Do Our Schools Need A Reboot?

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Portrait Of An Overdose, Part II

Note: The following harrowing account of a young neshamah that didn’t quite fit in is based upon a recent interview that Reb Avrohom Klein, the father of Malky Klein, a’h, gave to R’ Dovid Lichtenstein on the Headlines radio show.

From that point on, she was not in school. She was in school for a while, everything changed. Her whole lifestyle changed and we saw a complete different person.

She stopped believing in everything. A very close friend was telling her, “Malky, don’t worry. Hashem loves you.” And she said, “Don’t tell me that. I don’t believe there is one. It’s impossible because what kind of a Hashem is there? Why me?” It was a lot of anger. Eventually that subsided and she started turning all that around. And emunah became her number-one thing.

She kept on saying, “Ta, nothing happened. Everything is from Hashem. A leaf doesn’t fall off a tree without Him, so if that’s the case, nothing happened. I don’t know why me. I don’t why this, I don’t know why that, but everything comes from Hashem.” Later on, she became a little bit softer. She started saying, and she has Facebook posts in this and that, “I trust in Hashem’s plans for me.” Everything was Hashem, Hashem, Hashem.

She once posted not long ago, maybe I think a year ago, on Facebook, “G-d has only three answers: yes, not right now, or I have something better planned for you, Malky.” With a little smiley. Then, eventually, she went to an alternative school for girls who don’t have schools. The girls that look a little different, behave a little different, dress a little different, run by some very wonderful people.

She went to that school and she did, I’m going to say wonderfully, relatively speaking, I mean all within her abilities and inabilities. She started dabbling in substances. We had the discussion about using drugs, talking about the dangers of using drugs. I asked, “What does it do for you?” I really wanted to take interest in everything she does and everything she feels as much as possible. It was like two, three in the morning. That was my daily schedule, because that’s when we were able to really schmooze. She was explaining to me, “It numbs me. It takes me away from my feelings.” And I asked her, “Do you know how dangerous it is? I mean, this is not pharmaceutical grade. This is you never know what you’re buying, you never know what you’re getting.” And she said, “I know. And I know that I’m playing with fire every day, but that’s not the issue.”

“The issue is that doing the drugs allows me to live because it makes me numb, and without it, all I do is think, and think, and think, and think, and think. And it creates a lot of pain.”

And I responded to her that time saying, “Oh, Malky, I really feel your pain.” And I think I even said it in this particular voice and she lashed out at me and she said, “No, Ta, don’t you ever, ever say that to me. You don’t know what it feels like. You cannot feel my pain.” And I was trying to defend myself saying, “Yeah, of course I do. I feel it, you’re my daughter.” And she said, “No, no, no, Ta. You do not know what it feels like being stupid every single day of your life. You can never feel that pain. That’s what I feel.”

And I said, “You always had these friends. You were the most popular girl in the whole family, in the whole school, and you were always so happy.” She said, “I do not remember one single happy day in my life. You saw me being happy. You saw me smiling, you saw me going to friends and calling friends, and all that was a lot, a lot, a lot of work for me. It was a façade. It was a show. It was trying to overcome my inside feelings and that is all I remember from day one. I don’t remember anything else. Every day I felt stupid.”

And she gave me a whole list of things that I’m allowed to tell her, I can feel for her, I can understand her, I can this, and I can that, but she says, “But don’t you ever tell me you feel my pain. Life is pretty good for you. You go, you come, you achieve, you’re successful, but my life is very different.”

Going back into the talk of drugs. And, we were going back to it and I was saying that chas v’shalom something can really happen. She said, “I understand, and believe you me, I don’t have a death wish. But if G-d forbid something happens, what am I really losing? What kind of a life? Not much there.” Then she went clean. She was working very hard. She made her own program, she went clean, she went to meetings, and she really worked on trying to be clean. She did it for six, seven, eight months, I don’t remember exactly the time, and then she relapsed and that was her own program.

