Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Study:Orthodox upbringing no bar to drug use -JWB: folks we have the same problems as any other community when it comes to drug/physical/sexual abuse


At 4:16 AM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...

Orthodox upbringing no bar to drug use: study

Rigorous religious schooling and protection from secular culture do not guarantee that kids won't experiment with drugs, a study of Orthodox teens in Brooklyn indicates.
"Generally speaking, most Orthodox Jews and most Orthodox adolescents do not use drugs. But within the past five years, we've seen young adults from the finest of homes start trying illegal drugs," said Joshua Fogel, a Brooklyn College professor who conducted the study.

An assistant professor in Brooklyn College's Department of Economics and an Orthodox Jew, Fogel studied 11 males, ages 15 to 18, who all attended yeshivas. All but one teen came from homes where the Sabbath was observed.

All study participants went to a Brooklyn center set up for Orthodox teens at risk. The center, which Fogel said he could not name, provides counseling and activities to keep teens out of trouble.

Ten of the 11 teens interviewed had experimented with drugs. Two admitted they were still using them, Fogel said.

"In the more Orthodox and Hasidic circles, you find that many families do not have television sets. They don't read secular newspapers. They don't interact on a regular basis with different ethnicities or cultures. Some families do not have computers with Internet connections in their homes for religious reasons," he said. "These are barriers that prevent exposure to secular influences."

Even so, the teens began experimenting, mainly due to peer pressure, Fogel found. The drug of choice was marijuana.

Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Borough Park) said he was well aware that drug problems existed on a very small scale.

"There are still people who want to put their faces in the sand," Hikind said, "but this problem is hard to deny because it is happening in the heart of the Orthodox community."

On Jan. 20, Hikind said, a 20-year-old from Los Angeles died of a heroin overdose in Jerusalem. Four other American yeshiva students were arrested there on suspicion of selling drugs.

"No community can say it is immune to this problem," said Hikind, adding that attitudes were changing.

Lew Abrams of Yatzkan Center, a rehabilitation facility in Mount Vernon, agreed. He said, "Denial in our community is high because of shame and guilt, but we are not sweeping the problem under the carpet, as we have in the past."

Fogel said he believed his was the first scientific study conducted among Orthodox Jewish adolescents. The findings will be published Feb. 7 in the Journal of Ethnicity in Substance Abuse.

At 6:18 AM, Blogger Elder of Ziyon said...

Only a dope would claim that there were no problems at all in the Orthodox community and clearly they have to be addressed. What I would like to know, which wasn't addressed by this article, it what percentage of frum teens have these problems versus the non-frum and non-Jewish world?

If a study shows that 3% of frum teens are substance abusers as opposed to 10% of other Americans, it would be a pretty good endorsement of the frum lifestyle.

At 6:35 AM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...

>If a study shows that 3% of frum teens are substance
>abusers as opposed to 10% of other Americans, it would
>be a pretty good endorsement of the frum lifestyle.

I suspect that as the incidence of sexual and domestic abuse in the Orthodox community is the same as in the general community that likely substance abuse is also similar.

Jewish Action
The Magazine of The Orthodox Union

Orthodox Youth and Substance Abuse: Shattering the Myths
By Dr. Benzion Twerski

The tendency of our community to shower disgrace upon people who have personal experience with the problems of substance abuse ensures that those who could speak out must hide in secrecy and shame.

As a psychologist who deals directly with those who suffer from this disease, I hope to accomplish several things with this article, not the least of which is to irritate the reader. After all, the problem is irritating; only we choose to ignore it while it festers.

My aim is also to shatter the myths of denial that have only contributed to the spread, impact, and destructiveness of the problem. It follows that once we turn the shame-based insensitivity into a state of openness, Orthodox organizations, kehillos and yeshivos at every level will examine the problem among their own. They can then extend unbridled caring and support to rectifying the situation in their locales.

"...Alcohol and drug abuse is a disease. It is a fatal illness that begins with casual or experimental use of a chemical for its mind-altering effects."

