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December 09, 1988 - Image 24

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-12-09

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Why Is Ours
An Addictive
Hedonism whispers "choose pleasure."

Judaism calls on us to "choose life."
The two are not synonymous.


Special to The Jewish News


eb Nachman of
Bratzlav told of the
king who received a
disturbing report about the
new harvest. Whoever eats of
the new crop will be driven
mad. He gathered his
counselors and told them:
"Since no other food is
available, we must eat in
order to live. There is nothing
else that we can do. But at
least let a few of us keep in
mind that we are not mad."
It is not among the few
that the addiction has taken
hold in our society. Addiction
is not restricted to the poor or
the uneducated or the black
or the young or the disenfran-
chised. It is found as well
among the affluent and the
influential, the white and the
mature, women and men. It is
not isolated in the ghetto or
barrio. Marijuana, cocaine,
heroin, PCP, or angel dust —
all equal opportunity
The steady drum-beat of
the statistics grows louder
and more persistent each day,
and 3,000 teenagers try co-
caine for the first time every
day in our country. The
average age of users keeps
getting younger. At least
100,000 elementary school
children report getting drunk
on a weekly basis, according
to the American Council for
Drug Education.
Addiction is ecumenical.
One out of ten Americans is
addicted to some substance
or other. The same figure ap-
plies to Jews. Professor Ben



Zion Twerski of the Forbes
Metropolitan Health Center
in Philadelphia writes that
"not only do Jewish alco-
holics exist, they may have a
greater susceptibility to
cross-addiction, i.e.
simultaneous abuse of alcohol
and other drugs." Years ago a
major study by Dr. Samuel
Pearlman already indicated
that Jewish collegians were
over-represented in the drug
culture. "Almost regardless of
the drugconsidered , Jews are
heavier users than Catholic
and Protestant students," he
Addiction is non-denomin-
ational. Mitchel Wallick, ex-
ecutive director of Jewish

Alcoholics And Chemically
Dependent Persons in New

York, observes that of the 160
people participating in the
last sponsored retreat, 40 per-
cent were practicing Or-
thodox and ultra-Orthodox
Jews. Tallit and tefillin are no
talismen warding off addic-
tive behavior.
Of the 1099 bills introduced
in the House of Represen-
tatives this year, 245 deal
with some aspect of drugs.
Measures are contemplated
to commit the military to
land, air, and sea surveillance
of drug traffickers, politicians
call for multinational strike
forces to attack drug produc-
tion facilities, and death
sentences are proposed for
king-pin drug pushers.
And all the while reci-
divism rises. The Surgeon
General informs that 80 per-
cent of those that give up
smoking relapse by the end of
the year; the same rate as
heroin users who try to give

up the habit. Four thousand
heroin addicts die each year
and 80 times as many people
in this country die as a result
of using tobacco products, i.e.
320,000 deaths.
Addiction in its multiple
guises — the compulsions to
gamble, to drink, to smoke, to
take drugs, to over-eat — is
overwhelming. Something
deeper and wider than in-
dividual idiosyncratic
behavior is involved.
What kind of people are

Hedonism cuts to
the bone of reality
and trims aside
the moralism and
demands of
traditional faiths.

we? What kind of culture do
we breathe into the nostrils of
our children and our
children's children? Why do
they hurt themselves,
oblivious to the conse-
quences? Why do they drink
themselves blind, bludgeon
their consciousness, rip up
their flesh with needles, and
ingest poisons into their
systems? Why when denied
access to the substances, do
they rob and steal and kill to
support their habit?
My grandmother, no mean
psychologist, would say:
nisht fun kein naches — "not
from joy." These men, women,
and children are in pain. They
feel poor — and no trust or
will or bank deposit can over-
come their sense of im-
poverishment. They feel
bored — and no cruise or
vacation can overcome the

nausea. They feel empty —
and no amount of food can fill
the vacuum. They feel worth-
less — and no number of titles
and awards can raise their
stature. They feel anxious,
awkward, nervous — and no
amount of liquor or drugs will
overcome their self-doubts.
Why are they so many and
why do they come from all
walks of life? Why are they so
easy to be hurt, so quickly
discouraged, so readily bored
with living? They are raised
in an enveloping hedonistic
culture that prepares the soil
for addiction. It is a mass
culture rooted in an unstated
theology a popular system of
belief more pervasive and
more influential among more
people than any of the
established religions. And
like every religion, it is a belief
system that teaches what is
real and what is phony, what
gives meaning and what
turns us off to life. Its presup-
positions are summed up in
its two imperatives: pursue
pleasure and avoid pain.
Hedonism is a system not
boldly and publicly ar-
ticulated but nonetheless
widely and privately held.
Hedonism presents itself as
offering the unvarnished
truth. Conventional preach-
ments call for sacrifice, corn-
mitment, pain and struggle
to achieve salvation.
Hedonism is neither moral-
istic nor hypocritical. It
whispers to our confidential
selves that all the appeals to
self-denial, altruism, idealism,
commitment, martyrdom are
deceiving; that they would
have us believe that salvation
is something rare, something

hard, something to be re-
ceived at some other time, or
some other place. But the
naked truth of hedonism tells
it straightforward: what we
really want is pleasure here
and now, what we desire is
pleasure and the avoidance of
all pain, and it is accessible
without contortions.
Hedonistic wisdom pro-
mises liberation from a world
of imperatives, duties, obliga-
tions. Flow with natural
desires. Put aside your Bibles
and your prayerbooks. Live
your life without sadness or
sorrow or martyrdom or
disappointment or defeat.
Admit your innermost pri-
vate thoughts that hedonism
is the desire and the end of
The hedonistic confession
registers a simple, sincere
honesty. Who doesn't want
pleasure? And who would not
avoid pain? The pleasures of
love and family and friend-
ship; the pleasures of fortune
and fame; the pleasures of
creativity and aesthetics.
Hedonism cuts to the bone of
reality and trims aside the
moralism and demands of
traditional faiths.
But it is seductively
misleading and for all its
claims to "telling it like it is,-
is dangerously naive.
Hedonism is the stuff that
feeds the addictive personal-
ity. For second thought
makes it clear that nothing
we want in our lives, nothing
we regard as valuable,
nothing of worth and
significance can be gotten
without pain, struggle,
sacrifice, suffering.
What do we want and what

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