Approximately 200 people turned out last Motzei Shabbat at the Riverdale Jewish Center for an evening of awareness and education hosted jointly by the synagogue and Amudim to address the growing substance abuse and addiction problem that has spared no segment of the population.
The event was a communal effort and included the support of Chabad Lubavitch of Riverdale, the Conservative Synagogue Adath Israel of Riverdale, Hatzalah of Riverdale, Kinneret Day School, Yeshivat Maharat, the Riverdale Temple, SAR Academy, SAR High School, The Bayit, The Kehilah, The Riverdale Mesivta, The Riverdale Minyan, The Riverdale Y, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and Young Israel Ohab Zedek of North Riverdale and Yonkers.
Rabbi Yitzi Genack welcomed everyone warmly, publicly expressing the Riverdale community’s commitment to breaking down the barriers that prevent those who are suffering from seeking the help that they need. Echoing that theme was Rabbi Menachem Penner, the Max and Marion Grill dean at Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary and the spiritual leader of the Young Israel of Holliswood, who observed that those struggling with addiction often abandon their religious roots because they feel like they no longer belong in their familial or communal structures. Quoting Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, who described the Jewish community, not as a nation or a religion, but as a family, Rabbi Penner urged listeners to reach out to those who are suffering to let them know that they are not alone, and stressed the importance of formulating protocols as a community that will yield solutions for those in pain.
Mental health therapist and addiction specialist Dr. Lewis Abrams spoke at length about many myths and misconceptions relating to addiction. Observing that the most common addiction is alcohol, Dr. Abrams explained that while social drinkers can easily forgo a drink, those with an addiction have a problematic relationship with alcohol. He also addressed the issue of minors having unsupervised access to alcohol at social events; the importance of having open, age-appropriate discussions with children about drinking; and setting good examples for children.
Hoping to provide insight and support to those facing personal challenges, Rabbi Dr. Moshe Drelich told of a family member who hit rock bottom 18 months ago after a lengthy struggle with substance abuse. A Jewish studies educator at SAR High School who spearheaded the event along with Riverdale Jewish Center vice president Allison Steinmetz, Rabbi Dr. Drelich advised listeners to understand the difference between enabling and supporting those who are struggling and stressed that addiction is a disease, much like cancer or diabetes, that does not discriminate based on age, gender or socioeconomic factors. Urging the community to continue the discussion on addiction and finding methods to address the crisis, Rabbi Dr. Drelich received a standing ovation.
Zvi Gluck, director of Amudim, asked Rabbi Dr. Drelich to return to the podium to light a candle in memory of those who lost their lives battling addiction. He lauded the community for its stigma-breaking show of support, and stressed the importance of schools educating children about the dangers of substance abuse, particularly in light of the upcoming legalization of marijuana. Having heard from students at a recent yeshiva awareness event that they have seen their parents enjoying marijuana-laced products, Gluck emphasized modeling good behavior, noting that with the human brain continuing to develop until age 23, drug usage and vaping can have permanent and detrimental effects on teens and young adults. He also observed that with over 5,500 cases under its belt since its inception in 2014, Amudim has seen firsthand that accepting the problem is the first step to its resolution and the importance of creating a culture where those in crisis feel comfortable getting help instead of suffering in silence.
The event ended with a 10-minute question-and-answer period, addressing questions submitted by the audience during the program. Listeners mingled and enjoyed refreshments after the program, also taking advantage of an opportunity to pick up Amudim pamphlets on abuse and addiction and to speak with two on-site case managers.
The response to the event was extremely positive, remarked Riverdale resident Jay Bar-David.
“It was a monumental accomplishment of historical proportions, especially in the Jewish community, especially in Riverdale,” said Bar-David. “It was much to the credit of Debbie and Rabbi Moshe Drelich, who had the courage and determination to bring a bit of tikkun to the world and stepped up to lead by example. They achieved and communicated what so many others felt, experienced, knew about or heard about; they took the lead to break a barrier. Similarly, the Riverdale community appreciates all of the speakers, all champions and innovators in their own right. We wish them all the ability and determination to continue leading, inspiring and advancing the health of our community.”
By Sandy Eller