The Disease in Our Own Backyard

Alcohol and drug abuse is a disease. It is a fatal illness that begins with casual or experimental use of a chemical for its mind-altering effects. It rapidly becomes an addiction, which involves loss of control over the substance or behavior, and eventually leads to self- destructiveness. Most experts in addiction consider it a disease, thereby absolving the addict of responsibility for the addiction while leaving him totally responsible for his behavior. Misbehavior and infractions of the law deserve punishment and discipline. Illness deserves treatment.

The myth that Jews are immune to the diseases of addiction prevails, though it has been losing its credibility. The textbooks on substance abuse still cite outdated references that Jews drink more alcohol per capita than any other identified ethnic group, yet have a remarkably low rate of alcoholism. Current experience of addiction professionals does not support this contention. Drugs of abuse were once inaccessible to Orthodox Jews. Unfortunately, times have changed to our disadvantage.

There was once a small number of yeshivah students who left the fold of mainstream Jewish education. We have since witnessed the growth of Torah institutions focused on attending to the wayward, dropout, behavior problem students, many of whom have already been introduced to lifestyles that were never encountered by the Orthodox community. As lofty a goal as saving the wayward adolescents might be, it is also a huge undertaking that meets with less success than intended. One of the chief enemies is drugs. Academic discipline and the best of mechanchim are far too weak to counter addiction.

No accurate surveys on Orthodox teen drug use exist. There are smatterings of numbers that appear in the media and attract attention for a few moments. These are not impressive to the scientist and are misleading to the lay person. I have personally quoted such data, but only to prove that the problem exists and that the low numbers we imagine are wishful thinking. There are known hangouts in Orthodox neighborhoods (in both kosher and non-kosher establishments) where drug dealing is a known activity, and the dealers and customers are predominantly Orthodox youth. The problem is active in our backyard! Law enforcement can do little, since drug spots are portable, and arrests and convictions are not much of a deterrent.

While we need to identify how this deterioration occurred, the rejection of these obvious facts deserves attention. I have spoken to many rabbonim and roshei yeshivah about suggestions to address the problem and have met with resistance. I have no thrill in treating Jewish addicts. I could utilize my skills and experience elsewhere. But I anguish for those whose existence is relegated to fantasy, whose cries for help are dismissed by our own leaders.

Is Marijuana Harmless?

Marijuana, often considered a "soft" drug, can be found in too many yeshivos today. As a long-acting drug which is relatively inexpensive, it is rarely seen as a parallel to "hard" drugs which are more physically addictive. Yet, it is highly destructive to a great many body and brain functions. Its academic consequences are devastating, and include poor concentration, impaired memory storage and retrieval, distractibility, and comprehension impairment. These are witnessed in falling grades and general disinterest. The retention in the body of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, is quite long -- up to six weeks -- and the impairments continue to be wreaked while even trace levels remain in the system, long after the "high" has dissipated.

"...There are resources available to cope with the problems of the addict and his/her family. (See listings). These should all be utilized, even if you think there only may be a problem..."

The bland attitude towards marijuana is compatible with the social acceptance of tobacco smoke. The scientific research is overwhelmingly conclusive that tobacco, in any form, is toxic, carcinogenic, and dangerous to several body systems. The studies on marijuana are similar, but the numbers must be multiplied by a factor of 25-30. The halachic ramifications of ingesting a dangerous chemical are obvious. I have no question about the impermissibility of tobacco or marijuana; but it is recognized poskim who must act upon this information and clarify the halachic details.

From my files...

A 17-year-old yeshivah student is the topic of a call to me from his rebbe. "Moishe" (name changed to protect anonymity) was constantly tired and inattentive, especially in the afternoon. His learning also suffered, even in the shiur every morning. Moishe admitted he was smoking marijuana during recess or lunch break every day, but emphatically insisted he did not have a problem. On threat of being expelled, he agreed to a consultation with me. Moishe defended his behavior, maintaining his learning was better when he was high. His family was an average frum family, and they were as helpless to control Moishe's behavior as anyone else.

