At Yeshivah of Flatbush High School something, or someone for that matter, stands out. Among the teenage boys and girls dressed in every bright color imaginable hiking up the five flights of exasperating stairs is a girl dressed solely in morbid black. Black shirt, black skirt, black shoes, black armwarmers, black bracelets, black everything.
Fourteen-year-old Malka Wallick dresses in the Gothic style, a style usually not associated with Judaism. Although the term “Goth” was first used to describe a type of architecture in the early 12th century, it was later used to describe the style of literature used by writers such as Edgar Allen Poe and Shirley Jackson, a style pertaining to bereavement. To find out more, I asked her some questions.
When did you start dressing like this and why?
Two summers ago at USDAN [a summer program for the creative and performing arts] I became friendly with a group of kids my age that dressed this way. I had liked the style even before the summer.
One day I asked them why they dressed in the Gothic style and they said it was because they wanted to be different. I appreciated and admired their desire to be individuals and that they weren’t afraid to show their true selves. I liked the way it looked even more than I previously had and desired to dress likewise. And since then I have dressed like this.
How do you dress on Shabbos and Yom Tov?
On Shabbos and Yom Tov, I dress in fancier clothing (not only black). On Yom Kippur, though, I dress in white.
Does anybody else you know also dress in the Gothic style?
The girls at Yeshivah of Flatbush are mostly conformists who dress in long skirts and tight shirts and lack any individuality. I don’t think they understand enough about the “outside world” to really even understand why people dress in the Gothic style. I think the kids at Yeshivah of Flatbush should stop being sheep, merely following the flock and experiment a little bit. This is how I express my individuality, and besides my friends at camp I am the only one I know who dresses this way.
You mentioned conformity — do you think Judaism breeds conformity?
Yes, I think Judaism definitely breeds conformity, but there is a way to get around it. If your religion and individuality are both important to you, you’ll find a way to express your individuality without going against your religion.
How do your parents and friends react to the way you dress? Does anybody object?
My parents don’t necessarily like it, but they have grown accustomed to it. My friends have different opinions about it, some think it’s cool, some think it’s weird, but no one really objects. Most of my friends from my old school like it. I’ve made new friends in high school, but my best friends are from my old school. My friends don’t really care how I dress. They are my friends for who I really am, regardless of how I dress.
Has your style ever gotten you into any trouble?
At my old school, Yeshivah of Flatbush (Middle Division), I’d been threatened that if I didn’t take off my arm warmers and some of my bracelets I’d receive detention. But I listened and took them off. I don’t let my style get in the way of my school. But I never really got into any real trouble.
Does the fact that you’re Goth extend to your musical taste?
My entire family listens to classic rock (Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Moody Blues, The Doors, Pink Floyd, The Who) and after listening to it for so long I began to like it. That is really the only kind of music I like. My style really doesn’t affect my music taste or much of anything else.
How do you differ from the traditional Goth?
I’m not really Goth. I just dress this way because it expresses my individuality in a world based primarily on being in a group. The people who dress this way aren’t afraid to express themselves and I admire that. I’m not really into the whole dark, exclude yourself from everyone Gothic thing. Some people take the whole Goth thing as a religion, but I don’t.
That’s not what it is for me because the way that I dress and my beliefs are separate from my religious life. I am a religious Jew. I go to shul, I daven and I observe Shabbos. I hang out with a very collective group and I’m accepted by my friends not for how I dress, but for who I am. I don’t think anybody should judge me by the way I dress.
People should get to know me better. It’s what’s on the inside, who I really am that’s important. I know it sounds cliché, but you can’t judge a book by its cover.
Yeshivah of Flatbush