Split Loyalties| July 26, 2022
Was this my perky daughter and her exuberant chassan? What was happening between them? Was everything okay?
Devora: I’m willing to do everything possible to help my daughter. Why won’t you share what’s going on?
Ayala: My primary obligation is to your daughter — and right now that means respecting her privacy.
Miri wasn’t answering her phone. Again.
Calm down, I told myself. It’s probably nothing. She’d only been married a few weeks, after all, and I knew only too well what the all-encompassing intensity of shanah rishonah could be like.
But still, something felt a little… off. Miri was my oldest daughter and we were pretty close. I would’ve expected her to call me back within a day or two, or at least send a quick text. I’d invited the couple for Shabbos, but it was already Thursday and I hadn’t heard back from them. Miri was a bubbly social butterfly, and she loved schmoozing on the phone. What was going on?
Navigating a new marriage isn’t easy. Give her space, I told myself, but I couldn’t help but worry a little. Was Miri okay? Was anything wrong?
On Friday, Miri finally texted that they’d be coming for Shabbos, sorry she forgot to reply earlier. Oookay. I threw together a couple of extra side dishes — luckily I’d prepared a roast in addition to the chicken, on the chance that the couple would be joining us — and asked my younger daughter Estee to run and buy some more desserts. Preparing the guest room at the last minute was a little inconvenient, but honestly, I was just relieved she’d be coming, and I would get to see her for myself, check if everything looked okay.
iri and Shmuli arrived a half hour before Shabbos. Miri looked picture-perfect in her Shabbos sheva brachos dress and flawless makeup, kallah jewelery sparkling. But something looked… a little off. Had she lost weight?
“Come inside, come take something to eat,” I said, trying to mask my worry as I passed out plates of kugel and cake.
Miri thanked me quietly and Shmuli gave a half-hearted nod. They both perked up after eating something; I guess fresh kugel will do that to anyone. But… was this my perky daughter and her exuberant chassan? What was happening between them? Was everything okay?
Over Shabbos, my concerns were raised even more. There was something… uncomfortable, almost, in the air between Miri and her new husband. They sat next to each other but they didn’t seem to talk much, certainly not the whispered giggling conversations I remembered from sheva brachos. And Miri spent half of Shabbos reading in her room — reading! That was not like my daughter.When Shmuli was out at Minchah and we had a quiet moment together, I asked Miri directly if anything was wrong.
“Wrong?” She opened her eyes wide. “Um, Ma, why are you asking?”
That response raised even more alarm bells.
“Look, shanah rishonah isn’t necessarily easy,” I said diplomatically. “You know, I have some experience with this, I’ve spoken to some kallahs and couples. There are often adjustments, maybe more than we thought there would be, and that can be… challenging.”
Miri avoided my eyes. “Thanks so much, Ma, but we’re fine. Really. Everything’s okay.”
Everything’s okay? Could that mean…?
“Are you… feeling okay?” I asked. Maybe this was all it was, the evasiveness and the wan look and the way Miri just didn’t seem like herself…
“Feeling —” Miri stared, then suddenly gave a short laugh. “Oh. No, I’m not expecting, Ma. It’s just — really, everything’s fine.”
was really, really sure everything was not fine, and that feeling intensified more with each passing week.
Miri was becoming a shadow of herself. My effervescent, bubbly daughter was withdrawn and quiet. She hardly called, and when I called her, she often didn’t answer. When they came for Shabbos — which wasn’t often — I couldn’t help but notice the tension, the distance between them.
It didn’t seem like only the stuff of regular shanah rishonah adjustments. I started to worry that maybe it was something much worse. There were so many awful stories of abuse, chalilah, so many tragedies and people suffering in untenable marriages because they didn’t have the help they needed. If Miri was trapped in a terrible situation, she needed help, fast.
And if it wasn’t that — well, it didn’t seem like waiting it out was doing anything to improve the situation. Maybe it was regular new marriage adjustment, and they just needed guidance and help to figure it out together. Guidance and help that they probably had no idea how to access — or to afford.
“I would pay for therapy, counseling, whatever, if she would just tell me what she needed,” I told my husband, Akiva. “I wish she would just open up, share something, so that I could offer to help her find the right resources, pay for professional help…”
Akiva shook his head. He was concerned too, but he didn’t have the same experience I did, and he usually left this sort of stuff to me.
