He recognized me before I recognized him. We were in Yerushalayim on different sides of the street. He was six foot two waving and yelling my name. “Noach, Noach, Noach Schwartz, the social worker! It’s me Yechiel Klein! Don’t you remember me?” He was wearing a hat, white shirt and suit and looked like a regular bochur from the Mir or Brisk. He did not look like the Yechiel I had met ten years earlier at a clinic in Boro Park.
I was the new clinician, right out of school, at my first job. I had so much to learn, no experience and no time. It was on the job training. I was still trying to make heads and tails out of goals and objectives when my supervisor explained that my goal was not to get fired and my objective was to finish my notes daily in order not to get fired.
On a cold January afternoon, an angry couple in their late fifties came in for an intake. They had with them a 15-year-old teenage boy who looked like he was nine. He looked bored with this whole thing. They told me that they were here because Yechiel’s yeshiva was threatening him with expulsion. They painted a picture of a defiant teenager who missed classes often, and was caught smoking, stealing and hanging out with the wrong crowd. His father, a rabbi, told me that until six months before Yechiel was at the top of his class both in Limudai Kodesh and Limudai Chol. He told me he gave up on him and it was now my job to find out what was bothering his son and to fix it. Thank you.
I prepared for my first session with Yechiel and thought I had a good plan. I would tell the kid that I too had been a troublemaker in high school and had also been threatened many times with suspension and look at me now. I figured that Yechiel would relate to me, and change immediately – because I told him to. He would become an A student. His parents would send me a big mishloach manos, the yeshiva would write a letter to my boss, I would not have to write notes and Schwartz would be the greatest psychotherapist since Freud.
I awoke from my dreams pretty quickly. Yechiel did not talk. Our sessions were forty-five minutes of silence. It was brutal. At first I talked, but even people like me get tired of hearing themselves talk. By week five our sessions were limited to games of gin rummy. It was extremely difficult writing notes on silent sessions. However, the kid was a good gin player. I could not win a single round. One day, out of desperation, I told him he should play gin rummy with his mom, and beat her too.
He then told me his mom was dead. He began to talk. He said the lady that came with his dad for the intake was his father’s new wife. He told me she slept in his mom’s bed. Gin!
Yechiel told me his mom died of cancer. She came to his bar mitzvah and then passed away. Slowly, he told me the story of her life and her death. He told me that he had six older siblings – all married. He told me that his mom loved him, because she told him so three days before the levaya. He told me that his mom was dead for eleven months when his father remarried. Gin!
He told me he did well in school through out his mom’s illness and even after the aveilus. He told me he davened for the amud daily in yeshiva and never missed a kadish. Gin!
Yechiel said his father’s second marriage was more devastating to him than his mom’s death. The pain of his mother being gone, and his father having a new roommate was just too much for him to handle. He told me he was trying alcohol and drugs and skipping school. He said he had a morbid joy witnessing the pain of his father and stepmother. He said he had a fantasy that his father would divorce his wife in order to prevent Yechiel from going completely off the derech. Gin!Noach Schwartz