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omething about the transatlantic phone consultation between New Rochelle and Jerusalem was strange to begin with.

Mom was a psychologist and let me know it right off the bat. She worked as a psychoanalyst and our conversation felt more like she was interviewing me for a position in her office than telling me about her troubled son.

Dad, also a psychologist, was more keen to discuss his son, although the conversation with him, too, was filled with so much jargon, it was hard to understand what was going on with their kid. There was “resistance,” “fixations,” and “psychosocial developmental arrests.”

What was clear to me was that they were both too personally enmeshed with whatever was disturbing their child to provide me with a coherent story. In the end, I told them I’d need to meet Jeremy in person first, and we’d be back in touch after the fact.

I couldn’t quite figure out what to expect: Was Jeremy a young man totally off the derech? A kid with drug problems? Was he psychotic? Bipolar? Truthfully, I was expecting a complicated case.

But when Jeremy came to my office, he looked like any of the normal yeshivah bochurim I davened Minchah with every day. He wore a white shirt, black slacks, and was armed with a pocket-sized Chumash Devarim for shnayim mikrah v’echad targum.

He introduced himself as Yirmiyahu in a completely natural, unforced manner.

“What brings you here, Reb Yirmiyahu?” I asked open-endedly.

“I’m really just here because my Mom and Dad want me here,” he answered pleasantly. “You know, kibbud av v’eim.”

And he proceeded to politely shake his head with a no to just about every symptom there was.

“I’m basically a normal yeshivah bochur,” he said.

“Baruch Hashem,” I answered, and sat quietly waiting for him to tell me about some strange symptom or problem that had been plaguing him — but there was nothing else to tell.

Yirmiyahu broke the silence himself, “I guess you’re wondering then what we’re doing here?”

I certainly was and nodded encouragingly.

He proceeded to tell me of the past 19 years of his life and what had brought him to this point. Mom and Dad were both nice people and caring parents, but a bit wrapped up in their work. He’d been educated at the local day school and had a “strong bagels-and-lox Jewish identity,” but was without any serious connection to Torah and mitzvos. Mom would light candles every Friday night and Dad would say Kiddush but then they’d retire to academic discussions about their work.

Feeling a bit marginalized as the only child at a table filled with important grownups, Yirmiyahu had found the companionship he was looking with a neighbor from a “more observant” family down the street. A few years later when this friend was planning on going to Israel for a gap-year program, Yirmiyahu was able to convince his parents that college could wait while he spent a year volunteering with Young Judea. It wasn’t the beginning to the Ivy League education that they were expecting, but Mom and Dad were flexible. After all, they wanted him to have a strong Jewish identity and a year in Israel was fine if it was spent planting trees and helping out teaching English in Be’er Sheva.

But Hashem had other plans, and after a Shabbaton in the Old City, Yirmiyahu began the journey that led him to ditch his sandals and baseball hat for the yarmulke and tzitzis of yeshivah. A month spent at Aish HaTorah’s Essentials program was followed by half a year of soul-searching in Aish’s Intermediate program. Now Yirmiyahu had returned to Israel for a second year, this time in the Beis Medrash program.

“So basically my parents think I’m off my rocker for ditching Yale for yeshivah,” Yirmiyahu summed up.

“Sounds like a good reason to be concerned,” I said with a very straight face, allowing him to make of it whatever he’d like.

“Really? I thought you’d appreciate my decision, Dr. Freedman. I mean, I remember going to a class you gave back at Aish and you were very pro-yeshivah and pro-Israel.”

“Well, I am guilty of both,” I agreed. “But I can understand where Mom and Dad are coming from.”

“You can?” he asked, confused.

“Absolutely. Your rejection of an Ivy League education to study Gemara sounds quite crazy. And they are the experts in knowing who’s crazy and who’s not,” I said.

That one drew a big laugh from Yirmiyahu. “I guess you’re right. But seriously, you don’t think this is crazy? I mean, this is normal, right?”

“As long as you’re playing basketball and staying balanced, I’m fine with everything.”

“No, I’m okay. I mean, my family thinks I’ve gone crazy like you said, but my rebbeim have made sure that I still do ‘normal’ stuff like root for the Knicks.”

As it turned out, I knew Yirmiyahu’s rebbi very well, as he happened to be a personal friend. He was also a master of helping his talmidim to grow at a good, steady pace and I didn’t have too much concern that this young bochur’s teshuvah was unreasonable in any fashion. We discussed the possibility that Yale might still be an option for him in the future, but that was between him and his rebbeim.

Yirmiyahu asked that I “talk with his parents and set them straight.”

“I can’t promise I’ll be successful, but I’ll try,” I told him.

But Mom and Dad were full of confusions, anger, and psychobabble. The more I tried to explain that the teshuvah was a phenomenon that extended beyond people with mental illness, the more they pushed back. It didn’t matter that I cited numerous famous politicians, businessmen, and entertainers who’d hung up their cleats for Borsalino hats — they just weren’t hearing it.

Finally, I was forced to use the nuclear option. “You know, many kids who feel marginalized end up with serious problems like drugs and alcohol. There might be some who’d say he’s doing pretty good in finding religion as opposed to something dangerous.”

Mom didn’t like that one. “You know that’s a cynical projection of your own ideals, Dr. Freedman.”

Dad tried to broker a truce. “I think we can all agree that he’s fixated on Judaism now.”

“You know,” I said, feeling tired of this going-nowhere conversation, “you people are using so much Freudian talk that I’m starting to think you’d be happier if I told you that your son was acutely psychotic and had Biblically-themed delusions of grandeur.”

“Heaven forbid, Dr. Freedman!” yelled Mom.

“Agreed. So if he’s not mentally ill then let’s let him go on this journey. Yale accepted his second deferment and will still be there next September if that’s his choice. In the meantime, he’s got a certification of sanity from me and a great rabbi at Aish HaTorah.”

“So he’s fine?” asked Dad. “I mean, I think that’s the fundamental question for today.”

“He’s fine. But whether he goes back to Yale is a part of a larger discussion for another time. Personally, I’d say it’s Harvard or bust.”

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 722. Jacob L. Freedman is a psychiatrist and business consultant based in Israel. When he’s not busy with his patients, Dr. Freedman can be found learning Torah in The Old City or hiking the hills outside of Jerusalem.  Dr. Freedman can be reached most easily through his website www.drjacoblfreedman.com.