Several hundred Five Towners came together on Monday night to mobilize against a plague of drug and alcohol abuse that’s touching a growing number of local families.
“We’re in this problem beause the world is in this problem [and it’s] getting worse,” Rabbi Dov Silver, founder and executive director of Madraigos, told the gathering, convened by the community’s rabbanim and other leaders, at Congregation Beth Shalom in Lawrence.
Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt, assistant rabbi at the Young Israel of Woodmere and chief of infectious diseasaes at South Nassau Communities Hospital, cautioned that the “terrible afflictions” of substance abuse “occur in our community, not only in ‘those’ communities.”
He referenced the Gemara in which Rav tells his son to not use drugs. “If Rav had to tell his son, beware of the dangers of drugs,” certainly we need to do the same, Rabbi Glatt said.
Speakers emphasized the importance of addressing the issue and not being handicapped in doing so by concerns over shame and blame.
“There are people who sometimes, through no fault … of anyone, simply succumb to the problem,” said Rabbi Kenneth Hain of Beth Shalom. “It could be a number of risk factors — impulsiveness, anxiety, depression, lack of academic success, bullying, a whole host of possibilities. You [as a parent] may have done nothing wrong. You simply had the blessing of having a child who has issues. And last time I checked, sefer Bereshis is full of difficult children born to Jewish parents who have problems.”
“There’s a Jewish issue here,” Rabbi Hain said, “the worry about shame, about discovery.”
“We all need to solve this problem together, we can’t as a community pretend that this crisis doesn’t exist,” said Senior Hatzalah Paramedic Shlomo Katz. “Too many times Hatazalah calls that I’ve been on are kept a secret. I’ve been on Hatzalah calls for overdoes where a week later the parents are trying to convince me that their child had some crazy bubonic plague or some crazy virus.”
“Addiction is a shame-based illness,” said Rivka Drebin, who spoke about losing a son to substance abuse. “[We have to] get over it and get treatment.”
“It’s not a shame to talk about these things,” said Rabbi Yaakov Trump, assistant rabbi of Young Israel of Lawrence-Cedarhurst. “It’s not a shame to come forward. It’s not a shame to save lives.”
Alcohol, marijuana and prescriptions left unsecured at home were described as gateway drugs to greater highs and addiction.
“Our kids know the happy feeling they get after a couple of shots of Scotch or after they pop two Percocets — and if you think your children don’t know, I assure you their classmates know,” said Katz. It’s an “overwhelming crisis.”
“No longer can you say not my son, not my daughter, not my backyard, not my house,” said Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder.
Katz described a beautiful Shabbos morning kiddush, with “50 types of herring, 12 types of cholent, everybody’s having a good time.”
“[If] I walked over to the table where all the liquor is and I pulled out a loaded gun and I put it on the table and I walked away, every person in the room would have me arrested,” he said. “Yet we all stand around drinking at that same kiddush, we extol how great the Scotch is, how smooth it is, how sweet the bourbon is. I like to make a l’chaim too, but what are we teaching our kids?”
As a Hatzalah volunteer, “it’s hard when Shabbos after Shabbos you respond to the same neighborhood and find teenagers drunk,” he said, “when a family brings in a 16-year-old kid that’s laying the middle of the street. They have no idea who he is, he’s so drunk he can’t protect his airway.”
Katz spoke about a Shabbos Chanukah call in which a teenage girl was lost. “It’s an amazing family. I know them my entire life,” he said. “They’re a typical regular family like every one of us. …
“While we were kneeling on the floor over that beautiful child … we’re saying tehillim, we’re begging, we’re crying, we’re pleading, we’re negotiating with Hashem, please not this time, not again.”
Katz said that “this scenario of a drug overdose is playing out 50 times a month in our communities — that’s 600 times a year.”
Rabbi Boruch Ber Bender of Achiezer, the evening’s moderator, said that “we are here because we love our most cherished possession, our children.” Just as we teach of children about fire safety and awareness around strangers, we must properly instruct them about the dangers of substance abuse, he said.
Rabbi Silver of Madraigos said that he keeps on his cellphones “the names of our children who passed away as a reminder” that “this problem of substance abuse hit every side of our community.”
He said the drug epidemic in our communities has been growing worse and hitting earlier, and access to drugs is easier than ever and easier to hide.
Whereas it was once a challenge for kids to venture into dangerous neigbohoods to buy drugs, now “it’s delivered to our houses while we’re away at work. Our children may come home for a few minutes to meet the drug dealer, and we don’t even realize,” he said.
Widespread vaping is another new danger, since its drug content cannot be detected by smell, Rabbi Silver and Commissioner Ryder said.
“The concept of the integrity of the child’s personal space must be reconsidered in light of the dangers,” said Karen Bayer, a Five Towns and Manhattan psychotherapist for 40 years.
There are many resources available in the Five Towns for those who need help. Questions addressed to Help5T@gmail.com will be triaged and appropriately forwarded, Rabbi Trump said.