“He skipped yeshivah for the week?” I said incredulously. “And your parents have no idea?” My husband laughed. “Come on, Yocheved. It’s not the first time he’s done it. He’s a teenager; it’s probably just a phase. You know how he can’t stand his yeshivah. Don’t worry so much!” Moish’s laissez-faire approach to life was one of the first things that had drawn me to him when we were dating—mostly because it was diametrically opposed to mine. But now it just mystified me. My in-laws had dropped Moish’s brother, Ezzie, at his yeshivah in Lakewood before heading off for a two-week vacation. Ezzie had stood at the entrance to the yeshivah, waving goodbye, then taken a bus straight back home. How could that not worry Moish just a little bit? The only rationale I could come up with was that the two of them were so close; if anything really serious was going on with Ezzie, Moish would know. Still. I had watched almost every one of my eight brothers go through some version of a “rebellious” phase, and Ezzie’s behavior struck me as off. Ezzie had never been the serious type. Frankly, I’d thought my in-laws were asking for trouble when they pushed him into one of Lakewood’s most demanding yeshivos, known for its jam-packed schedule and a student body that boasted the promising young elite of the Torah world. Ezzie was only an average learner, with so-so grades; a place like this would no doubt stress him out and trample his self-esteem.
In my view, he would have done much better in a smaller, more relaxed and less competitive atmosphere. I’d even tried to get Moish to convince his father to rethink their decision, but Moish, though he agreed with me, knew he’d get nowhere. “You don’t understand, Yocheved,” he’d explained. “My parents have only two sons. All their hopes are pinned on us. My father is convinced that Ezzie is the best and the brightest; he’d never send him to a yeshivah he considers mediocre. He has no clue that Ezzie won’t succeed there, but even if I tried to explain that to him, he’d never listen to me.” I nodded, helpless. My in-laws had waited seven long years before my husband, their eldest, was born, and it had taken another nine before Ezzie came along. My in-laws had poured everything they had—money, time, energy and hope—into their sons. Only the best would do for their two princes. Naturally, in their minds, Moish and Ezzie were the most talented and brilliant minds of their generation—even if reality painted a much different picture. Which Ezzie’s behavior clearly did. I mean, come on. Playing hooky in an empty house while his parents thought he was shtaiging away in yeshivah? Not exactly gadol hador material. “What’s he doing for food?” I asked, unsure of what else to say. “Don’t worry about that,” my husband answered, waving his hand dismissively. “I gave him a couple hundred bucks to keep him going until Ma and Ta come back.” I must have looked horror-stricken because he gave me a reassuring smile. “It’s okay, Chevs. Ezzie’s a good guy. It’s fine.” “Fine” was not the word I would have picked.
Ezzie had planned this whole thing out with remarkable cunning, informing the yeshivah about his parents’ trip, leading them to believe he was going with them. They had no reason to contact my in-laws about his absence, so Ma and Ta would never find out about it. Unless I told them. Ma and Ta called from Israel almost every day. I was happy to catch up with Ma, who sounded wonderful, but as we chatted about the glorious weather there and the horrible snow in New York, all I could think about was Ezzie. I had to tell her, but I couldn’t. When I hung up the phone, an unbearable weight of guilt would settle on my shoulders. It would take a few hours before I could shake it off. If Ta found out, I rationalized to myself, he’d only be strict and unbending. Punishing. He’d likely do more harm than good. But, another voice whispered, if it were my son, I’d want to know. Almost every night my in-laws were away, Ezzie came by for supper. I had to admit the vacation was doing him good. His eyes had lost that dull look they’d taken on at the beginning of the zman, and the tight lines around his mouth had relaxed. He looked happy. And so, even as I wondered what he was doing all day, if he was safe sleeping at home alone at night (he’d turned down my offer of our couch), I didn’t say a word.
My in-laws came back from their vacation to find everything as usual. Our daughter, their beloved grandchild, was as adorable as she’d always been, and their two sons were giving them the nachas they always had. Ezzie came home from yeshivah for Shabbos, and they marveled at how well he was looking. “You were so peaked when we left,” Ma said, studying his face. “It’s good to see you back to yourself.” Three months later, Ezzie was suspended from yeshivah. He’d been playing truant again in the company of some very questionable boys and had gotten caught. My in-laws were crushed, but Ezzie was openly defiant. He hated the place, he told them, he wanted out, and this was the only way he could make it happen. His new friends were fun, and he wasn’t going to give them up. No, Ta should not look for a new yeshivah. He wanted a nice, long break. It’s been several months now, and Ezzie, baruch Hashem, is back in yeshivah—a very different type of place. Even though it worked out in his favor, I still kick myself for not having said anything when he first started skipping school. The whole family could have avoided a lot of pain and embarrassment if this had been out in the open from the beginning. And yet I can’t help but wonder—would things have worked out differently for the truant if I’d played the rat?