Purim and Passover, which both encourage drinking, may be behind us, but every Kiddush, every simcha is another opportunity to raise a glass and say l’chaim. And to seriously overdo things.
In reality, abuse doesn’t need an excuse. And the problem doesn’t stop at alcohol. For a long time, there has been a perception that Jews were not afflicted by the same addiction problems plaguing Western society. Thankfully, there are now many organizations and individuals willing to listen and help Jews in distress. If you have a problem or if you have a family member with a problem, you can begin your search with resources online.
Long before people talked openly about these problems, there was JACS, Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically Dependent Persons and Significant Others [http://bit.ly/ jdrink36]. Established in 1979 as a voluntary group for Jews in recovery, JACS now maintains branches in locations including New York, Chicago and Toronto. In Tucson, a JACS meeting is held on Wednesdays at 6 p.m. at Temple Emanu-El (or you may contact Rabbi Richard Safran at [email protected]).
Perhaps the most moving site warning about potential dangers of alcohol was created by the family of Yehuda Aryeh Mond. At the age of 19, Yehuda passed away from a drug and alcohol overdose. His family created the Yehuda Mond Foundation to spread the word about alcohol and to provide resources to others. One of the highlights of the site is a chilling 40-minute video that includes a young man who shares how as a teen, “I had an orange juice container mixed with whisky in my fridge in yeshiva that I used to take swigs from throughout the day … By the time I was 18, I was on the streets of Yerushalayim throwing up, wondering why I can’t stop drinking.” [http://bit.ly/ jdrink28]
I was interested to see that major streams of Judaism also recognize that problems exist in our own backyards. In its 1993 resolution, “Dealing with Substance Abuse,” the Union for Reform Judaism called for the introduction of “religious school educational programs for all levels, including the very young.” [http://bit.ly/ jdrink29]
The Orthodox Union has called for the elimination of so-called Kiddush Clubs, a mid-service retreat from the sanctuary on Saturday mornings to make kiddush and drink up. In “Why Kiddush Clubs Must Go,” Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb writes, “This behavior is not lost on the rest of the congregation, particularly the youth, including the very children of these participants. This practice glorifies and idealizes alcohol at precisely a time when alcohol and other addictions are clearly on the rise in our community.” [http://bit.ly/jdrink40]
The OU site also carries the piece, “Orthodox Youth and Substance Abuse: Shattering the Myths.” [http://bit.ly/jdrink30] And the Conservative movement has published “From Addiction to Recovery: A Jewish Spiritual Journey.” [http://bit.ly/jdrink31]
Other Jewish resources include Baltimore’s Jewish Recovery Houses [http://bit.ly/jdrink32], New York’s Yatzkan Center [http://bit.ly/jdrink33], Los Angeles’ Beit T’Shuvah [http://bit.ly/jdrink34] and the Haderech 12-Step Treatment Center based in the Western Galilee in Israel. [http://bit.ly/jdrink35]
When you do a search for substance abuse and Judaism, Rabbi Abraham Twerski’s name comes up often. Dr. Twerski is the medical director of Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Pennsylvania [http:// bit.ly/jdrink37] and the author of countless compelling articles and books on the subject including “The Twelve Steps and Judaism” [http://bit.ly/jdrink38] and “Tackling a ‘Shondeh’” (disgrace) [http://bit.ly/jdrink39]
Fortunately, there are successes. In “Today I am 20 Years Sober,” the anonymous author writes, “In Judaism it is said that when one saves a life, it is as if one had saved the entire world. God saved the world for me. I am not even sure why. I was not especially good. I am not especially good even now. I was certainly not deserving. He saved my life and I don’t know why. All I can do now is to keep putting it out there — showing myself to you. …
“My sobriety is a credit to God’s Name and none to me. Thank you God. Thank you for all you have given me and all you have taken from me. Thank you for another day of life.” [http://bit.ly/jdrink41]
Mark Mietkiewicz can be reached at [email protected].