Hard Drugs and Our Children

Cocaine, heroin, pills, and hallucinogenics have all commanded pages and hours in the popular media. Drug users may develop a preference for one or more particular drug(s), just as one can prefer certain foods or flavors. The distinction between the various drugs only matter to the treatment of overdose or to help identify the user. One drug is no less serious than any other. One former dealer admitted he once sold several thousand dollars of these drugs at wholesale price for a party that was attended by frum yeshivah boys and girls!

Intravenous (IV) drug abuse is rising again in popularity, having lost some of its appeal with the outbreak of AIDS. The picture of the "bummy"-looking drug user sitting in the back alley with a needle in his arm is not the prototype addict. Many drug users dress well, hold jobs, socialize, and give the appearance of managing well. Many -- particularly younger addicts -- rate the label of "functional addicts," having not met with terrible brain and body damage, yet. Some of these teens -- even our religious ones -- excuse their behavior by claiming to know adults who function well while "successfully controlling their addictions." This is equivalent to being "a little bit pregnant." Addiction is a progressive disease that only gets worse. It doesn't stagnate or improve on its own.

It is a fatal error to judge an addiction by the drug of choice, the route of ingestion, the dollar value or volume consumed, the frequency of use, or the degree of physical dependency. It should rather be seen in terms of the resulting dysfunction in all spheres (health, occupational or academic, financial, legal, social, family, mental, and spiritual). As it destroys the addict, it severely affects many others, including the immediate family, friends and co-workers. In the frum community, where family ties tend to be stronger, this impact is usually quite serious.


It is easy to forget that alcohol is a drug. It is legal, inexpensive, and sanctioned by all. Drinking has a role in nearly every simchah. The legal age for drinking alcohol in most states is 21, and teens who use alcohol are in violation of state law, even if used as a ritual. When alcohol is used for any mind-altering effect, it is being abused. This includes "Kiddush clubs" which essentially promote and legitimize excessive drinking in the name of kedushah. It is also against halachah to reach the state of intoxication, and Purim and Simchas Torah are not exceptions.

"...Address addiction as a disease, which requires treatment. Do not take it as rebellion or bad behavior, with the focus on punishments..."

From my files...

"Feivel" was about 12 years old when he began drinking. His parents were divorced, and he resented both of his parents for different reasons. He took to the streets. When I saw him at age 16, he was drinking very heavily, up to a bottle of strong liquor plus large amounts of beer per day. He denied using drugs, but was able to name many other teens as his friends, whom I knew to be actively using drugs. Feivel had already begun to experience several medical problems as a result of his addiction.

The Experience of the Addict

The alcoholic/addict submits to treatment after "hitting rock bottom." This connotes a state of affairs in which he/she can no longer tolerate the addiction and becomes willing to change. This event is often catastrophic, and may involve arrest, overdose, suicide attempts, major medical problems, job loss, financial ruin, family breakup, or other losses. The addict is generally unable to recognize the loss of control, especially because it crept up gradually. The disease of addiction is the only one known to science where the denial of its very existence is a hallmark symptom.

At this point, the loss of control is often obvious to others, though it may not be clear that addiction is the culprit. The classic sequence of events involves a phase when the addict becomes aware of a downward spiral of his/her life, but feels totally powerless to arrest it. Since denial of addiction is dominant, anybody and anything else is easily blamed. This tends to increase the suffering of family and other close ones. A long list of excuses to avoid change is common. Therapists are often amazed by the creative combination of genius and folly that generate the greatest excuses.

Eventually "rock bottom" hits. Some addicts declare their powerlessness and enter treatment willingly. Some are forced by circumstances, family, the courts, or employers to go for help. Others stick with their destructive illness to the bitter ends of homelessness, poverty, divorce, unemployment, incarceration, disease, or death. Halachically, an addict qualifies as a choleh sheyaish bo sakanah (a sufferer of a life-threatening illness) for whom violating Shabbos may sometimes be indicated.

Those who wish to help addicts need to remember that enabling them to continue their addiction is tantamount to assisting in their murder. We need to be alert, especially with regard to those asking us for money. Addicts have discovered that soliciting tzedakah is a successful technique to finance a drug habit. If a known addict comes to my door for tzedakah, stating that he has no food to eat, I offer food -- not money (which could finance the next purchase of drugs that could kill him/her). Yet the family abandoned by the addict often needs our help and support. The community should not forsake husbands, wives, or children victimized by the addict/alcoholic who is unable to provide for them.

