The Pit is Empty
“No, no, noooo!!!” Mrs. Resch, Dina’s mother, was in shock, yodeling uncontrollably into the telephone.
After Dina had left School Counselor Draught’s office, Mrs. Draught had pulled herself together and then immediately called Mrs. Resch.
“Now, Larissa, there are ways to treat it,” Mrs. Draught reassured her best friend.
“But…but you’re telling me that Dina is mentally ill. Mirivel, what I am going to do? How will I ever make a Shidduch for her?”
“I’m not a psychiatrist, nor do I pretend to be,” said Mirivel. “And as such, as a school counselor, I can’t make a diagnosis. But she did mention that she wanted to live in a tent.”
“She’s possessed by The Nomad,” shrieked Larissa. “I thought that was only something that happens in books,” she added on reflection.
“We’re a little more advanced that THAT,” Mirivel harumphed in an arrogant, all knowing voice. “Nowadays, we say ‘she hears voices’.”
Larissa calmed down a little. “Oh. I guess that’s good. Now we know what’s going on. She hears voices. What do we do next?”
“Well, we have to put her in a psychiatric ward and stabilize her on some psychotropic medications,” Mirivel said matter-of-factly.
Larissa dutifully repeated, like a zombie. “Yes, hospitalize and put her on meds.”
Dina came home from school full of life that day. Following the disastrous meeting with Mrs. Draught, she had resolved to run away after she graduated the next year. She would find a job somewhere appropriate for a Torah observant Jewish girl, and give herself a few years to decompress from her stifling upbringing. Her little secret gave her every step a bounce, and a lilt to her voice. For the first time in years, she felt hopeful about her future.
Dina was oblivious to the storm brewing around her now as she displayed her new attitude over the next few days. Dina’s carefree mien just confirmed the worst for her parents, who had consulted with a psychiatrist and learned that Dina was “schizophrenic”. They were frantically organizing a hospital stay for Dina. The only thing slowing them down was getting the insurance company to approve.
Dina’s upbeat demeanor and royal bearing was especially disturbing to the doctor. “Delusions of grandeur,” he confided to her parents during their frequent phone calls.
At last, the paperwork was done, approvals were in place. Dina’s father’s part of the job was to lure Dina into the family car.
“We have been concerned about you lately,” said Dina’s father. “You’ve been acting so well mannered and helpful. It’s not like you.”
“And that’s something bad?” thought Dina, but she didn’t say anything.
“We’d like to have someone evaluate you,” her father said bluntly.
Dina’s stomach dropped out. “No! Absolutely not.” Dina’s mind raced. She was ready to immediately put her plan to run away into place.
“Dina! Don’t speak like that to me,” her father rebuked her. “Come out to the car where we can discuss things privately, away from the rest of the family,” he cajoled.
“Alright,” Dina acquiesced. “But I’ll jump out of the car if you try to take me to a therapist!”
Dina’s father got into the driver’s seat of the car, and Dina sat in the front seat next to him.
“I’ll speak plainly to you, Dina, like an adult.
“When Reb Aharon, zt”l, came to Lakewood, the conditions were harsh. The students learned in an old rundown hotel, which had one barely operating bathroom on the second floor. Every Zmon two students left and two students came. It was a hard, rough life. And somewhat of an embarrassment, in regard to the building’s condition.
“Once, during the summer, a student complained that the big clunky air conditioner was blowing on him and distracting him from his learning. He asked to go outside to learn.
“‘It makes me sick, too,’ Reb Aharon told the student. ‘But the Bais Medrash is the place to be.’”
“What’s the point?” Dina asked. “You want to tell me that the men in Lakewood suffer to learn? I don’t buy it. Just last year someone donated hundreds of thousands of dollars for a new wing of the Yeshiva.”
“Hold on,” her father said. “We’ll get there. Reb Aharon insisted that he himself raise all the money for the Yeshiva. Because the one who raises the money makes the decisions at the Yeshiva, not the one who is the top scholar. And Reb Aharon wanted to be the one who called the shots (although in this case, he was the greatest scholar, too.)”
“Calls the shots?” Dina asked quizically. Dina was puzzled and confused. Where the conversation headed?
“Yes. He wanted a Yeshiva that was only Torah and nothing else. Once, he went with someone to a government office. Now, Reb Aharon didn’t speak much English. But he understood enough that the person who was with him and dealing with the government official was not representing the Yeshiva properly, saying things like, ‘an advanced institution of academia for training teachers’. Reb Aharon interrupted: ‘Only Torah learning!’
