Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz, Chairman of the Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Committee, and the Orthodox Union jointly sponsored a round table looking into drug and alcohol abuse in the Jewish community. The round table, conducted Monday evening at the Young Israel of Midwood, brought together thirty experts including rabbis, social workers, doctors, psychologists, counselors, program directors and attorneys.
“There is a culture of denial throughout much of the community when it comes to drug and alcohol abuse that extends all the way to the halls of the Legislature. When I talk to my colleagues they have trouble believing that there is a need for funding prevention and treatment programs in the Jewish community. That’s why I asked Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, the Orthodox Union’s Executive Vice President, Emeritus, to help me convene a panel of experts to confirm the problems and begin to explore remedies,” Cymbrowitz explained.
Rabbi Dr. Weinreb added, “This issue has long been of great concern to the Orthodox Union. We have an ongoing program, called ‘Safe Homes, Safe Shuls, and Safe Schools’, which has made some impressive inroads. This round table, along with our partnership with Assemblyman Cymbrowitz, brings the matter to the next level and to a much broader audience.”
The experts agreed that there is a growing problem of drug and alcohol abuse in the Jewish Community. Addressing this concern is complicated by the perception that there is no problem because many of those abusing either drugs or alcohol are not only functioning, but maintaining either high grades or business success. Despite the appearance of “all is well.” the clinicians and rabbis reported that they are seeing a significantly higher incidence of drug and alcoholism problems in the Jewish Community and a frustration that there are too few resources to respond.
“Another obstacle to dealing with this problem head-on is the shame that a drug or alcohol problem causes in the Jewish community. Whether it’s just embarrassment or the fear of difficulty with a shidduch in the future, drug and alcohol problems are often kept behind closed doors by families, shuls or organizations. This only serves to exacerbate the problem,” Cymbrowitz said. “This secrecy has caused a dearth of detailed information on drug and alcohol abuse in the Jewish community, which makes the activities of this round table all the more valuable.”
“We can’t expect to find a solution to this problem within the confines of a two hour discussion. This meeting was the start of a focused effort to make sure that the rabbinate, roshei yeshiva and community leaders know the extent of the problem. Only then can we begin to be sure that the necessary prevention and treatment programs are in place to stem this growing problem,” Cymbrowitz said.
“We were gratified that some concrete next steps emerged from the meeting, including a call for research, a planned intense parent education effort in target communities, and the development of a listserv of resources. And many of the participants have already volunteered to be involved in these next steps,” Rabbi Dr. Weinreb stated.