Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Erik Siegal of LA, came to Israeli Yeshiva for Torah, but found heroin


At 6:32 PM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...

Jan. 20, 2005
Overdose victim came for Torah, but found heroin

Erik Siegal was a young American Jew with a drug problem. He chose to embrace a religious life, and came to Israel to learn Torah and start afresh.

It didn't work out that way. Siegal, a yeshiva student at Neveh Zion in Telz Stone, west of Jerusalem, died this week of a heroin overdose.

"A horrific series of events led to Erik's death," said an acquaintance. "He came to an unfamiliar country. He bought heroin that was different from what he was used to in the US. He sniffed too much, went to sleep and never woke up."

On Wednesday, police arrested four other American yeshiva students on suspicion of selling drugs to dozens of their fellow students in Jerusalem. The arrests, and Siegal's death, has thrown a spotlight on the problem of drug use among young American Jews sent to study in Israeli yeshivot in part as a means of rehabilitating them.

Many of them, such as Siegal, have a record of drug abuse. Just last year he was in a strict rehab program in Utah. Siegal grew up in a secular household in suburban Los Angeles, and the recent death of his non-Jewish father, according to a friend, created tremendous turmoil in his life.

Neveh Zion, one of several yeshivot that specializes in educating "high-risk" students, admitted Siegal.

Besides Neveh Zion, there are at least three yeshivot in Jerusalem that accept high-risk students: Kesher, Sha'are Yerushalayim and Ner Ya'acov.

None preferred to comment on record following Siegal's death and yesterday's arrest. All are interested in helping American yeshiva students through their period of crisis, but a source close to the yeshivot said their methodologies differ, although none would accept a student that used hard drugs.

A rabbi at Kesher said Neveh Zion's staff did everything possible to help Siegal.

"Even though in theory I am in competition with Neveh Zion, I have nothing but good words for the staff," said the rabbi.

"It is a wonderful place with a tremendously dedicated staff. They are in constant contact with a network of professionals. If they see a need they immediately refer to the right place and try to get treatment."

The rabbi said that at Kesher therapeutic aid is available inside the yeshiva. There are random drug tests. All students make a commitment to zero tolerance to all illegal drugs.
"I not saying students never have a slip-up," admitted the rabbi. "But never with heavy opiates."

In addition to yeshivot, there are also several "drop-in" centers for kids with drug problems. Two, The Zone and Crossroads, are located near Kikar Zion, a popular hangout for American yeshiva and seminary students. A third, The Clubhouse, is near Har Nof.

Rabbi Eitan Eckstein, head of Retorno, a drug rehabilitation center that deals primarily with religious families, says that many American parents have a misconception that they can send children with a substance abuse record to Israel and everything will miraculously work out.

"But parents must understand," warned Eckstein, "that is not the way to solve the problem. Instead, the children end up at Kikar Zion dealing drugs."

Or worse, they end up like Erik Siegal.

At 8:05 PM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...

Jan. 20, 2005
Concern OD death in yeshiva would hurt US arrivals

The ramifications of the death this week of Eric Siegal, an American 19-year-old student at the Neve Zion Yeshiva, of a heroin overdose continue to reverberate in the "high risk" yeshiva community.

The impact of Siegal's tragic death is compounded by another unfortunate incident: the arrest of four students from the Ner Ya'acov Yeshiva for selling marijuana to an undercover cop.

"When a tragedy like this happens, parents think twice before sending their children to Israel," said a rabbi from one of the yeshivot that deals with Orthodox youth that have a history of substance abuse and delinquency.

"Like a terrorist attack, it will probably have an impact on all yeshivot with American programs. But for places like ours the fallout endangers our very existence."

The rabbi, who preferred to remain anonymous, met with The Jerusalem Post in a coffee shop in Jerusalem.

"Our goal is to create worlds," said the rabbi, his long side-locks swaying with passion.

"I am thankful to God," he said, closing his eyes and tilting his head slightly upwards, "that He gave me the tremendous opportunity to help kids in trouble turn their lives around."

According to the rabbi, "Every boy we help lead a normal, healthy life, who gets a profession and raises a religious family is a whole new world.
"I ran into one of our graduates recently. He has a masters in psychology and is making a tremendous contribution as a counselor.