From my files...

"Nosson" came upon hard times. His sources for money ran out, and he was unable to finance his $100-a-day habit of cocaine. He began to frequent shuls in several frum neighborhoods, telling stories about needing money for his wife and children. To some, he told of a relative with a chronic medical condition. He developed mastery of the art of "schnorring." He soon was able to elicit donations of $50-$150 quite quickly. Had he been able to raise such money without spending it on cocaine, he would have soon become wealthier than most of the people he bilked. When I met him, Nosson had not seen his family in several years, and those who supported him simply enabled him to continue his drug habits.

What Came Before the Addiction?

People do not normally take medications they don't need. If feeling "normal" somehow becomes intolerable, one seeks relief and will use medicine to help. Mind-altering drugs are invariably used to self-medicate, not to find pleasure (despite the pleasurable experience of the "high"). Identifying the perceived condition that the addict medicates is most challenging, and this is where skillful group or individual therapy is critical. Commonly found are a plethora of emotional consequences of abuse (verbal, physical, sexual) and neglect, various problems in adjustment related to educational and academic problems, and underlying psychiatric and psychological problems.

From my files...

Binyomin was a young Chassidishe man with several children when I met him. He was sober for several years after a 15 year addiction to alcohol and marijuana. Binyomin suffered from dyslexia, a reading disability. The yeshivah he attended did not identify the problem, seek evaluation, or offer any remedial help. He was disciplined for his inability to read and study Chumash and Gemara as expected. At home, his parents took the same harsh approach. Binyomin was persistently miserable and depressed, feeling his life was a failure. At age 11, he discovered that a shot of whiskey at a Kiddush made him feel better. For several years, he continued sneaking drinks at home, at every Kiddush in shul, eventually stealing liquor bottles to hide in his room.

As years progressed, he married. He could not drink at home, so he moved his alcohol use to a bar, and was introduced to smoking marijuana. This, too, left him feeling peaceful and content, for awhile.

His damaged self-esteem returned to normal after years of sobriety and therapy, but the time lost to addiction (that developed to soothe a treatable, but ignored condition) is irretrievable.

Finding Treatment

Getting the addict into treatment involves another major hurdle. Where should one go? There are many rehabilitation centers across the country that offer residential or inpatient treatment for a specified time period, usually 28 days. Existing health insurance limits this time. Day hospital and outpatient services are also available.

One of the most frequently-asked questions is: Where can I find a Jewish treatment facility in United States? The answer: You can't, and don't bother. I believe an observant Jew should have religious needs respected and accommodated in treatment. But our community has not accepted the disease enough to support such a facility. We would probably not send our family members there, in order to protect our "secret."

Also, the addict obviously cared much less about Yiddishkeit while using drugs; going out of our way to adjust a program to his religious "needs" diverts attention from the real problem, a tendency common among addicts and a major handicap. There are several treatment facilities in the New York environs as well as some in other locations that have Orthodox staff and can accommodate the frum patient.

The prevailing attitude in addiction treatment is that the disease is a manifestation of spiritual deficit. The 12-step approach (Alcoholics Anonymous, and other groups) refers amply to God as we understand Him and to a "Higher Power" (with virtually no reference to any specific religion). Reconnecting a recovering addict to a simple faith in God while allowing the pursuit of his own religious context is just what the addict needs to recover as a mentsch -- and then he can learn more about being an ehrlicher Yid.

We Can Still Save the Future -- If We Dare

To summarize, I urge that several goals be relentlessly pursued by us as individuals and as a community:

Begin to discuss the problems of addiction openly; in your community, your family and your schools. We have tried to avoid the problem, and in doing so, we have failed our children.

Be alert for signs of alcohol/drug experimentation and use (see sidebar). Refrain from denial, e.g., believing that "it cannot happen in my kehillah" (shul, yeshivah, family). It is a contagious disease and contaminates without respect for the kehillah, shul, yeshivah or family.

