| Dream On |

Dream On: Chapter 32  

"Yes, I got divorced recently. So what? Lots of people do, and their daughters don’t end up in the hospital from it”



Rabbi Freund’s normally placid countenance looked strained as he sat behind the desk in his office, listening to Shani’s mother’s harangue.

He’d asked Chava, as Shani’s mechaneches, to join them at the meeting, which was a fair request, but Chava wished he hadn’t. Explaining to any mother why her daughter is in the hospital didn’t bode for a pleasant meeting, and Mrs. Mandel wasn’t just any mother.

“…completely irresponsible! You dropped the ball badly. I thought I could trust you, you had such a good reputation. Now I see it’s all lies!”

Rabbi Freund tugged on his beard. “Mrs. Mandel, I certainly understand that you’re upset by what’s happened to Shani. Believe me, we all are. We all care very much about Shani.”

Shani’s mother snorted, and Rabbi Freund leaned forward in an effort to regain control. “Tell me, in your conversations with Shani this year, did she give you any inkling about her eating issues?”

Mrs. Mandel waved a hand. “Of course! That’s why I’ve always made sure to ask Shani what she’s eating and how much. I was on top of things, even from across the ocean. How you could have missed it, right under your nose…” Her face was red. “What I want to know is who messed up and what are you going to do about it?”

Chava threw a quick glance at Rabbi Freund. Who messed up? They both knew the answer to that.

Rabbi Freund shrugged. “Mrs. Mandel, this isn’t about blame. It’s about getting Shani the help she needs moving forward. That’s what both of us want, and that’s why it’s important for us to work together cooperatively.”

Mrs, Mandel pursed her lips, and Chava took advantage of her momentary silence to gently say, “I understand there’ve been a lot of changes in Shani’s life this past year.”

Shani’s mother’s face turned an even deeper shade of red. “Now we’re going to make this about my divorce, is that it? Yes, I got divorced recently. So what? Lots of people do, and their daughters don’t end up in the hospital from it.”

She leaned forward. “If you ask me, Shani’s life has only improved since the divorce. She’s no longer living in a toxic environment. I fought hard to keep custody of Shani. Even when my ex-husband’s lawyer used every trick in the book to take my two boys away from me. I made sure that my Shani, at least, would have her mother to take care of her.”

Her hands clenched around the rim of the desk.

“Do you understand? Do you understand what Shani was going through in the months leading up to seminary? She came in such a delicate, vulnerable state, hoping for a new start. And instead, she ended up…” Her face started to crumple; she quickly put a hand over her eyes and took a steeling breath. “In the hospital.” She glared at the two of them.

Something was niggling inside Chava’s brain. Delicate, vulnerable state — where had she heard that before?

“I didn’t want her to leave home in the first place,” Mrs. Mandel murmured. “But Shani wanted to go to seminary so badly.”

Suddenly, it clicked in Chava’s head. When she’d spoken to Mrs. Mandel on the phone the other week, she’d said something similar. I didn’t want her to go, in her fragile state. At the time, Chava had wondered what she’d meant. But now she had her suspicions.

“Mrs. Mandel,” she said, slowly and gently, careful to keep any accusation out of her voice. “Shani was already exhibiting these behaviors at home before she came to seminary, wasn’t she?”

The woman stared at her, then shrugged. “Yes, a little. But it was nothing serious. I thought she was just doing it to make me upset. You know, typical teenage behavior.”

“Mm-hmm.” Rabbi Freund flashed Chava a brief glance of gratitude; her burst of insight had saved the day. He cleared his throat. “Mrs. Mandel, we count on parents to be upfront with us about any medical or emotional issues their daughters are coming with. I don’t know why this didn’t appear on Shani’s medical form — unless the information was hidden from her doctor as well. Had we known she was already at risk for an eating disorder when she came in, we would have been able to keep an eye on Shani’s behavior from the start.”

“Oh, so now it’s my fault? I’m sick of this hypocrisy.”

She stood up and glared down at Rabbi Freund and Chava. “Had you known she was at risk for an eating disorder, you never would have accepted her in the first place.”

Chava bit her lip. Rabbi Freund shifted in his seat. He coughed. “Not necessarily. We evaluate each girl and her individual circumstances.”

From her smirk, it was clear Mrs. Mandel had noticed his lack of composure. “Uh-huh. Sure.”


Tammy sat next to Shani’s hospital bed, watching the IV drip fluids into her arm. Shani had given her a big smile when she walked in, but that didn’t do much to alleviate the suffocating guilt she’d been feeling ever since the chagigah last night.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” Shani said for what had to be the tenth time.

Rabbi Freund had asked her to stay with Shani in the hospital while he met with Shani’s mother. Seeing Shani’s wisp of a body lying in the bed, her face nearly the color of the sheets, had been even more of a shock than watching her faint the night before.

For the first time, it had hit her just how sick Shani was. How could she not have seen this before? How could she have thought she was capable of handling this on her own?

Now Tammy said, “I hear Rabbi Freund found a good therapist for you. When will you be starting?”

Shani’s face darkened. “I dunno. My mom insists she’s coming with me to the therapist. I hate that idea. She’s going to take over the whole show, and talk the whole time about her own problems, and what a monster my dad is, blah blah blah.”

Tammy shook her head sympathetically. Shani was probably right, but what could they do now that her mother was on the scene?

“A good therapist will realize what’s going on, and will know how to set boundaries with your mom.”

“You think so?” Shani sighed. “I dunno. Nothing ever goes right in my life.” She twitched her arm attached to the IV. “I hate being in the hospital. Can’t you ask the doctor to discharge me already?”

Tammy’s heart went out to her. “I’m sorry, I can’t. You need to stay here until the doctor decides you’re healthy enough to leave. We can’t have you fainting again.”

Shani’s eyes narrowed. “So I’ll stay here until they force-feed me enough to make me fat again?”

Tammy was about to respond when they heard a voice outside.

“Hi, sweetheart, I’m back,” Mrs. Mandel sang. She pulled back the curtain from around Shani’s bed and rushed to her side. “I came back as soon as I could. How are you feeling? Did the doctor come by while I was gone?”

“No one came,” Tammy said.

Mrs. Mandel nodded coldly at her, then turned back to Shani.

“Well, at least I didn’t miss anything here. That meeting with your principal and teacher was a total waste of time. They refuse to take any responsibility for what happened. I see I can’t trust anyone around here. I’m glad I was smart enough to realize I need to be here in person. Imagine if I hadn’t come when I did! Who knows what would have happened to you?”

Tammy pressed her lips together. Should she let Mrs. Mandel rant, or speak up in the seminary’s defense?

Mrs. Mandel was now fussing with Shani, straightening her hair and flattening her sheets, to Shani’s obvious irritation. “Don’t worry, Shani, I’m in charge now. I’ll be with you in the hospital until you leave, I’ll take you to your therapy appointments, and I’ll see to it that you get the help you need.”

As if to prove her point, she turned to Tammy. “Thank you for staying with my Shani while I was out. You can go now.”

Tammy raised her eyes at this abrupt dismissal, but, with no choice, stood up to leave. And then she heard Shani’s voice, shaky but clear.

“No, Mommy. I want her to stay.”

to be continued…

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 750)

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