Monday, June 18, 2012

Yes, Victoria – We Have a Drug Problem

I’ve got to give Ami publisher, Rabbi Yitzchok Frankfurter credit. (No that's not him in the picture.) He is a shrewd businessman. He has managed to pull off publishing a magazine that is appealing to a very broad demographic base among Orthodox Jews. 

While catering to a segment that eschews publishing pictures of women, no matter how modestly they are dressed, he has also written favorable articles about some Centrist rabbinic figures, among them, the Rav, Rav Ahron (Soloveichik) and Rav Hershel Shachter. While at the same time he has published equally favorable articles about some of hard core Chasidic Rebbes as well, like those of Satmar and Skvere and the extreme right wing of the Yeshiva world too.

In the process he has managed to put the plight of an Orthodox Jew by the name of Yanky Ostreicher on the front burner – as he did again last week. Yanky is being unjustly held in a Bolivian prison. And Ami is in part being credited for the increased efforts - including those of a member of congress - to gain Yanky’s freedom.

Although I often strongly disagree with him as was the case with his puff piece on Skvere, or his explanation of why Charedim don’t ceIebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, I think he is basically an honest reporter of fact as he sees it and expresses his opinions forthrightly.  Even if it means shining a not so pleasant light upon his own community.

One of the things Rabbi Frankfurter complains bitterly about is how negatively Charedim are portrayed in the secular media. In fact that was the cover story the week before the last. But in an ironic twist, the most recent issue published a story that corroborates some of what that media has reported about them.

I am referring to an article by a Charedi father whose son is addicted to heroin. The father describes his roots as “Baalebatish” and his home as warm Heimish and Torahdik. But the story he tells is not what one might expect of a Charedi individual. The difference of course is that he is living through it. There is no teacher like experience.

Here are some of the things he said – things that if I had written them I would have been accused of either anti Charedi bias or promoting non Jewish solutions instead of Jewish ones.

He never dreamed that a son of his would become a heroin addict. As such his son did what all addicts do: lie, steal, and commit any sin get a fix. How could his son find drugs so easily? Because drug dealers are pervasive and to be found everywhere, even in ‘Heimshe’ neighborhoods.

Denial of the problem by the Frum community is one reason it is so pervasive. He therefore doesn’t talk about his son’s addiction even to his closest friends because no matter how well intentioned they are, they truly do not understand. No one can fathom the feelings of someone who has a child addicted to hard drugs. Even some of his other children, some of whom are married had mixed reactions. Some were sympathetic but some were so angry that they wanted to sever all ties to their own brother!

One daughter has just begun dating. He says that she is a wonderful young lady. But if people find out about their drug addicted son - who would want to marry into such a family? The truth is that all of his children are probably great people. But one son fell through the cracks. And not only does he suffer, the entire family suffers in so many different ways.

This father complains that the reaction in the Frum community to a son who disgraces you in the community reminds him of Islamic honor killings! To preserve the reputation of the community they are willing to cause great harm to their children. To put it in his words: 
Of paramount importance is the need to preserve our reputations. We worry about what others will think. We are living in a culture of denial. Some people might think that what happens to our family only happens to “outsiders”. My wife and I have yichus galore – and I can tell you we are not an anomaly. The drug and alcohol problem is more prevalent in the frum community than we are willing to admit.There are many families in Brooklyn like ours, with sons who learn in top-notch yeshivas, who are going through the same thing. They are families you would least suspect. 
(By way of example he later told of a friend whose daughter got married to a fine Ben Torah that learns in a top Yeshiva. At the Sheva Brachos everyone spoke about the tremendous Yichus this young Chasan had. Later his friend, the Kala’s father, took him aside and cried – telling him that he was the only one in the room who knew that one of his sons was in rehab for addiction and that he had recently relapsed!)

How did his son become addicted to a hard drug like heroin? Often it is because of abuse of one type or another. Life becomes so unbearable that these kids self medicate to kill the psychological pain. But in his case it was another problem that was the cause. One which explains why a lot of children go off the Derech (OTD). Long story short - he simply felt he could not measure up to the high expectations made of him scholastically in religious subjects. The feelings of inadequacy had the same depressive effect on him causing him to find solace in hard drugs.

It is interesting to note that when the father consulted Rabbanim as to what kind of facility his son should go to for addiction problems, they said it was not essential to find a Shomer Shabbos or Kosher facility. The most important thing was to find the facility that was right therapeutically.

His son ended up in a rehab facility called Retorno located near Bet Shemesh in Israel. The only requirement was that he (the father) and his wife had to attend meetings at either Al-Anon or Nar-Anon that are mostly held in church classrooms.

Those are secular non Jewish organizations that are geared specifically to help close relatives of addicts cope. The father and his wife benefits greatly form these meeting in that it gives them a deeper understanding of addicts and addictions; and the trials and tribulations that take place in the course of freeing oneself from addiction. Including relapses in many cases. They continue to attend to attend these meeting even as their son is now doing well having joined one of the Charedi army units in the IDF.

How wonderful it is for these parents to have accessed the right kind of help – and not to necessarily seek religious help. They did what was best for their son. How grateful we should be to any organization designed to help people – Jewish or otherwise. How lucky to have found a Frum organization that deals with addicts. And how smart it is of them to reccomend a place like Al-Anon or Nar-Anon even though it is not a Jewish therapy group.

And how courageous of Rabbi Frankfurter to feature an article about an issue that his community would rather keep buried… and to show that non Jews who have no knowledge of Torah at all can still find common ground and even friendship with Charedi Jews within a group therapy session… and help them more than their own friends.