Address addiction as a disease, which requires treatment. Do not take it as rebellion or bad behavior, with the focus on punishments.

There are resources available to cope with the problems of the addict and his/her family. (See listings). These should all be utilized, even if you think there only may be a problem.

I often ask an addict seeking therapy a simple question: Would you be willing to report the names of the dealers who sold you drugs to the law enforcement authorities? The addict's answer may well reflect his or her true level of motivation to recover.

Likewise, the readiness of a community to pursue those who would destroy it is a reflection of its level of caring about every precious soul in that community.

Allowing drug activity to continue is tantamount to supporting it. If you or someone you know is aware of the names of dealers, report them to the police or the local office of the Drug Enforcement Agency. Our community deserves protection -- and we are the only ones who can provide it.

Dr. Benzion Twerski is the staff psychologist at Substance Abuse Services at Elizabeth General Medical Center in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He is on the professional advisory boards of JAADD (Jewish Association for Attention Deficit Disorder) and JACS (Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically dependent persons, and Significant others). He has written and published in a wide variety of lay and professional periodicals, and lectures on addictive disorders in the Jewish population.

At 6:38 AM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...

>JACS uses a 1992 New York study that found the incidence of
>alcoholism and drug abuse was the same among Jews as in
>society in general - between 10 and 12 percent

JACS offers hope for addicts, families
Staff Reporter
TORONTO - One late night six months ago, the comfortable Jewish world of "Harry" and "Elaine" was turned upside down and inside out. They got a telephone call from their daughter-in-law in California, who tearfully revealed she was leaving the Toronto couple's 31-year-old son.
"She told us our son had a drug problem," says Harry (the 50-something couple requested their real names not be used for this article). "It turned out it was more than that. He had been doing cocaine heavily for at least a year-and-a-half."
An earlier visit to their son hinted at his changed behaviour. "He had mood swings. He was staying out late. He wasn't getting up for work," recalls his mother, nearly choking on her words. He had also maxed out all his credit cards. "This was my baby. We just thought he was under stress from work." No one suspected that a good Jewish boy was hooked on hard drugs.
Harry and Elaine then got on the phone with their son for the next six hours. "He was in total denial," recalls his father. Adds Elaine: "I told him, 'You have to get yourself into counselling.' This was a night no parent should go through."
They convinced their son to get help. He chose well, checking into the world-famous Gateways Beit T'Shuvah in Los Angeles, the only residential Jewish addiction rehabilitation program in the United States. Founded in 1987 on principles put forward by Abraham Twersky, the maverick drug counsellor and Orthodox rabbi, the centre combines a therapeutic and spiritual approach based on integrating Jewish wisdom with psychotherapy and the traditional 12-step recovery program.
Their son is a changed man now, clean and sober and ready to re-enter the world drug-free. He'll be checking out in about two weeks.
But what of his nerve-wracked parents?
"We didn't know what to do, where to turn to," sighs Harry. "We felt so helpless, completely powerless." Says Elaine: "A lot of Jewish families have this image of perfection. We did too. But now we know Jewish families can be affected, too."
They turned to one of the established 12-step recovery groups, and the next day, saw an ad in The CJN. Both touted Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically Dependent Persons and Significant Others, a mouthful better known as JACS.
Set up in Toronto last autumn as a Jewish Family & Child Service program, JACS has grown as have few other Jewish organizations. Reaction to it at first was tentative, as the community sized up a long-awaited attempt in Toronto to deal with Jewish addiction to booze and drugs - and the massive denial that comes with the problem.
But in just two months, the JACS telephone hotline (416-410-JACS) has logged nearly 200 calls from addicts and their loved ones, reports Marla Goldman, one of the group's overworked volunteer co-ordinators and herself a recovering addict.