I’m not exactly sure what she was doing those days, what kind of drugs, but she was very proud of herself that she is actually working on recovery. Then, she relapsed. It was like on and off, and on and off until one day she said, “Ta, I’ve got to go to a rehab.” I asked her if she’s sure about it. “Rehab is not home. They’re going to tell you when to wake up, they’re going to tell you when to go to sleep, they’re going to tell you when to eat. When to stop eating. They’re going to tell you and I want you to know the commitment you’re making, if you’re ready for that commitment.” I said, “You were ready to stop doing drugs for yourself once, and you did a program very nicely.” She said, “This time I do not feel I can do it myself.” I said, “Great, no problem, your choice, I don’t know anything about rehabs. I’ll try to find you a person that can actually listen to you and can guide you. Somebody that understands these kinds of things.”

And I actually talked to someone, the person came over, and they had a long discussion talking about everything. Together they chose a particular place in California. There were three things that Malky was doing at that time. She kept 100% kosher, for some reason or another, while she wasn’t doing much of other things. She took it upon herself to light Shabbos candles every Friday evening. She was fasting Yom Kippur, that was her thing. Those were the few things that she really held on to. She went to rehab, and one of the reasons she went to a particular rehab is because it’s Jewish-owned and she was told that they were sensitive to these kind of things and they even have a kosher kitchen for the kids who want to keep kosher. And that was appealing. She went there.

The first week we went to visit her; we were in California like every week, every second week. And the first week we visit, she says, “Ta, you want to see the kosher kitchen?” And she said, “This is the kosher kitchen. That’s the kosher fridge, it says kosher on it, and this is the kosher microwave, and the kosher this and the kosher that.” And she takes out a foam container, and she says, “You want to see my lunch? Here it is. Two slices of salami in a roll.” And I’m looking in the rest of the place and I see that there’s a gourmet meal and I’m thinking, how is this girl going to survive on kosher?

This is a place run by Jews, owned by Jews. And she said, “You know what? Let’s buy stuff and I’ll cook myself.” That’s what she said. She was 17. And we went to the kosher place and we filled up the freezer with chicken drumsticks and burger patties. Everything that’s easy to cook, very quick. We filled up the whole freezer and that’s what she was doing day after day. She was cooking by herself to keep kosher.

I told them that she lights candles. Those are the things she’s holding on to. She’s holding on to kosher, she’s holding on to candles, and to Yom Kippur. Please make sure that you provide it because what you don’t want is what I don’t want—for her to find that she failed in one more thing in her life. Obviously she’s holding on to it. At this moment in time, I do not think that she needs to do anything. With her current condition she’s patur from everything. However, if that’s what she holds on to, it is important that she should be able to hold on to it because her whole life, the way she sees it, is failure, and she doesn’t need to fail more.

So, they gave me a little bit of an argument. She needs to ask and she needs to this, because rehabs are somewhat like boot camp. I said fine. I said there are a thousand things that this girl needs to do, and you’ll argue with everything. Can you please not argue about these three things, because allowing her and encouraging her to do what she feels good about is going to make your argument and everything else that much simpler, easier to achieve. I said to provide her with candles. They said, “Oh, she should ask.” I said “Please provide her with candles so she doesn’t have to ask. She will not ask. She will be embarrassed to ask. That’s what’s going to be.”

So, they provided her with four candles. She had two for one Shabbos, two for the second Shabbos. And Sunday after the third Shabbos she told me, “Ta, they didn’t give me candles.” That was the end of the candles. She cooked her own food for six weeks. Every day, while everybody is being prepared meals, she cooked her own food. Eventually she became tired. She started giving the goyishe cook her kosher meat to cook on the side in the pots. Eventually the whole thing fell apart.

And so for the last many years I was thinking that I must start a rehab—the right rehab. It’s not about making somebody religious or forcing somebody to be religious, but to give a kid that choice. So they can actually stay strong in whatever they feel like and whatever makes them feel good so they can build on it. But certain things are out of my league.