"Our work is like throwing a peddle into a calm pool - you never know how far the ripple will reach and how much impact it will have," he said.

However, the rabbi added, "Right now I am worried about the future. If we weren't around many of our 'pebbles' would never have been thrown, those positive 'ripples' would never have been made."

In theory, mainstream Orthodox yeshivot could help mitigate the negative impact of Siegal's deaths and the arrests on "high risk" yeshivot by publicly supporting the work they do. But none of the yeshiva heads recognize the need for places like Neve Tzion, at least not publicly.

Several hundred students are enrolled at the three leading Yeshivot for high-risk Orthodox youth. Ner Ya'acov, with a student body of about 90, established by a rabbi who left Neve Tzion, maintains a more academic environment.

Kesher, with about 50 students presently enrolled, combines a yeshiva with a rehab clinic complete with a weight room, ping-pong tables, and regular urine tests.

Kesher was originally connected with Ohr Sameach, a yeshiva that specializes in outreach to Jews with non-Orthodox backgrounds. But it broke off several years ago.

Neve Zion, located in Telzstone, just west of Jerusalem, is the oldest and most established.
All yeshivot employ a professional staff of social workers, clinical psychologists and drug counselors. Relations between the rabbis and the students is very informal.

Students stay for no more than three years. They are encouraged to move on - either to mainstream yeshivot or to pursue a profession and, eventually, to establish a family.

Annual tuition at the yeshivot ranges between $10,000 and $15,000. About half of the costs are covered by tuition, the other half is covered by fund raising.

In many cases American communities raise the money to pay for the tuition for the first year at the yeshiva. Funding for the second year often does not materialize. But students are never expelled due for economic reasons, says the rabbi who met with The Post.

On the way out of the coffee shop, the rabbi ran into one of his students.

"I'm in crisis, can you help me?" he asked the student.

"Sure", replied the student.

The rabbi hugged him warmly, briefly resting his scraggly-bearded chin on the young man's shoulder.

"Thank you," said the rabbi.
"No problem."

The rabbi refers to drug use, delinquency and attraction to pornography by Orthodox youth as "second grade assimilation".

"Nominally, these boys come from Orthodox families. But consumerism and materialism in America has replaced religion. Kids learn quickly that money and personal well-being are more important than anything else. They learn to be incredibly self-centered and strive to be takers, not givers.

"When a father who calls himself Orthodox tells me he does not interfere when he sees his son turning on lights on Shabat, because he does not want to force his opinions on the boy, I ask myself what kind of Orthodoxy is that?"
Toward the end of the interview, the rabbi admitted that ultimate success depends on the individual.

"We can open the door for the guy. We can make what's on the other side of the threshold look attractive. But at the end of the day we can't make him walk through. He has to pull it together on his own.

"We're just facilitators."

At 6:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said... (1/21/05)
Dave ****, New York, USA: I am currently 22-years-old and I am a recent college graduate. I myself went to Ner Yaakov and was once considered one of these "high-risk" students. I am writing this letter in response and defense to the utter disrespect which these three "high -risk" yeshivot have taken. I wonder in amazement at the look of surprise on our Jewish communities' faces as they read and talk about what awful yeshivot these are, and how these boys should not have gone to Israel to solve their drug problems. How wrong and sadly misled these people are. Unfortunately, this is the reality of our community today and it takes these brave "high-risk" yeshivot to endure the brunt of criticism from the community at large and from articles such as these that are presently being written. You are merely writing and hearing about a minority. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of success stories that have come out of these yeshivot, including myself. Instead of writing articles of criticism, we should be writing articles of praise and thanks to these special yeshivot! Where else is there for a teenager to go to follow the path of Torah while facing the difficult temptations of the street? I ask myself where would I be today if I had not gone to a Yeshiva like Ner Yaakov. Do drug rehabilitation centers include rabbis who love and care for you as if you were their own son? A drug counselor can only do so much - his focus is drugs, and to get you off drugs only. A rabbi's job is to not only save you from drugs, but to save your entire life as well. My prayers go out to the four boys on trial as well as the one who has sadly left us.


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