“He went before an important group of Rabbis. The head of the group said to Reb Aharon, ‘We don’t want your type of Torah learning. There is no place for it in the United States. Go to Eretz Yisrael to learn by your father-in-law Rabbi Yitzchak Meltzer.’
“Do you know what happened next, Dina?”
Dina shook her head.
“That Rabbi who dismissed Reb Aharon’s plan died on the spot,” her father declared.
“Are you trying to scare me Tatty?”asked Dina, not feeled one bit cowed.
Her father was getting upset. “No. I’m trying to demonstrate that Lakewood was built on the fire that was Reb Aharon, and his unswerving devotion to principle.”
“So, how come so many people lead a cushy life now here in Lakewood?” Dina asked rhetorically. “Ok, not cushy, but a lot easier than what you describe. And why do so many families, like ours, have to be stressed out trying to pay for that relatively cushy life. Why can’t we go back to having less, including less stress?”
“I’ll explain,” said Dina’s father testily. “After Reb Aharon died, the United States government started funding programs that subsidized colleges, and the Yeshiva started applying for that money. And there were government programs for poor families, and some Lakewood families started taking. And a prominent Rabbi at Yeshiva University demanded that all Shuls lead by YU Musmachim raise money to donate to Lakewood or risk their Rabbis having their Semicha revoked by him. So the standard of living increased.” Her father sighed. “And its not really possible to dial back that standard.”
The car’s trunk slammed shut, and Dina’s mother got in the back.
“We can go now, Simcha Yosef,” Dina’s mother dictated to her father.
“What is going on?” Dina demanded to know, crushing each word like stepping on thin ice. The first word of her sentence, “What…”, came out shrill and squeaky and overemphasized, bordering on hysterical.
“You are not thinking straight,” Dina’s mother lectured Dina, as the car pulled out. “So it is pointless to address you as a human being. But I will try. I packed some of your clothes in a suitcase. You are going to sign yourself into a hospital for an evaluation.”
“What?!” Dina seriously contemplated getting out of the car at the next red light. But a thought occurred to her. “What about school…!” she wondered out loud.
“You will likely miss a few days of school,” Mrs. Resch informed Dina.
Dina had a sudden change of heart.
“Alright, then,” she outwardly pouted, her shoulders shrugging in resignation, like a wave on the beach coming in to the shore. “I guess that’s just how it has to be.” But inwardly she skipped rope and drew chalk squares on the sidewalk like a little girl. Freedom, she hummed to herself.
At one point, a van pulled up next to the Resch’s car at a cross section. Dina looked up and there was a young couple in it, not much older than her, with the husband driving. He happened to glance in her direction. On a lark, Dina mouthed the word, “Help!” The man nodded knowingly.
Dina’s mother, in the back seat, discerned that something was up. “Simcha Yosef, I do believe it is that Ezra from Silver Spring next to us. Pull away from him before something bad happens,” Larissa warned.
“Who’s that?” asked Dina innocently.
“He is the very reason you must be put away for your own protection,” Dina’s father explained. “In Silver Spring, there is a commune where they teach a man must get married in his teens, and have a paid up house, and a job, too. They expect a man to love his wife as he loves himself, and respect her more. And Ezra studied there.”
There was a familiar buzzing in Dina’s head, the feeling she always got when things didn’t quite add up. Didn’t the Rambam say all those things? She admitted to herself she wasn’t a scholar, or even a passing student, but she did study the Rambam at Shaarei in her spare time. What else was there to read when the only other allowed material was insipid novels about girls who almost, but not entirely, had no resemblance to her?
“I mean, if there’s money for only one coat, in Silver Spring the wife gets it,” said Dina’s mother. “It’s all about making the wife happy. But we here sacrifice for our husbands. And so you will too, my lovely Dina.”
Dina heard the genuine love in her mother’s voice. But her interest was even more piqued by these strange places and people. Silver Spring? Commune? Who was this Ezra?
When they pulled into the hospital parking lot, Dina had a question.
“So the women agreed to this new standard and to earning enough money to support the families ‘lavishly’?” she wanted to know.
“No one ever asked us,” her mother interjected. “The women just went along with it. The men decided that this is the way it will be. Some women may suffer, but it’s a happy suffering. Parents who support their children in Lakewood may spend their life savings and become destitute. But all that is irrelevant. All that matters is the Torah learning.”
“Mommy and I thought, and still think, we had given you over that lesson,” Dina’s father said definitively. “But somewhere, somehow, the Nomad found his way into your heart. The mental health professionals will erase that influence and return the real Dina back to us.”