I don’t know, I didn’t think I could actually pull it off. I’ve spoken to people, even people who wanted to put in money and volunteer. It just never materialized because the last six years, my wife and I and the whole family really were in triage mode. We were trying to save this kid and help her build herself. It was a little difficult to do anything else besides concentrating on that. Once she entered rehab, she was doing very well.

She was clean for 13–14 months. She didn’t even want to go out. She didn’t want to leave. She was afraid to leave, she didn’t want to come back to Brooklyn. We offered her to go somewhere else. She didn’t want that. That was out of the question. She found that unrealistic. It was unrealistic for us, too, because we have other kids and they are attending school and we can’t uproot them. It’s difficult to uproot, traumatizing other kids.

She said that it’s fine. “I don’t have to come to Brooklyn, not at this time; when I’ll be strong enough, I’ll come back. I don’t need the Brooklyn stares, I don’t need the Brooklyn judgment. I don’t need this, I don’t need that.” After 13 months of being clean, she went from one program to the next program. And then she relapsed. There were some difficult times during that relapse. And then she went clean again. And now she was clean for the last 9 or 10 months, doing extremely well with a plan of finally coming back to Brooklyn to be close to family, close to home, rebuild.

She got into different things being in rehab. She got into art. We never saw that quality in her. She started drawing pictures and the first time she put pen to paper she drew the most beautiful pictures from a talent perspective. At the same time, the pictures were horrific because she basically expressed her feelings through drawings. I know some of her drawings have been going around the internet, and they actually speak volumes. They speak for themselves. No need to explain them. But she was going to rebuild. She was going to come back to Brooklyn and she did.

A week before she passed away is when she came back to Brooklyn. Final departure from California, even though she had a little relapse just before she came home, which was just before Rosh Chodesh. For Rosh Chodesh we were in California. She got back on the wagon, so to speak, and she came home. Everything was nice and dandy. We spent time together. Thursday, she baked challos with my wife. She took challah, she made a berachah. And then, whatever happened for one reason or another, I knew she was in a slump. I knew she was down because about a week earlier, she facetimed me and she started crying.

She was talking, saying, “Everybody around me is an overachiever and I’m an underachiever.” And I told her, “Look at your art. Look at your photography. Everybody around you doesn’t have a clue how to even look at it.” She said, “Ta, you’re my father, you’ll tell me anything to make me feel good.” But that’s not the case. And she was crying. She says, “It’s four in the afternoon. I didn’t even brush my teeth yet, because that’s me. I couldn’t get out of bed this morning, because I was feeling so down. I just couldn’t get out of bed. It’s four in the afternoon and I still didn’t brush my teeth.”

I knew she was not in a good state, but she was relatively OK compared to other times. I made sure when she came home to have a Narcan kit in the house just in case. And that Thursday night, after she baked challos, a package came for her. Mamish a miracle, because I wanted to go up to the room to give it to her, and then I found her in a terrible state.

She had OD’d, and I quickly grabbed the kit and administered the Narcan and, baruch Hashem, within a few minutes she came back as if nothing had happened. Actually the fellow was here within a minute and they started seeing that the pulse is coming back and breathing is coming back. And that day, I was actually looking to find a doctor because she had said, “I need someone to prescribe Suboxone. I need someone to prescribe it right now.” So, I was looking all over the place. Reaching out everywhere to find a psychiatrist or somebody licensed to prescribe it. We couldn’t find anybody.

