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To Each His Own

 “Maybe the kid is just a ganef. End of story. Why do you think otherwise?”


“You ever see kids for kleptomania, Reb Yaakov?”

That was the question my friend Rabbi Mendel King asked me. He’s been the mashgiach of a mainstream yeshivah for gap-year bochurim for close to 40 years, and called me to discuss a talmid of his who was causing a bit of upset among the other boys.

Had I ever seen kleptomania, the rare condition whereby people have the recurrent and irresistible urge to steal useless and inexpensive objects, living lives of secret shame? Maybe a few times. Had I met kids who had stolen stuff from their roommates, friends, and enemies for a million different reasons? Only a few hundred times.

Rabbi King began to describe his talmid, Yonatan Levi, as “a really nice kid” from “a very solid family” in the Five Towns who had apparently made it through high school without any challenges. But things began to unravel the first week of yeshivah, after he’d taken another bochur’s expensive headphones and had “admitted to an honest mistake because he owned a pair that looked similar.” A month later there were some missing energy drinks and other small things. There were some suspicions but no formal accusations, and besides, Yonatan was always so sweet, charming, and apologetic if he felt he’d hurt someone or overstepped his boundaries. But now here we were, close to Purim, and Yonatan was found wearing another student’s expensive, high-end belt.

“That nearly caused a fistfight, but the fellows got hold of themselves pretty quickly, and the episode ended in apologies from both sides. Again, Yonatan played innocent, and hey, I know the guys tend to ‘borrow’ things from each other, but something about it doesn’t sit right with me.”

“Maybe the kid is just a ganef. End of story. Why do you think otherwise?”

Rabbi King was happy to answer me. “Because on the surface at least, he seems like such a sweet kid. Tries so hard to be good and is always apologetic. He alone told me how tough it is for him to resist the urge to take things, but that his kleptomania always gets the better of him and that it’s something he really wants to work on, so I told him I’d arrange someone for him to talk to. Reb Yaakov, does this sound like kleptomania to you?”

It didn’t sound quite like kleptomania to me, so I clued Rabbi King into what I knew about the relatively rare condition, to see if this fit his talmid’s profile. I explained how kleptomania is a type of impulse control disorder, a compulsive behavior presenting as an uncontrollable urge to steal meaningless things — used toothbrushes, old socks, shoelaces, or other things one doesn’t need or have little value. Most times, those items are squirreled away and never even used.

“This Levi fellow isn’t stealing half-empty cans of spray deodorant,” I explained. “He’s being implicated in the thievery of goods totaling well over $1,500, based on your description. And that’s just things you know about. There could be dozens of incidents,” I said.

It sounded to me more like a budding case of what’s known as antisocial personality disorder. The predatory, manipulative behavior, the disregard for others’ property or boundaries, the lying and the lack of remorse combined with rationalizations and excuses up to the sky — almost like their conscience has been put to sleep. Rabbi King had definitely been around the block and had over the years honed an acute sensitivity for bochurim and their issues. But he might never had encountered APD, which is a bit tricky to spot and diagnose.

To his credit though, Yonatan Levi agreed to an appointment. But when the time of our appointment arrived — 1 p.m. — there was no patient. Not at 1:10 and not at 1:20. I called Rabbi King, who told me that Yonatan had been reminded of the appointment the previous day and was as surprised as I was that he hadn’t showed up. 1:30 p.m. Rabbi King called Yonatan, who said he was close by. 1:45. Zilch. 2 p.m. I called Rabbi King to tell him that I was still waiting and no one had arrived.

“He just called to tell me that he came, but that the door was locked,” Rabbi King said.

I couldn’t help but laugh. I had been standing outside of my office and enjoying a cup of coffee in the sunshine. The only person who had walked into the building was the dentist upstairs. And no bochur — not Yonatan Levi or anyone else — had come to the door.

I saw my next patient walking down the road and took a final sip from my coffee as I walked back into my office. It was already 2:30 and this young man’s slot had already been over for a while by the time I began my next session.

At 2:38, there was a knock on my office door, and a young man with perfectly gelled black hair and an almost-unbuttoned polo shirt opened up and came right in, to the horror of the anxious chassidishe man who was in the middle of his appointment.

I quickly stood up while motioning to the uninvited guest that he’d have to step out of the office and that I’d be with him in a moment. I apologized for the need to momentarily pause my current meeting and walked outside to meet the kid who I could only imagine was Yonatan Levi.

“Nice to meet you, Doc,” he said as he set down his drink and held out his hand to shake mine. “Really sorry, but I couldn’t find the office. But I’m glad I’m here, and I’m sure we’ll be able to get off on the right foot.”

I looked at his beverage and recognized it as the exact peach-flavored ice tea I’d bought for my son from the makolet earlier that morning. The sticker was still on it. In the exact same spot.

“Did you steal that bottle from my fridge after you lied to your mashgiach about having been close to my office over an hour ago?”

Yonatan wore the kind of face that made me feel like one of us was crazy. I didn’t think it was me.

“You like this stuff too? I mean, it’s delicious so I buy it every chance I can.”

I repeated myself.

“Oh. Well, about coming late for the appointment, I mean, I was waiting outside for a while because it was super hard to find the office building because—”

“No it wasn’t. You weren’t here. And then you got here, and then you took a drink from my fridge. And then you lied about it.”

He shrugged and gave a sad look that begged for me to ask him if he was okay, given how hard it must be to be in his place at the moment.

I didn’t budge.

“I’ll see you tomorrow at 9:15 a.m. You know where the office is now. And you’d better bring a drink to replace the one you took from the office fridge.”

He laughed nervously. “Hey, are you threatening me?”

I shook my head and told him reassuringly, “I’m not the mafia, but you did steal my kid’s peach ice tea.”

“I’m really sorry, Doctor Freedman.”

I wasn’t sure that he was, but I nodded and summarized our short conversation. “No excuses. Tomorrow at 9:15. Bring a replacement ice tea for my fridge or else.”

I shut the door and quickly returned to finish with the chassidishe fellow, who was thankfully still waiting in my office. He smiled and told me that he was glad he wasn’t in the other patient’s shoes.

I agreed.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 902)

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