As the Orthodox community grapples with increasing drug use, attention is shifting to the question of who will provide much-needed prevention and treatment services.
There is no problem identifying groups to attack the problem. There are an estimated eight to 12 grassroots and professional agencies, most of them Brooklyn-based, taking different roles in the frum war on drugs.
They range from a grassroots mother’s support group to professional counseling to a "kosher" pool hall in Flatbush where at-risk kids can hang out in a supervised setting.
But with such an abundance of organizations, communal officials are concerned about duplication of services, if not outright competition, and the presentation of a jumbled network that cannot effectively provide resources to confused and troubled clients.
"This is an emerging problem, so many organizations are doing it, and clearly there is an overlap," said David Mandel, chief executive officer of Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services in Brooklyn, which counsels adolescent children, provides drug prevention lectures at yeshivas and recently initiated a crisis hotline. The agency does not, however, deal with drug-addicted youth, a task that has fallen to groups such as the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services. "There are efforts underway to coordinate, to make sure that efforts are complimenting each other," said Mandel.
A comprehensive step in that direction is the need assessment survey undertaken by the Metropolitan New York Coordinating Council on Jewish Poverty. The survey will determine the groups best suited for specific tasks and services. The survey is being funded by the city’s Department of Youth Services in order to estimate the scope of the problem.
Officials of Met Council will not comment on the survey until it is completed later this year.
Some groups are bound to be unhappy with the survey if it designates them a smaller share of the pie than they are seeking. But Arnold Markowitz, director of Project Breakfree, a counseling program run by JBFCS in Brooklyn says there is room for groups providing different services to interact. "The goal is to provide a continuum so that we can provide a variety of services," said Markowitz. On the other hand, some groups taking on the drug problem don’t seem to be accomplishing much, he said. "There are people running around the community saying we do this or that, and I don’t know what they are doing. They may not be that good at it."
The clash of services comes at a time when reluctance to acknowledge Orthodox drug abuse has all but vanished. In the four years since The Jewish Week published a major story on drugs and other delinquency problems among yeshiva dropouts, discussion groups have sprouted and yeshivas have adopted curricula.
"Even in the most right-wing Bais Yakovs there’s an awareness of the problem," said one Orthodox mother involved in anti-drug efforts, who asked for anonymity. "In the papers, they don’t want it. But in the community, it’s out in the open."
It is increasingly impossible to keep a lid on the problem, however. Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D- Borough Park) has discussed Orthodox drug abuse several times on his radio show, which has a predominantly Jewish audience, but is broadcast on WMCA-660 AM. Reaction to the show, he says, has been overwhelmingly positive. The New York Post also ran a story on the subject recently.
David Zwiebel, vice president for public affairs at Agudath Israel of America, the ultra-Orthodox umbrella group, insists there is not widespread denial of the Orthodox drug problem. But he concedes there is a selective approach toward seeking assistance. "I don’t think people are burying their heads in the sand," said Zwiebel. "But there is some unease to reach out to the broad world for assistance. There is a sense that there may be dimensions of this problem which require a special sensitivity to the Orthodox lifestyle."
For example, Zwiebel says, a conventional therapist might suggest a more relaxed lifestyle to a young man or woman living under the strictures of Orthodox practice, which is believed to cause many to go astray.
"Among the goals of therapy ought to be to keep the person, if at all possible, a member of the Orthodox community, and not break away entirely," said Zweibel.