“Maybe you can get someone else to speak to her? Suggest getting help? Because it seems like she’s not comfortable opening up to you,” he offered.
“I’ve thought of that. But who?” Even as I said it, I knew what the obvious answer was. Miri’s kallah teacher, Ayala Stone, was definitely something of a mentor figure for her. But I also knew why I was reluctant to go down that route.
Ayala Stone was relatively young. Sweet, trendy, and new to the kallah teaching scene. An experienced high school teacher, yes, and someone Miri looked up to as a role model, and definitely someone the young kallahs these days related to. I thought she was a great mechaneches, and she seemed to be excellent as a kallah teacher, too. But I wasn’t so sure she could handle mentoring newlyweds through rough patches. Marriage counseling wasn’t the same as kallah classes — certainly not when a new marriage was in crisis. And I knew that an inexperienced mentor could spell disaster in a delicate situation.
I thought about my own shanah rishonah. It hadn’t been easy. We’d both been so young, and while now, I can look back at the awkward moments and the miscommunications and find them almost funny, back then, I’d felt so lonely and lost. When I’d discovered I was expecting, just two months after we got married, I’d been terrified. I was falling apart as it was — how on earth would I manage a baby?
Back then, things had been different. We didn’t have the proliferation of mentors and therapists and counselors that we have now. My kallah teacher hadn’t talked about things like communication and hashkafah and the emotional parts of marriage, and I hadn’t connected with her enough to want to reach out with my doubts and worries.
We’d figured it out, baruch Hashem, and over two decades later, we’re way beyond that awkward, trying-to-make-this-work stage — far beyond. I’ve been blessed with a wonderful husband and a fantastic marriage, but I’ve also worked very hard to reach this point. I guess people sensed that I have what to share, because over the years, I’ve developed a kind of reputation for being someone women and girls confide in. I wanted desperately to share any wisdom I have on the “teething challenges” of early marriage, with my daughter — who seemed to really need whatever help she could get.
And yet, my hands were tied.
Finally, I called Ayala Stone. She was gracious and sweet as ever, listening attentively to my concerns and assuring me that she would keep everything totally confidential.
Confidential. I hadn’t even thought otherwise, but I guess it was a buzzword nowadays, confidentiality and boundaries and things like that.
“So, I hear you’re worried about your daughter’s marriage, for a bunch of reasons. I’m curious though, why you’re reaching out to me? For my opinion on whether these are legitimate concerns?”
“Not exactly,” I said, a little thrown by the question. “I know they’re concerning, and I also know my daughter. She’s not speaking to me, but I’m sure she’ll reach out to someone, and if it’s not — you know, someone with the right credentials, and a lot of professional experience, it might backfire.”
I tried to word this delicately; Ayala Stone was exactly the sort of person I worried about Miri confiding in. I knew my daughter, she could be a bit of a drama queen, and she might spill the story without giving over some important details. If it weren’t an experienced therapist or someone trained in dealing with shalom bayis issues, someone trained to pick up what she wasn’t saying, sharing what was going on could seriously backfire.
Of course, I would have been happiest for Miri to speak to me — I knew her best, after all, and I had the experience to at least guide her to the right address for further help — but for some reason, she didn’t want to open up. I had no choice but to offer my help from behind the scenes, and I wished Ayala Stone would make it easier.
“What I’m wondering is,” I said, feeling my cheeks color slightly, what was it about this woman that drained me of my self-confidence? “Could you, as her kallah teacher, reach out just to check in, how’s it going, do you have any questions… make it casual, as if you check in with every kallah, you know? And if she does confide in you that something’s going on, something wrong with her marriage, I would love for you to help her find a therapist or marriage counselor who can help. I know a lot of names. I’m happy to give suggestions, and of course, I’ll foot the bill. You can tell her there’s a fund for it or something. And that way, she’ll get the help she needs, without needing to know I’m involved.”
Ayala Stone was quiet. “I hear you,” she said, finally. “I have to think about this a little. I’ll call you back.”
For the next three days, I jumped every time the phone rang.
