I am a rabbi who has been sober for 13 years and am involved in helping Jews who are suffering from addiction or the pain of seeing a loved one or family member suffer. I have spoken on panels for UJA-Federation about substance abuse in the Jewish community and am a rabbi for JACS (Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically Dependent Persons and Significant Others) and a member of its board as well.
Gary Rosenblatt’s column, “Back Off On The Bacchanalia” (April 1), was spot on in highlighting the use of alcohol as a way to entice participation at many Jewish functions ranging from college campus programs to programs for young professionals.
I recently saw this firsthand while walking on the Rutgers University campus in New Brunswick, N.J., where there was a large poster hanging on the outside of the Chabad House which stated, “Hot Dogs Cooked in Beer!” This was is contrast to the Hillel House, which is directly across the street that had a sign advertising a program about Israel. My own son’s experience during a semester at Arizona State University and on a Birthright Israel trip were exactly as you described them in your article. The drinking on Birthright trips has become so well known that JACS and Taglit Birthright Israel have now run two sober Birthright trips to give young adults an option to have the experience without all the drinking.
Additionally, as a youth director at a large synagogue in Teaneck, N.J., for 10 years, I observed each week children of different ages watching their fathers and other men whom they looked up to huddle in the hallway around a bottle of scotch during davening. To his credit, the rabbi of the synagogue understood clearly the message being conveyed, even unintentionally, and worked hard to shut down the Kiddush club.
While I don’t think that using alcohol to entice young Jewish adults results in alcoholism or addiction, I do think that Jewish leaders should be careful with the message that they send young adults with the style of programming that they choose to use. My hope would be that the draw to any Jewish program would be something a little more based on substance and content than on the availability of free alcohol.
The Jewish Week has been at the forefront of addressing issues affecting the Jewish community that others have shied away from, and I
hope that you continue to shed light on such issues.