The group has established a storefront location, JACS Place (858 Sheppard Ave. W.), which is already bursting at the seams. Weekly meetings began with five people; the last one attracted nearly 50. Plans call for more frequent sessions, including information meetings the third Sunday of every month, starting Feb. 18.
"Thank God we found JACS," enthuses Elaine. "I don't know what would have happened if we hadn't." The couple has found succor in the traditional 12 steps, beginning with the idea that they and their son were powerless over his abuse.
"I never thought I would travel down this path, never thought this could happen to me," says Elaine. "I mean, he was raised in a good Jewish home and went to Hebrew school.
"But now I know this is a disease, and there's no cure for it." Only recovery.
Initially, Elaine, knowing how close-knit the Jewish community is, was apprehensive that someone she knew would spot her at a JACS meeting. But soon, concerns about shame and embarrassment melted away. "We met addicts and their families, and I was able to share. Now, I'm practicing the 12 steps to the best of my ability. They have given me insight into how an addict lives his life."
Adds her husband: "I felt as though every word was directed at us."
According to JACS and every similar group, it's a myth that families of addicts and alcoholics don't need help. And to explode another myth - that Jews don't drink or do drugs - JACS uses a 1992 New York study that found the incidence of alcoholism and drug abuse was the same among Jews as in society in general - between 10 and 12 percent.
But that's not the whole story. Studies have also shown that a minimum of three other people - loved ones, friends, business associates - are directly affected.
In Toronto, the extrapolation is staggering: it could mean that with a Jewish population of 175,000, there are up to 20,000 addicted Jews and three times that many collateral victims.
JACS was founded in New York in 1979 and has to date helped thousands of Jews through kosher retreats and a 12-step program tailored to reflect Jewish values. Those behind it stress that it's not a treatment program. It points people in the right direction and gives them the tools to deal with the problem. It also promises complete anonymity.
Through therapy with their son, Elaine and Harry discovered that his problems were deeply rooted. It turned out that as a child, he had been sexually abused by a counsellor at a summer camp, and verbally abused by a family member.
The whole experience with JACS has also left Elaine and Harry more spiritual. That's an integral component of the 12 steps; seven of them mention God or a higher power.
How should Jews view JACS? Harry has a suggestion: "Set pride aside, and leave your ego in the car. It can happen to us."

At 6:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So he studied 11 teens, and thats considered scientific. While I don't deny there is drug use in our community, 11 teens are not scientific. I am sure that the teens that were part of the study also don't accurately represent the community either. I am sure that no chasidishe bucher from a ultra chasidishe home was part of the study, and I know of chasidic guys with drug issues.

At 3:52 PM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...

On Their Own And Using Drugs
For some U.S. students in yeshivas, Jerusalem can be a tempting place; last week’s arrests are shining a light on a taboo subject.
Michele Chabin - Israel Correspondent

Jerusalem — When the parents of North American yeshiva students learning in Israel for the year visit their children, they often frequent the restaurants in Nahalat Shiva, a picturesque neighborhood just a block away from Ben-Yehuda Street.

What few if any realize is that the neighborhood, with its gentrified century-old buildings and cobblestone alleyways, is also a hangout for visiting yeshiva kids and others in search of alcohol and drugs.

Last month an undercover Israeli police officer is said to have purchased drugs not far from there from four American young men spending the year at two local yeshivas. The four, who allegedly sold marijuana to Israeli and North American students from several yeshivas, were arrested last week.

The arrests and the unrelated death by overdose of a student at the Neve Tsion yeshiva, have sent shock waves — though perhaps not surprise — through Jerusalem-area yeshivas and seminaries.

The incidents, which are believed to be unprecedented, have raised questions over just how widespread drug and alcohol abuse among North American students really is; whether the Israeli yeshiva environment fosters substance abuse in teens living far away from homes; and over who exactly is responsible for the estimated 1,500 college-aged students from New York and elsewhere who spend their post-high school year learning in Israel.

Long considered a taboo subject, the issue of substance abuse among visiting yeshiva students is not one that yeshiva administrators like to discuss. Despite this, several administrators spoke candidly to The Jewish Week about their attempts to keep their institutions drug- and alcohol-free.

Following last week’s incidents, many administrators called meetings to discuss whether alcohol and drug use might be taking place in their schools or find solutions to a known problem.