I’d gone so far out of my comfort zone to reach out to Ayala, it had been a hard call to make — and I’d done it only in order to help my daughter, who was clearly struggling. Every day I was waiting for a response felt like another day that Miri was suffering unnecessarily. There was so much help available, and so many resources, if only she could be guided to access them!
Finally, just when I’d just decided that it was time to call Ayala Stone again, she got back to me.
I jumped to get the phone, but as soon as I heard her hello a little voice inside told me I wouldn’t like her answer.
“I thought about what you asked, but honestly, I don’t think it’s my place to get involved like that,” she said. “I’m so sorry about that. I really like Miri a lot, and I’m having her in mind. I hope that if she is struggling, she’ll reach out to the people in the best position to help her.”
I didn’t know what was more hurtful — the doubtful if she is struggling — as if I didn’t know my own daughter, as if I wasn’t astute enough to pick up on whether this was a real problem — or the outright refusal to help out, when I’d worked up so much courage to ask for this help.
Maybe this wasn’t in a kallah teacher’s typical line of work. But my daughter was suffering, and here was a chance to help her — how could she turn me down so heartlessly, and so patronizingly?
After that disastrous conversation, I tried reaching out to a couples therapist I knew. She was sympathetic but couldn’t offer much help without the couple coming to see her themselves. If someone could encourage them to reach out for help, she would definitely do whatever she could to be of service, she said.
By now, I was desperate enough to ask Akiva to schedule us an appointment with our rav, although I wasn’t sure that he could advise us without having Miri and her husband involved. Rabbi Kahn took my concerns very seriously, and urged us to try encourage Miri to speak to someone.
“That’s the whole problem, she keeps insisting everything is fine,” I said.
Rabbi Kahn nodded slowly. “But you’re sure that it isn’t.”
I ticked off my proofs on my fingers. “She hardly calls home or comes to visit. She sounds distant and strange when we do speak. She’s lost weight and looks terribly tired and strained. I met some of her friends the other day, and they were all saying that it’s as if she dropped off the face of the earth. They were laughing about it, like she’s so caught up in shanah rishonah, but it’s not like my daughter. They hardly ever come for Shabbos, and when they do, they seem uncomfortable with each other. I don’t see them talking much, going for walks… nothing like when they were engaged, that’s for sure.”
Rabbi Kahn stroked his beard, eyes intent and focused. “There definitely seems to be cause for concern, from what you’re saying. And yet, she keeps telling you she’s fine…” He paused for a moment. “Keep reaching out. Keep supporting her, without judging, without pushing. Send over food for Shabbos if she won’t come. Remember, if her marriage is shaky, you’re the only support she has, even if she won’t reach out. And daven. Daven that somehow, she’ll find the strength to open up to you, or to someone who can help her out if she needs guidance.”
Akiva and I nodded.
“Keep in mind, also, that it may not be what you think it is. It may be that everything’s fine and this is just a normal adjustment to marriage. Perhaps there’s good news on the way.” The rav smiled slightly. “Whatever happens, if it’s important for your daughter that you think things are fine, don’t push her to open up, or confront her with proofs. Let her feel you’re 100 percent supportive of her, and b’ezras Hashem, that will ensure she’s comfortable to open up to you if she needs you.”
IT wasn’t easy following Rabbi Kahn’s advice. I wanted so badly to run over to Miri’s house and beg her to tell me what was happening. Instead, I kept up regular cheerful chatter whenever we spoke, and made sure to send over suppers, Shabbos dishes, and home baked treats whenever I could. Whenever I went over to deliver them, she seemed happy to see me, but very guarded, standing in the doorway and often glancing over her shoulder uneasily as we spoke. She never invited me inside.
It seemed that whatever was going on, though, she wasn’t ready to confide in me about it.
And then came the shocker.
I was driving home from work one day, and I passed by the block where Ayala Stone lived. I’d dropped off Miri for so many kallah lessons, I almost pulled into the familiar driveway out of habit. I glanced at the Stones’ front door as I passed, and nearly slammed on the brakes.
There, in the doorway, talking to her kallah teacher comfortably and easily, was Miri.
