[VIDEOS AND PHOTOS IN EXTENDED ARTICLE]
More than 200 people turned out on Motzei Shabbos, March 4 th at the Beth Gavriel Center in Forest Hills, Queens for an event that was designed to continue spreading the word about the prevalence of drug abuse within the Jewish community while offering practical suggestions and guidance to address the growing problem.
The event, the second such program to be co-hosted by Amudim and Chazaq, and this time included The Living Room.
Participants ran the gamut from parents to grandparents to young adults to school principals and community leaders, all of whom stayed glued to their seats even when the event ran longer than expected.
Rabbi Zvi Gluck, director of Amudim, addressed the importance of removing the stigma that has long been associated with drug abuse, noting that unless the Jewish community becomes more supportive of the problem, those who suffer from addiction will be too embarrassed to seek help, a decision that can have tragic results.
“We’re here to bring about change,” said Rabbi Gluck. “We can’t continuously focus on the past … we have to focus on the future so we can all move forward.” Dr. Melissa Pasquale, deputy chief medical examiner for the City of New York, detailed the skyrocketing number of deaths due to drug overdoses in recent months, an unprecedented phenomenon that has been escalating at an alarming rate. Quite frequently, the victims defy the typical stereotypes of drug abusers.
“These aren’t bad people who get addicted and ended up dead,” noted Dr. Pasquale. “These are good families and I can relate to them.”
Continuing on a more upbeat note, Menachem Poznanski, clinical director at The Living Room, spoke about the importance of hope and optimism and developing a culture of compassion by embracing those who struggle with addiction.
“We must accept that Hashem is presenting us with this challenge and we no longer can ignore it or just blame the sufferers or just try to police them,” said Poznanski. “We have to educate ourselves, adapt to the reality and grow, but even more so, mature as a community.”
Internationally renowned lecturer and author Rabbi YY Jacobson discussed the importance of addressing issues as they surface and not hiding behind a false sense of propriety that allows issues like abuse and addiction to be swept under the rug. Rabbi Jacobson noted that real life does not always turn out the way we might have envisioned and that it is important to provide people with the love and support they need as they travel down the road of life, even if that journey is filled with unanticipated detours and flaws.
“We live in this pressure of perfection and it is a lie,” noted Rabbi Jacobson, adding “we have created standards that are so not real.”
The final speaker of the evening was Naftaly Herskovic, director of Amudim’s opioid training program, who demonstrated how to administer Naloxone, a lifesaving drug that is available free at approved distribution centers and can reverse the effects of an opiate overdose when administered within the proper time frame. More than 50 people stayed for the demonstration, with many more asking for standalone training sessions to be offered at additional locations.