| Off the Couch |

Am I Crazy?

I felt myself tearing up along with Guy as he put his heart on the table

 

Guy (Genadi) Rosovsky had never encountered healthy relationships growing up. He came to me because, given his roller-coaster life history, he felt he could no longer trust his logical judgment. “I’m not sure I have the capacity to make normative, healthy choices anymore,” he told me.

The only child of a prominent Russian academic couple from Ramat Aviv — both of them university professors — he had big shoes to fill even at a young age. This was a child who’d inherited his grandfather’s violin on his fifth birthday and was required to play weekly recitals for the extended family every Friday evening following hours of lessons and practice during the week. The fiercely deconstructive criticism he regularly received from his uncle — a virtuoso symphonic cellist — may have been his first memory.

But this regular berating was soon outshined in his mind by his seventh birthday surprise — watching as his mother threw out his collection of children’s books and replaced them with tactical chess books and Russian-language classics. When he complained that his friends didn’t have to read thousand-page novels instead of playing soccer after school, his father’s response was, “Tolstoy is a better companion for you than Alex, Rafi, or any of the other children in your class.”

Their marriage took a nosedive when Guy’s father took a professorship in Vienna and only returned for weekends. His mother worked tirelessly for her own promotion to vice-chair of the department and he was left to choose either Dostoyevsky or the computer.

Within a few years, Guy’s father stopped returning for weekends altogether and his mother had checked out of parenting for the sake of chairing a new sub-department at the university.

But Guy had found refuge in online computer hacker groups and discovered a community that gave him the support and endorsement he was craving.

“These faceless names were my new best friends, until I realized that some of the things they were doing weren’t so nice. Stealing credit card numbers, selling social security IDs, and some other pretty bad stuff,” he admitted as he recounted his story. Before long Guy found himself being interrogated by the Shin Bet for his affiliation with an online group that had hacked into various government sites.

“It was the first time my mother sat with me in close to a year,” he recalled. “And I even got a call from my father to tell me I was ruining the family name.”

Guy suddenly stopped talking and walked out of the office. It was obvious that he was hurting. I waited about ten minutes, until he sheepishly returned. He apologized, said it happens sometimes. Then he continued where he left off. “I found myself at a crossroads: Collaborate with them or go to jail. So I did the only sensible thing and joined up doing cyber security for the Israeli government.”

His four years in clandestine technology operations engendered an intense feeling of camaraderie between his fellow reformed hackers. Life was good. The government even sent him for a degree in computer engineering and cyber-security.

Things were going well enough until the graduation ceremony. His father had promised to fly in, but was conspicuously absent due to a birthday party for a stepdaughter. Mom was present in body, but spent most of the ceremony emailing her fellow researchers and then let Guy know that she wouldn’t be able to stay for the celebratory dinner they had planned.

Guy paused, then got up and left the office again. A few minutes later he called to apologize, and asked if he could come back inside. I told him an apology was unnecessary, that we’re on the same team here.

Guy came back in and picked up where he left off. He told me how after that crushing event, he left with a fellow “orphan” and the two found solace getting high together, dulling their collective pain from the shattering abandonment of the otherwise celebratory moment.

This began a dark six months of Guy’s life in which he did little other than smoke and sit on his computer. But he was too smart to stay in that chronic depressive funk, pulled himself together, and decided to reimmerse himself in the high-tech world.

“If I couldn’t be happy, I figured I’d at least make a lot of money,” he laughed sadly to himself.

The next few years were a series of high-paying technology sector jobs in Tel Aviv. It felt good to be part of a team and his skills were considerable. But whereas his colleagues spent their money partying or on lavish vacations, Guy had no desire for any of that.

“I just wanted to feel like I was part of something. I had basically no family, no friends, and only a bank account filled with close to two million shekel and not a person in the world to spend it on. I hadn’t had a meal with my mother in months, and hadn’t seen my father in over five years. I was alone, and my colleagues were either hardcore partiers or had families of their own and no time for someone like me. So I guess that’s why I did something crazy and started going to a local Chabad House.” He began to cry. “I know it sounds weird but I heard that you could just show up and that they’d invite you for Shabbat dinner and you could sit with a family. I just didn’t want to be alone.

“I finally found a loving father-figure in Rabbi Issakarof and he accepts me for who I am, not for who he wants me to be. It’s been two years now that I’ve been there almost every Shabbat and even though I’m not totally frum yet, I barely did a single mitzvah in my entire life and yet he still accepts me,” Guy continued, really sobbing now. “Do you know what he did on my birthday? He didn’t torture me with Tolstoy — he gave me a big hug and dedicated the Shabbat kiddush in my honor!”

“It sounds like you finally found the family you always wanted.”

“Dr. Freedman, Rabbi Issakarof is dying and needs a transplant for a rare disease.”

“Oy vey, Guy. I’m so sorry.” Not a brilliant response, but what else could I say?

“His only hope is to fly to America for a transplant — they found a match for him and he has to fly tomorrow or never — but the family has no money,” Guy sobbed. “I told the family I would fly him there and pay for the treatment. They didn’t know I had a shekel to my name because I never told anyone. The procedure and the treatment will cost about half-a-million dollars. It’ll wipe out my bank account, but I’d do anything for Rabbi Issakarof — he’s like a father to me. But is it proper? Or am I nuts? I’ve never really had a family, and don’t know much about relationship boundaries. So my question is, am I crazy? Have I lost my mind?”

I felt myself tearing up along with Guy as he put his heart on the table. So this was his question: Was he “normal” to stretch himself, when he’d never before experienced what it means to give?

“There’s no question here, Guy. You’re perfectly sane. Money is only money but family is family. It doesn’t matter how crazy this might seem to anyone else — this is your decision to make, even if you come up against people who will stand in your way. Sure, some will tell you to save your money, not to waste it on some cult like Chabad. To let the rabbi find his own way to pay for his treatment, or let him just pray to his G-d for salvation…”

“That’s exactly what my mother told me.”

“You know, Guy, doing the right thing in the face of these added challenges makes your great deed even greater.”

Guy looked relieved as he wiped away a few last tears. “I guess I just needed an objective perspective. I’ve never helped anyone in my life and I’ve never even given tzedakah before. I needed someone responsible to tell me it’s okay, that I’m not crazy.”

 

Identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of patients, their families, and all other parties.

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 770. 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

  • Send A Comment To The Editors

Tagged: Off the couch