I drove around the block again. And again. I couldn’t help it, I could hardly believe what I was seeing. So Miri was confiding in someone? Was this the first time, or had she spoken to Ayala before? It looked like they were super comfortable together — had she been updating her all along? Why was she choosing to confide in Ayala Stone when I was desperately trying to reach out? Could the young this-isn’t-my-place-I’m-sorry, Mrs. Stone really help her out? A great teacher, yes; a well-regarded kallah teacher, okay, but she was not a licensed marriage counselor or mental health professional — and something about the situation made me very, very concerned.
Calm down, Devora, I told myself. Maybe she was speaking to her for the first time. Surely in a few hours Ayala would reach out to me, tell me what had happened, and we could work together to help my daughter. Maybe she was already now helping Miri find a therapist, and we would discreetly figure out a way for me to pay for it without Miri knowing. I should be grateful Miri was speaking to someone…
But the kallah teacher didn’t call. Not that day, or the next, or the next. And when I drove past the house at a similar time a few days later, I saw my daughter leaving again. This time, Mrs. Stone had her arms around her, and it looked like Miri was crying.
I couldn’t believe she was doing this. Did she really think she was qualified to help out in a marital crisis all on her own? She knew about my concerns, I’d spoken to her about them, and I was the one with the knowledge and means to help my daughter.
“I’m offering to pay for anything they need — we’re the ones supporting them as it is,” I told Akiva, almost in tears myself. “And I know Miri best, I’m not just the kallah teacher who met her for the first time a few months ago. And who will be the one to deal with the fallout if chas v’shalom, the marriage falls apart? Us — her parents! And she’s hiding from me that she knows anything, just to feel like a hero?”
“Maybe Miri asked her not to tell anyone,” Akiva suggested.
I shook my head. “Ayala Stone has no problem being assertive. She herself told me that marital stuff isn’t her role, that’s why she refused to reach out to Miri when I asked her. She shouldn’t be agreeing to keeping something serious confidential like that. Besides, she knows how worried I am. I’m literally not sleeping at nights. Can’t she at least let me know that she knows what’s going on? Or what I can do to help?”
If I could tell Ayala one thing, it would be:
I know there’s something wrong with my daughter, and I’m willing to do everything I can to help. How can you withhold information from me and try to handle something beyond your purview on your own?
When I trained as a kallah teacher, I knew the role wouldn’t be easy.
What I didn’t realize was that the hardest thing wouldn’t even be the kallahs themselves. It would be the balancing act with them and their mothers.
It’s the mothers who are paying, so it’s hard not to treat them like the client, but actually, I’m here to work with the kallah. It should be simple, but it really isn’t. What if there’s a conflict between the two, and both expect me to take their “side,” as it were? I try not to get involved, but the engagement is such a laden time, and inevitably, when there are stressors, it comes up in kallah classes. If the kallah shares with me something about her mother, what do I do then? It’s not really my place to guide her in family matters like that, but often she’s not speaking to anyone else about it, and I feel terrible leaving her without any guidance.
I realized early on that it’s vital to have a network of mentors, rabbanim, and professionals to consult when necessary. I’m also in constant contact with the veteran kallah teacher who trained me in, and make sure to ask advice on any unusual situation that arises. Often, the trickiest times are actually after the wedding — the shanah rishonah struggles emerge, and newlyweds often reach out to their kallah teachers for advice.
I’ve fielded my fair share of such calls, and over time, I’ve learned which problems really need therapy, and which are really just normal early marriage kinks that time and communication will resolve.
Miri Lieber-Gross was in the first category.
I hadn’t expected to hear from her after the chasunah. She was the easygoing, bubbly, life-of-the-party type, floating on the clouds about her amazing chassan and over the moon to be getting married. The chasunah was lively and happy, Miri looked wonderful, and the couple looked like they suited each other perfectly. Even more, Miri’s mother was the well-known Mrs. Lieber — she had a reputation in the community as a mentor of sorts, and many people approached her for advice. Miri and her mother were close, and I would have expected that if anything cropped up, her mother would help her out.
I actually discourage my students from confiding in their parents about marital issues — in my experience, that never boded well in the long run. I always talk to my girls during kallah classes about being careful to protect the privacy of marriage, explaining that their mothers will never forget what they share about their new husbands, even when the issue is long gone. Still, my opinion aside, I would’ve assumed that Miri’s mother would’ve been her first port of call for advice.
