My dramatic decline from four to three matriculation units in mathematics in the 10th grade was traumatic for everyone involved − everyone being my parents and me (the teacher didn’t care). It was the first time since the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that any member of my family had failed in anything other than gym. Worse still, there was genuine concern that I would not be able to become an engineer − and where shall we carry the shame?
However, a series of tests on which I got 13 or 20 out of 100 left no room for doubt: The girl does not have a gift for math and will have to take the sociology track, heaven help us. Years after high school I would still wake up in a cold sweat from nightmares in which I was made to solve integral equations (until I had children and started to wake up from other things). For a few years, I managed to repress the fact that math existed, but once I was done with army service and it was time to take the psychometric exam − the Israeli equivalent of the SAT − my phobia once again raised its ugly head.
I didn’t know what I wanted to study, but it was clear that I wasn’t going to take that bloody exam twice. Gripped by fears, I registered for a preparatory course and for three months immersed myself in the study of the basic mathematics the exam requires − I devoted no time at all to English and Hebrew. I listened closely in the classes and raised my hand whenever I didn’t understand something. That was every 10 minutes on average and infuriated my deskmate, a grumpy-looking fellow who had no difficulty at all with math. But I didn’t care.
While taking the course I waitressed, and also met a cute guy, the best friend of the partner of my best girlfriend at the time. Regrettably, he took no notice of me. My girlfriend organized a slew of opportunities for meetings together, but he didn’t seem interested in more than polite small talk, and even during those rare conversations I giggled way too much.
A week before the fateful exam, however, the gods started to smile on me. In a simulated exam in the psychometric course I raised my initial grade by about 100 points, to almost 700 (only 100 under the highest possible). “How can that be?” my deskmate asked angrily. “You always ask such dumb questions!”
I arrived for the exam itself as calm and focused as a Zen master, and two weeks later I got the result: 720. I proved to myself that, given enough time, money and effort, I could cope with mathematics at a most basic level. But that evening I got the true reward: We went dancing, and I found myself closer than ever to that guy, and then going home with him. We were together for a year and a half. At some point, I asked him why it happened just then.
“When we met, I thought you were an airhead,” he admitted. “But then I heard how well you did in the psychometric exam, and I started to look at you differently.”
And after all that, I enrolled in the graphic design department at Bezalel, where the psychometric exam wasn’t even a requirement. So it turned out that I spent three months in intensive studies just to get a guy. Looking back at that period, and at the guy, I understand two things: 1. After the age of 21, there is no real need to know math and therefore no reason to be afraid of it, either; 2. Men who judge you by numbers will never stop giving you grades afterward. For that alone it was worth taking the course.
Naomi Darom is a features writer for Haaretz
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