We finally got an appointment for Monday and she was very, very nervous about it. And it was five minutes before Shabbos, she asked, “Ta, what’s going on with this tabach. It’s not going to happen because it’s right before Shabbos. None of your friends are going to pick up the phones or do anything right now.” I said, “Don’t worry, there are people still working on it.” Then, Friday night, she went to her room, and a close friend of hers spent the night with her all throughout Friday night until five o’clock in the afternoon. She didn’t feel that well; she was in a withdrawal state because of the Narcan. She wanted to stay in bed, but her friend joined us at the meal. The friend left at five o’clock. I went to my shul in the late afternoon, around 6:45. I didn’t even know the friend was not there. I decided not to disturb her, knowing that she has a friend with her. So, I went to my shiur. At about 7:30 I was called that she’s not responsive. And I came running home. Hatzalah got the call at the same time. I tried to do the same thing again [with the Narcan], but the moment I walked into the room I saw it was different than what I saw on Thursday.

She had walked out of the house earlier, at roughly 6:00. She came back a minute or two after I left for shul. She spent time with my wife, about half an hour, they were sitting and talking, schmoozing together, chatting, until she went up to her room. My wife went up to her room 20 minutes later or so just to say goodbye because she was going to spend some time with a neighbor. She saw her in that state, and this time around we were not able to bring her back. And that’s the end.

  • • •

What would I say to the school that threw her out? By nature, I’m not an angry person. But there are times during the day that I have a lot of anger, a lot of pain, or I think anger with pain. Sadness. I have all different kinds of feelings going through my mind, my body, my heart. Whenever I’m in a place of anger, I really don’t like to talk to people. Simply because whatever I would say, whatever I could say, I really don’t want it to come from that place because I don’t think that anything coming from that place would actually bring any positive results.

It becomes more of a screaming, yelling, argument match. Everybody tries to be right. I don’t want to be right. I don’t care to be right. If I can, I would like to be able to make a difference. What I would say to the principal, at a state when I’m not angry—and I’m not right now—is that this is hindsight to teach you to better educate yourself. A whole lot of other kids are going through your hands, megalglin z’chus al yedei zakkai v’chovah al yedai chayav. Heed those words. Do whatever you can. That’s my only message I have.

When we see issues that we can identify, and when we identify with issues and relate to those issues, there is no nation, there is no people, that respond to a crisis like we do. Bar none.

The world responds to an earthquake in Haiti, and they start feeding people who don’t have what to eat all year around, because that’s the only way they respond. We feed people all year round. We make programs of takanos chasunahs so people can afford to marry off kids. We have mosdos that charge so little they can barely survive. We have large families and we are a people of assets. That’s who we are, so, inherently, I truly believe that everybody means well. I just think that people are terribly misguided.

What I would tell people, what I would tell principals, and mostly I would tell parents, really, is that you don’t have to wait for a crisis to go learn something you might not know. I would especially tell it to principals, and mechanchim and mechanchos, to never think that they were born to be mechanchim and mechanchos, that it’s in their DNA. There is a lot more to learn of how to deal with kids who are not running on autopilot. Kids who need extra help, guidance. Kids who need us to be their GPS. Those are the kids that we need to concentrate on. The rest? They turn out to be whoever they turn out to be. We need to concentrate on the kids who are trailing behind because those are the ones who need our help. Unfortunately, we don’t.

The principals, the yeshivas, the schools, they serve the masses. And the masses don’t have the problem. It’s the few that have the issues. The systems are built to work that way, and, therefore, the other ones don’t survive.

I’ve gotten to know Malky’s friends. I have found those kids to be extremely smart, extremely bright, extremely intuitive. All of them deep thinkers and ultra-sensitive. Every one of them processes and re-processes information.

That one word. That one bad word, one time, telling a child in second grade that she belongs in first grade—the child never, ever gets over it. Ever.

It makes them feel stupid for the rest of their life. If Hashem gave that person a particular level of resilience, they can withstand that. They remember it, but they will overcome. But for those that don’t have that immune system, they fall apart. Those are the kids we lose. Some of them get to a point where they just can’t climb out of it.

What would I tell principals in schools? Do some introspection. Try to wipe your slate clean of everything you know—of everything you thought you know, of everything you believe you know. Do introspection and find out that maybe there’s a whole lot of things that you don’t know. The moment you’ll start searching, you’ve got the answer. You will find a better way to do things.

 

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