Apparently, though, she’d taken the classes more seriously than I thought. Which is why she was calling me, in desperation, just a couple of weeks after the chasunah.
“Mrs. Stone? It’s Miri Gross — Miri Lieber.”
“Miri! How are you doing? It’s good to hear from you,” I said warmly, even as a frisson of anxiety stole up my spine. Hearing from a former student like this is not usually good news.
“Thanks. I just… wanted to ask you…” Miri swallowed. “Um, I’m not sure what to say. It’s just — something —” she broke off. Her voice sounded choky.
Warning bells resounded in my mind. “Miri, it sounds like there’s something bothering you. Would you want to come over this evening to talk things out?”
Miri sounded grateful. “Yes. Thanks so much.”
“No problem. And Miri…” I hesitated. “Many people struggle to adjust to marriage, shanah rishonah, things like that. Usually, it’s totally normal and totally solvable. Okay?”
This time, her tone was doubtful. “Yeah. I know. I have to go, I’ll see you later.”
And she hung up the phone.
Despite the fact that I’ve been doing this for a while, and that newlywed kallahs returning for impromptu counseling isn’t a rare occurrence, this time I was a little nervous. Miri hadn’t sounded good at all. I hoped she was okay. I was grateful that I’d never been approached by a girl in a truly dangerous marriage; those kinds of situations were just so awful.
I had a kallah coming that afternoon for her first class, so I put Miri’s phone call to the back of my mind. But once she was gone, the worry returned, full force.
Miri knocked on the door right on time. Her sheitel and makeup looked perfect, but there were shadows under her eyes, and her face looked drawn.
“Miri, so good to see you,” I said warmly. “Come inside.”
I led her to the sitting room, instead of the office where I generally taught kallahs. I hoped the more informal atmosphere would help Miri relax. It didn’t seem to work though. She sat rigidly on the edge of the couch, playing with her rings and looking down.
“The beginning of marriage can be a challenging time,” I said, trying to ease the way for her. “It’s hard, but really normal.”
Miri finally looked up. Two tears were rolling down her cheeks. “I don’t think this is normal,” she blurted.
I looked at her compassionately. “What’s going on?”
It took a while until I got a coherent picture — once Miri started, she was crying too hard to speak. But eventually, I pieced the facts together. Apparently, her chassan, who’d presented as a lively but shtark ben Torah, was actually very disconnected from Yiddishkeit. She wasn’t sure if he davened, and he hadn’t been to kollel once since they were married.
I took a deep breath. While it’s actually fairly common for boys to go through a downslide right after marriage, with the adjustments and all, this sounded more serious.
“I feel like it was a sham, all along,” Miri sobbed. “He’s not interested in Shabbos, in davening… I don’t even know if he puts on tefillin!”
Poor Miri. What a horrible place for a brand-new wife to be in.
“How are things… between you?” I asked, delicately.
“What do you think? They’re hard, obviously.” Miri looked away, embarrassed. “I mean, I feel totally betrayed and misled, and he knows that… and whenever we talk about the Yiddishkeit stuff, or about halachah, or if I even tell him what time Shabbos is, it becomes a whole argument, like he thinks I’m shoving stuff down his throat and I need to ‘give him space.’ ” She made air quotes with her hands.
“He told you that?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know, yes, no, maybe. I just feel it.” She sounded irritated.
I pressed further. “And when you’re not discussing anything to do with frumkeit…”
“Oh, then it’s fine. But what am I supposed to do, never mention halachah? Or kashrus, or Shabbos, or davening, or anything… and what about his learning, he’s supposed to be in kollel, my parents think he’s learning for at least a few years…”
She burst into a fresh bout of sobbing.
I didn’t want to minimize any of this — it was serious, heartbreakingly serious — but I did want to confirm that the marital conflict was just about this, and that there wasn’t anything else more sinister going on. I asked a couple more questions, but the responses made it obvious that outside of the Yiddishkeit issues, Shmuli was doing okay as a husband. There was no abuse, no threatening or violence. He truly cared about Miri, and tried to show it — when they weren’t arguing about the state of his Yiddishkeit. And he even felt bad about what was going on, but he also felt stuck — apparently, he really had intended to stay in learning, and had certainly never intended to stop keeping mitzvos — but somehow, getting married had triggered some old stuff, anger at the system, and with all the changes he just felt like he “couldn’t keep up the facade anymore.”
