Resources on drinking
Purim is behind us. Passover lies ahead. And between them are several Shabboses, twice as many kiddushes and who knows how many other opportunities to raise a glass and say l’chayim. And to seriously overdo things.
In reality, abuse doesn’t need an excuse. And the problem doesn’t stop at alcohol. For a long time, there has been a perception that Jews were not afflicted by the same addiction problems plaguing Western society.
Thankfully, there are now many organizations and individuals willing to listen and help Jews in distress.
If you have a problem or if you have a family member with a problem, you can begin your search with resources online.
Long before people talked openly about these problems, there was JACS, Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically Dependent Persons and Significant Others.
Established in 1979 as a voluntary group for Jews in recovery, JACS now maintains branches in locations including New York, Chicago, Baltimore, Toronto, Florida and Brazil (http://bit.ly/jdrink46).
Perhaps the most moving site warning about potential dangers of alcohol was created by the family of Yehuda Aryeh Mond. At the age of 19 with his life ahead of him, Yehuda passed away from a drug and alcohol overdose. His family created the Yehuda Mond Foundation to spread the word about alcohol and to provide resources to others.
One of the highlights of the site is a chilling 40-minute video that includes a young man who shares how as a teen, “I had an orange juice container mixed with whisky in my fridge in yeshiva that I used to take swigs from throughout the day…By the time I was 18, I was on the streets of Yerushalayim throwing up wondering why I can’t stop drinking (http://bit.ly/jdrink28).”
Rabbi Daniel Siegel of the Alliance for Jewish Renewal examines Judaism’s ambiguous relationship with alcohol (usually wine).
Wine is central to the Passover Seder and merits being the only liquid which has its own, specific blessing (boray pri hagafen). But the rabbis of the Talmud warn of its dangers. Rabbi Meir says: “That tree‚ from which Adam ate was a grapevine, for there is nothing that brings calamity on a person more than wine (http://bit.ly/jdrink3).”
“Do Jews really drink less than other people? And if so, why?” Time magazine asked those questions back in 1958. The Yale Center of Alcohol Studies had just published a study that suggested that although Jews drank regularly, their rate of alcoholism was negligible compared to other religions. The Time article also reprinted the lyrics to the popular Yiddish song, Shikker iz a Goy (Drunken is a Gentile) which reinforced the perception that the real drinking problem lay elsewhere (http://bit.ly/jdrink44).
The Yale report mentioned some reasons that drinking problems were lower among Jews: since Jews spend a lifetime of rituals around wine, excess is avoided. Also, because of the Jewish emphasis on food, “‘compulsive’ eating is more likely to be selected as a means of alleviating psychic tensions (than) addictive drinking.”
Fast forward a few decades. In Confronting Addiction, Marcia Cohn Spiegel and Rabbi Yaacov Kravitz say that the “rate of alcoholism among Jews appears to be less than that among the general population. This difference is probably a product of both cultural and genetic factors (http://bit.ly/jdrink5).”
I was interested to see that major streams of Judaism recognize that problems exist in our own backyards. In its 1993 resolution, Dealing with Substance Abuse, the Union for Reform Judaism called for the introduction of “religious school educational programs for all levels, including the very young (http://bit.ly/jdrink29).”
A heavy drinking environment is what prompted the Orthodox Union to call for the complete elimination of so-called Kiddush Clubs. The Saturday morning Kiddush Club is a mid-service retreat from the sanctuary to make kiddush and drink up.
Several years ago, the OU said the practice had to end. In Why Kiddush Clubs Must Go, Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb wrote, “This behavior is not lost on the rest of the congregation, particularly the youth, including the very children of these participants. This practice glorifies and idealizes alcohol at precisely a time when alcohol and other addictions are clearly on the rise in our community (http://bit.ly/jdrink40).”
The OU site also carries the piece, Orthodox Youth and Substance Abuse: Shattering the Myths (http://bit.ly/jdrink30).
And the Conservative movement has published From Addiction to Recovery: A Jewish Spiritual Journey (http://bit.ly/jdrink31).
Fortunately, there are successes. In Today I am 20 Years Sober, the anonymous author writes, “In Judaism it is said that when one saves a life, it is as if one had saved the entire world. God saved the world for me. I am not even sure why. I was not especially good. I am not especially good even now. I was certainly not deserving. He saved my life and I don’t know why. All I can do now is to keep putting it out there — showing myself to you…
“My sobriety is a credit to God’s Name and none to me. Thank you God. Thank you for all you have given me and all you have taken from me. Thank you for another day of life (http://bit.ly/jdrink41).”
Mark Mietkiewicz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.