“It’s no secret that drugs are being used in some yeshivas,” said Jonathan Feldstein, the executive director of the Israel Anti-Drug Abuse Foundation. “There’s a drug problem in Israel, just as there is in the American Jewish community.”

Caryn Green, director of the Crossroads Center, whose social workers scour the haunts of downtown Jerusalem for English-speaking youths in distress, said that more than half of the 700 kids her program regularly assists are studying in yeshivas. The center offers crisis intervention, therapy and professional counseling.

Crossroads’ third-floor walk-up office is located almost directly opposite Zion Square (at the corner of Ben Yehuda and Jaffa streets) and nearby “Crack Square” (at the corner of Jaffa and Rivlin Street), two notorious hangouts.

Green is convinced that the vast majority of substance-abusing yeshiva students arrive in Israel with a pre-existing problem, though not necessarily a hard-core one. The student who overdosed last week, as well as two of four students arrested, attended the handful of yeshivas that specialize in helping “at-risk” teens.

The other arrested teens attended Or Yerushalyim, a mainstream yeshiva where about 20 of the 70 students smoke pot, according to one of its students.

“It’s very, very rare when someone who was doing well in America comes here and loses it,” Green said. “Still, it happens.”

While the vast majority of the young people who walk through Crossroads’ doors are enrolled in yeshivas for teens who demonstrated at-risk behavior back home, Green estimates that 90 percent of the so-called “mainstream” yeshivas have “two or three kids” who regularly use marijuana “but who no one suspects because they go to class every day.”

She could not determine how many abuse alcohol.

Green believes Jerusalem is an accommodating place for young adults prone to substance abuse.

“America is a really scary place; the inner city of New York or Chicago is gang infested,” she said. “Here, drugs are readily accessible in the center of town, which apart from terror attacks is quite safe. And there’s no enforced drinking age.”

“You can go to bars at any age and no one will ask how old you are,” agreed a New York-based yeshiva administrator, who asked that her name not be published. “A lot of the yeshivot don’t really check up on the guys. They trust them to be independent. It’s a bit like when a teenager goes away to college.”

‘Parents Must

Be Responsible’

But post-high school yeshiva study isn’t college, the administrator stressed, at least not from the parents’ perspective.

“Parents have a different expectation. They figure they’re sending [their child] to a yeshiva and hope that someone is looking after him. That’s not always the case,” the administrator said.

Sometimes, the administrator said, “parents turn over too much responsibility to the schools. That’s especially true of parents of at-risk children, who hope that sending them to Israel will turn them around. Ultimately it is the parents who must be responsible for their child.”

Shonny Solow, the dean of the Machon Gold seminary, agreed.

“There are a lot of problem kids today throughout the world, and Jewish parents often think the easiest solution is to send them to Israel,” Solow said. “It is important for Israeli schools to be careful about who they accept.”

Solow said her school carefully screens prospective candidates and will not accept those deemed to be at high risk for substance abuse.

“We aren’t equipped to deal with such students. The schools that deal with this population are a wonderful gift to the families and to the Jewish community,” he said.

Three men’s yeshiva programs — Neve Tsion, Ner Yaakov and Kesher — openly specialize in at-risk youth with a myriad of problems ranging from substance abuse to behavioral problems and clinical depression. Two programs, Michlelet Esther at Neve Yerushalyim and Tivkva, are designed for at-risk young women.

During an interview in his modest office, Rabbi Yehoshua Liff, the rosh yeshiva of Ner Yaakov, where two of the four arrested students study, said his school began accepting large numbers of substance abusers about five years ago.

“When we opened 17 years ago, our mandate was to help scholastic low achievers, bright boys not reaching their potential,” Rabbi Liff said.

The rabbi said he decided to shift gears five years ago after parents and educators, having seen his success with boys with motivation and behavioral problems, asked him to accept boys with a history of drug or alcohol issues.

Though clearly pained by his students’ arrest, Rabbi Liff is unapologetic about his program or its mission

“If we don’t do it, who will?” Rabbi Liff asked as the sounds of prayer from the yeshiva’s packed study hall made their way to his adjoining office. We’re responsible to the Jewish Orthodox world and we’re not going to run away.”

