you are both Jewish. For boys, when you first see an attractive girl, your first question is rarely about what religion she practices. It does not play a key role in choosing relationships when you are 13 years old or maybe even an older teenager. So for me, instead of sticking to just Jewish girls, I would play the field. – Isaac Turtletaub

* * *

Being a 14-year-old boy, I have not had any long-term, serious relationships. However, I have been on “little” dates and, honestly, most have been with non-Jews. Dating is a way to get to know new people and experience new things. Limiting whom you can date based on their religion seems a little ignorant to me. As people grow up, they begin to date more frequently. Dating only people who share your views could set you up for problems later. The old saying can often hold true: “Opposites attract.”

On the other hand, dating only Jews could have its advantages. Let’s say you dated and eventually married a woman who was not Jewish. You had a child who is now entering school and you don’t know whether to enroll that child in public, Jewish-based, or another type of religious school. How do you decide who gets the final say? Sometimes difficult situations can be avoided years before they occur. But what if you don’t meet someone amazing because of your religious standards?

In the end, your relationships shouldn’t be dependent on someone else’s religion. Everyone should have the opportunity to be with others. Limiting whom you date based on their religion is inconsiderate. Everyone should be able to date anyone. – Sam Friedman

* * *

Dating only Jews is an interesting topic to talk about. From a teenage perspective, I would say playing the field and dating girls of other religions is okay. In today’s world, it’s possible that the person you are dating now is not always going to be the person you marry when you get older. As teenagers, we are going through mood changes and changing our minds all the time. Just because someone “likes” a girl one day doesn’t mean that he will still like her months later. Most relationships among my peers last around a month. If you’re Jewish and you want to date a Christian girl at a young age, why not?

Teenager’s relationships are normally not that strong. The dating couple might see one another in school and occasionally on a weekend. It’s not the same as living with someone and seeing each other every day. We want to enjoy life as teenagers, not regret it.

Even for adults, it’s a personal decision. I would prefer to have a Jewish wife. But if I am in love with a Christian girl, I am going to marry that Christian girl and try to raise a Jewish family. – Jason Garfinkle

Responses from 9th graders:

As my favorite Beatle once said: “All you need is love.” Now what did he mean by that? Any love? Specific love from certain people? Love from your religion? Others? No. John didn’t mean that. Any love is worth attention, affection, and time. No matter a person’s religion.

My family would not agree. They say the same thing over and over. “Date Jewish, tatala! The shiksa goddess is not for you, tatala! Oy! I will match you up with a real Jewish lady!” (sigh) If they could leave me alone, life could be better.

I love girls. Christian and Jewish. It has nothing to do with how they look, how they talk, it just doesn’t! People have not looked at this the way they should: loving the person. Relationships are not about people’s backgrounds.

You love a girl for the girl she is. Her personality. Her sense of humor. And how she loves you. You can’t let religion affect it. Most people who date outside their religion do it because they love their partner. If someone denies their love or feelings for someone just because of religion, they’re absurd!

I’d like to ask any married couple: Name everything you love about your spouse. Every little single detail. Now top it off by saying they’re a different religion. If that can change your love for this person, then you aren’t really in love.

I encourage my friends to date outside their Judaism. Relationships are about loving someone. I really don’t care about their beliefs. These are two separate things: your love for a person and your thoughts about his or her religion. Whether you let one thing affect another is your prerogative. Just remember that you can hate a religion, but love a person. Love is love, no matter whether you accept or deny it. It’s love. – Sam Cohen

* * *

Half of my family is Jewish. They moved from Poland just before the Holocaust claimed their lives. My grandfather started a trucking company in New Jersey where my dad grew up until he was a teenager. My grandparents were fairly traditional Jews, with my grandfather serving as a part-time rabbi, and my grandmother studying Hebrew for her Bat Mitzvah when she was 65. Yet, they’ve never forced on me the idea of dating only inside the faith. In fact, I don’t even know what they feel about the subject because my mother converted to Judaism before she met my dad.

Personally, I believe it’s fine to date outside the faith. Your partner doesn’t have to change your faith or your idea of faith, and you don’t even have to talk about faith. If you talk about religion, you may learn something about someone else’s religion, and maybe even some new ideas that will serve to help you grow. Dating someone of a different faith should be considered a learning experience, not a break in religious observance. If you are talking about marriage or moving in together, you should definitely talk about your faith and how you want to raise your children, and possible religious conflicts.

Choosing whom to date is like choosing your career. You should make your own decision but be aware of the consequences. Dating outside the faith should be a personal choice on what you believe is right or wrong. Faith does not have to be a big part of a small relationship, although it can make for interesting conversations.

My parents were the first generation of my family to intermarry. Though my mother converted before they were married, her sister remains a devout Christian. I am aware of the differences in our religions, but I want to appreciate them rather than fight them.

I think the choice of dating outside your faith should be yours alone. You should not let peer pressure or family influence get in the way of your happiness, but you should be aware of the consequences. – Isabelle Katz

* * *

When people meet and fall in love, it happens naturally. We shouldn’t need to over-examine another person’s characteristics right from the start. This is why I believe that people should be free to date whomever they choose. In my experience, I’ve never been involved with someone of Jewish ancestry. Though someone may not pray to God in the same way that I do, or attend the same house of worship, he or she may still be a good person. In my perspective, beliefs are not the key factors in relationships. Values are. Truly good people are those who find ways to apply their beliefs to their lives and aspire to live a life by the right values.

Though the various religions across the globe may vary from one another, many of their values are universal. As long as two people share similar values in life and are able to maintain mutual respect for each other’s beliefs, there shouldn’t be anything holding them back from being together. God may want two people to come together. By limiting ourselves to one group of people, we may be denying ourselves someone who could make us truly happy. – Olivia Weidner


 Amy Krakovit, an instructor in “Writing for Good” at the Consolidated High School for Jewish Studies, Charlotte, NC, worked with her 8th and 9th grade students to prepare these essays for publication. They are reprinted here with the permission of the students and their parents.


Filed under American Jewry, Jewish identity, Jewish writing