Friday, September 14, 2007
Charedi guide to addiction
By Simon Rocker
The Jewish Chronicle - September 14, 2007
A ground-breaking guide has been published in the UK to help combat drug, sex and other addictions among strictly Orthodox Jews.
Believed to be the first of its kind anywhere in the world, the 130-page book, "Understanding Addictions" is trilingual, written in English, Yiddish and Hebrew.
Ranging from eating disorders, gambling and "shopaholism", to internet porn and gambling, it has been produced by Talking Matters (TMA), a National Health-funded counselling agency set up in 2001 to promote stress prevention among the Charedi community.
Its purpose is to equip rabbis, teachers, parents and youth and community workers with the knowledge to identify problems and provide help in a "constructive and non-judgmental way". Its contents include an illustrated guide to illicit drugs as well as an extensive list of Orthodox counsellors.
In the introduction, TMA's founder and national director, José Martin, says that in the past people with such problems would be "shipped out" to other towns. "We pray that no child comes to harm in his life, but if s/he stumbles, it is our duty to help them up, not push them further into the quagmire."
She told the JC that one motivation for compiling the book was learning a few years ago that an official Drug Action Team (DAT) in Manchester had a record of 10 Orthodox Jews. "By the time, they get to the DATs you'd never know they were Orthodox or even Jewish, it's too late. Two or three died," she said.
A report on mental health in the Charedi community that she helped compile earlier this year for the University of Central Lancashire Centre for Ethnicity and Health also found anecdotal evidence of drug-taking among strictly Orthodox youth. It recorded: "What has been quite shocking, even for the researchers, is the frankness with which some respondents said that`There are teenage girls and boys using drugs like marijuana, cocaine and speed.' This is alarming as it was always thought that the girls in particular, of Stamford Hill, were totally immune from such terrible things."
Feedback from therapists also sheds light on what problems need to be addressed. "Life has changed," Ms Martin said. "We didn't have internet pornography 10 years ago."
The publication is endorsed by a highly-respected strictly Orthodox rabbi, Dr Abraham Twersky, a psychiatrist with expertise in substance abuse and author of numerous religious books.
"We must get our heads out of the sand and realise that all social problems that exist in society at large may exist among Orthodox Jews as well," he writes in the foreword, "and even if there may be a lesser incidence, the prevalence is significant. Families are being ruined and children suffer the consequences of parental addiction."
Other rabbinical backing comes from Rabbi Dr Chanan Tomlin in Manchester, the chairman of Talking Matters, and Rabbi Azriel Schechter in Stamford Hill.
Ms Martin said that 300 copies had so far been sent out — mostly attracting positive reaction — "although there were three negative responses, including one who sent it back".