Roughly two-thirds of Ner Yaakov’s students recover and go on to lead productive lives, Rabbi Liff said, stressing that the arrests were the first in his school.

From what his own students and some fellow rabbis have told him, Rabbi Liff is convinced that substance abuse in the religious community “is not confined to at-risk yeshivot, it’s also in highly regarded institutions,” though the numbers may be very low.

Rabbi Liff insisted that “not all students should be sent overseas unless there is proper supervision by a mental health professional and/or an Israel-based family member who takes an ongoing interest in the child.” He noted that many parents are unwilling or unable to pay for the psychotherapy their children desperately need, and that the children suffer for it. While the problems his students face are out in the open, Rabbi Liff said, those of students at the mainstream yeshivas are less evident.

“Many times students are sent to Israel by educators who are not willing to provide full disclosure or who have been inadequately trained” to deal with the warning signs. “In the majority of cases the parents are not fully aware of what’s going on,” Rabbi Liff stressed.

Dr. David Pelcovitz, an expert on at-risk teens in the Orthodox community who teaches psychology and education at Yeshiva University, said last week’s incidents “were a wake-up call” for many yeshiva rabbis.

“Many are eager for guidance and continuing education on how to deal with the problem. Of course,” Pelcovitz added, “there are some rabbis who prefer to view this as a problem only of the yeshivas that deal with at-risk kids.”

Many yeshiva and seminary students also seem to be in denial, if the scene at Crack Square last Saturday night was any indication. At midnight, scores of North American kids could be seen hanging out in the street and sitting in bars.

“Almost all the girls from my seminary hang out here,” said a curly-haired 18-year-old near Crack Square, clutching an almost empty bottle of white wine in her left hand.

Asked whether her rosh yeshiva knew about the weekly pilgrimage to Crack Square, the seminary student, who like most of the others interviewed for this article spoke on the condition of anonymity, replied, “there’s a don’t ask, don’t tell policy. They figure that by the end of the year we’ll stop doing what we’re doing. I’m not doing anything illegal and I don’t have a drinking problem,” the young woman added, suddenly defensive. “I’m 18, which is the legal age for drinking here.”

“I don’t drink all that much,” said a red-faced, obviously drunk 18-year-old student from a mainstream yeshiva, who said he had consumed a half-bottle of vodka that evening to celebrate his birthday.

“Our rabbis don’t tell us what to do, but they try to convince us not to come here,” said the young man’s friend, who attends the same yeshiva. “But sometimes you want to spend time with friends. Not all of us use drugs or alcohol,” he said.

Many students with substance abuse problems do recover in Israel, and they credit the professionals they have encountered here for turning their lives around. “I dropped out of school at 13 and became addicted to cocaine for two and a half years,” related a clean-cut-looking 18-year-old who decided to attend a yeshiva for at-risk teens because his once-addicted brother had gone there. “My brother is clean now and recently got married.”

The young man, who comes from a fervently Orthodox New York family and supported himself from the age of his bar mitzvah through odd jobs and dealing drugs, recalled how “when I got to Israel I was using, and the rosh yeshiva told me to leave. He let me back in after I came to Crossroads and Caryn [Green], and I worked out some boundaries.” He said he had been clean for five months.

This student’s apparent recovery does not surprise Jerusalem psychologist Vel Reinfeld, who often works with North American yeshiva students.

“If anything, a large percentage of the boys see coming to Israel as an opportunity to be away from all the stimuli that helped create the problem. A number of boys see friends who have come home having dealt with their problems and it encourages them,” Reinfeld said.

Solow from Machon Gold urges people to keep the recent incidents in perspective.

“It’s important not to let five students reflect on the other 1,500 kids,” he said. “The vast majority spend their year in Israel learning, growing and doing chesed. Let’s not lose sight of that.”

At 5:07 PM, Blogger Reb Yudel said...

So 10 out of 11 drug addicts recovering in a frum center are frum? Wow! Who exactly is the dope here?


Post a Comment

<< Home