“A facade, he called it,” Miri sniffled. “Like it was an act all along. I feel like a total fool.”
“I don’t think you need to feel like you were tricked,” I told her. “It sounds like he didn’t really know this about himself, either, back when you were dating.”
Miri didn’t seem appeased. “That’s what he says. But who doesn’t know that they’re really not so connected to Yiddishkeit?”
I didn’t answer. It happens, especially with boys. Yeshivah provides them with a comfortable infrastructure, they’re succeeding, there’s no reason to rock the boat. But then something shifts — and a life change like marriage certainly counts — and they start reassessing everything. And it can be a top learner who suddenly realizes that he’s not exactly sure what he’s doing — or why.
I spoke to Miri for over two hours that night. She was reluctant to go home — her husband was holed up there all the time, and the atmosphere was so stifling, she said. On the other hand, she wasn’t so sure she wanted out of the marriage, especially when I told her that I’d come across such situations before, and sometimes, the boys really pulled themselves out of the rut after a while.
Miri and Shmuli were definitely well suited, and she did reiterate that when they managed to have a conversation that didn’t center on Shmuli’s religious status, they enjoyed each other’s company. And whatever he was doing was about him. She wasn’t in danger of any sort, just suffering from a very painful betrayal and the confusion of what to do next.
Just before Miri left, I asked her if anyone else knew about what she had told me.
“Not a soul,” she said emphatically. “I haven’t forgotten what you taught about privacy in marriage, you know.” She gave a shadow of a smile. “He is my husband, even if I’m really, really hurt and upset right now.”
I was impressed with her maturity. Because she was right: this was a sensitive situation, and involving the wrong people could — no, would — backfire. For sure. Miri needed professional help, a therapist, a rav, maybe a mentor, but she had to be the one to work through this and figure out whether to stay married, and how to stay married.
And while Devora Lieber may have been a very wise and experienced mentor to others, I agreed with Miri’s decision not to involve her. I’d seen too many situations escalate with parental involvement; even the most solid and healthy parent had a blind spot when it came to their kids suffering. Keeping things quiet would be the only way that Miri could make an unpressured decision.
And if she chose to stay married, or if Shmuli figured things out and they moved past all this, it would definitely be better not to have involved the family. If her mother would forever look at him as the chassan who went through a Yiddishkeit crisis right after marriage, and made her daughter so unhappy, it wouldn’t be a good thing.
Besides, Miri was simply afraid. Afraid to tell her parents that their star of a son-in-law wasn’t such a star, after all. I understood her — people get so invested in the shidduchim that hearing they’ve been “duped” could have disastrous repercussions.
Miri continued coming over to speak to me. Her husband either didn’t know about or didn’t mind the excursions — he didn’t ask her too many questions about what she was doing when she went out of the house. At least that made it simpler for her to get help.
I guided her to an experienced rav and an expert therapist, who worked with both individuals and couples. Thankfully, I was able to help Miri access funding — there was an organization that had a fund for just this kind of need, run by a very experienced kallah teacher, and when I explained the situation — without any identifying details, of course — and gave the endorsement from the rav Miri had spoken to, they agreed to cover the bulk of the cost.
For now Miri was going to see the therapist alone, but the goal, of course, was to get the two of them in counseling together. Still, until then, at least Miri could work through her deep disappointment, the letdown, her own feelings about the marriage, and gain some practical tools how to handle the challenging day-to-day of her married life.
Even after all that, though, she needed a listening ear. Someone just to talk to. I was okay playing that role, especially once I knew she was being guided by experts. I didn’t want to be the one advising her, but listening and supporting? I could do that, no problem, and if I could ease her pain by being there for her, I was more than willing.
But then — and I should have seen this coming — her mother called.
IT was a month or so after Miri had opened up to me. She was already seeing a therapist and I knew that she and her husband had gone together to a rav that he knew from way back — a major step. Now, more than ever, it wasn’t the time for a shvigger’s involvement.
The problem was, Mrs. Lieber was really, genuinely worried. And she’d picked up on enough to be sure there was something wrong.
I decided that the safest thing was to act as if I hadn’t been in contact with Miri at all. If I let on that I knew about the situation, that I was actually heavily involved, Mrs. Lieber could be hurt — and it could backfire on me, on Miri, on the whole situation. I’d be pressured into saying more than I wanted to, and what if she went back to Miri with the fact that I’d let on that I was involved? Miri would lose her trust in the one source of support she had.
“It sounds like you’re worried about Miri’s marriage,” I said, choosing my words carefully. “But I’m curious why you’re reaching out to me. Are you asking whether I think these are legitimate concerns?”
“Not exactly,” Mrs. Lieber said. “I know my daughter, and I’m sure she’ll reach out to someone for help — at some point. Even though she isn’t speaking to me about it. I want to make sure it’s someone with the right credentials, a lot of professional experience, not someone… you know, where it could backfire…” she trailed off somewhat awkwardly.
Ouch. So she was basically saying, in not as many words, that she thought I was unprofessional and inexperienced. That was a little… hurtful.
Put it aside, Ayala. Focus on the real issue — protecting Miri’s privacy, handling this conversation.
I wanted to say the right thing, but I was somewhat at a loss.
“Let me think about this and call you back,” I told her finally.
I called a mentor of mine and discussed the entire situation. I explained that Miri’s mother wanted me to reach out to her, suggest therapy, and facilitate her parents privately footing the bill, and of course, I filled her in on what was actually going on — the fact that Miri was already in therapy, the money had been taken care of, and she desperately wanted the situation to be kept a secret from her family.
Rebbetzin Stein heard me out, and together we concluded that the best course of action would simply be to tell Mrs. Lieber that I could not get involved in the way that she wanted.
“If Miri hadn’t reached out to you, you wouldn’t be able to do what she’s suggesting — it’s not the kallah teacher’s role at all,” Rebbetzin Stein pointed out. “And besides, most girls would not run to therapy because their kallah teacher called, out of the blue, and suggested it. Even if it was paid for. So I think you can explain that to Mrs. Lieber and close the conversation.”
I followed her advice — I couldn’t think of a better way to go forward — but I was nervous. What if Mrs. Lieber eventually found out that Miri was speaking to me? Because secrets don’t usually stay that way forever.
I was right.
It took a while — two months or so — but when I saw Mrs. Lieber’s number come up on the phone again, I knew instantly why.
“My daughter’s been talking to you,” she said abruptly, when I answered the phone.
I stayed quiet. I didn’t know how she knew, what she knew… and I didn’t want to give away anything that would make Miri uncomfortable.
“I know she’s been coming to your house recently,” Mrs. Lieber continued.
Ah, so someone had spotted Miri on her frequent visits. That made sense — more sense than thinking that Miri herself had given the secret away, especially since she so often stressed how badly she wanted this kept a total secret from her family.
“I just don’t understand,” Mrs. Lieber said. Her voice rose. Anger? Tension? Fear? Frustration? Maybe all of the above? “I’m so worried about her — you know I am, I spoke to you about it — and you said you couldn’t get involved. Well, now I find out that you are involved, and apparently, very involved, but you won’t call me back, at least to tell me that my daughter has reached out and is getting help? Do you have any idea how worried we are, that my husband and I aren’t sleeping at nights, thinking that our daughter might be in danger?”
I decided that having Mrs. Lieber imagining the worst wouldn’t do Miri any good, either. “I hear you, and I’m sorry. I can’t share much because I have to protect the confidentiality of my students, which is why I don’t tell anyone when a student comes to speak to me,” I said, trying to keep things neutral. “I will say, though, that Miri is not in any danger. You don’t need to worry about that.”
Even as I said it, I winced. It sounded so… so patronizing. Mrs. Lieber was probably furious with me.
But what could I do? What choice did I have?
Because I knew that no matter what, I couldn’t reveal more information. Miri specifically didn’t want her parents to know. And even though Mrs. Lieber was a wise and respected woman, who knew what her reaction would be if she heard such information about her own daughter and son-in-law — and whether her emotionally driven involvement would be the final straw that broke the marriage, just when they were finally starting to figure things out together?
If I could tell Mrs. Lieber one thing, it would be:
My role as kallah teacher means I need to put the needs of the kallah first — and make the decision that is best for her privacy and her marriage.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 921)
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