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March 02, 1990 - Image 68

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-03-02

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The 'War Against Drugs' Is A Jewish Concern, Too!


"It isn't a Jewish problem!"
"Jews aren't alcoholics."
"Jews don't have drug
We have heard people say
those things and maybe we have
said them ourselves. One of the
things I have learned as a judge is
that alcohol and other drugs destroy
lives and families indiscriminately:
these chemicals do not care about
the victim's race, religion or social
I have seen the results of
alcohol and drug abuse throughout
our communities. While some social
scientists may quibble that the
effect on Jews is statistically less, it
is still devastating to many
individuals, families, neighborhoods,
businesses and communities.
One of the largest problems of
abuse is the element of denial. Not
only does the abuser deny that he
or she has a problem, but the
family, employer and community
enable the denial by giving excuses
and explanation to hide behind.
Last year, in an effort to break
through our community's denial, I
sent letters and made phone calls
to scores of Jewish community
organizations, synagogues and
temples urging them to ban together
in promoting a five-part educational
program directed toward the Jewish
When the letters first went out,
the response was immediate.
Friends whom I have known for
years shocked me by confiding that
"at our home we have kiddish with
grape juice because our 17 year old
has been a recovering alcoholic for
the last four years." Yet other
leaders of the Jewish community
said "we thought we were the only
ones. We didn't think any other
Jewish families had such a
Therapists from throughout the
community explained to me that
many of their patients' alcohol and
drug abuse started while on the bar
and bat mitzvah circuit. They would
experiment by finishing drinks left
unattended by adults who had gone
to dance. Their parents had never
gone through an educational
program because they believed "we
don't have a problem" and therefore
they were not able to recognize any
of the signs of the addiction.
Friends reported that their children
appeared to be doing very well in
school and beyond that seemed to
have only the normal problems of
adolescents. Through our
community's neglect, these children
became far too intimately acqainted
with the "bar" and did not have




sufficient supervision and
encouragement to be involved in the
Our tradition teaches us the
importance of education and that
must be our beginning. Each of us
has to become educated. For us to
change our attitudes toward
alcohol and other drugs, we must
consider the following:
• Do we send mixed messages
to our youth by making alcohol too
easily available? At shul, after
service, at Shabbat kiddush, we
have an adult serving coffee or tea
to protect us from possible burns,
but the alcoholic beverages are
arranged openly on the table
without any adult supervision or
protection for our children.
• Do we recognize the results
of our casual actions? At bar and
bat mitzvah parties, alcohol freely
flows but each of us must become
more aware of the danger to the
children so that we do not leave
unfinished alcoholic beverages
• Do we as adults serve as
good role-models for our children:
Do they hear us offering our
prescriptions to our friends or see
us race for a pill or other
medication with every minor
headache or possible sniffle? If so,

we are making a clear statement to
our children about drugs and our
tolerance of abuse.
• Do we come home and race
for a cocktail to relax from the day's
pressure? If so, we are giving a
clear message to our children that
alcohol is an appropriate escape.
• Do we share alcohol with our
children, in any form or at any time?
If we do, we are giving them a clear
message that alcohol is an
appropriate beverage for them.
(Besides, white grape juice doesn't
stain the tablecloth!)
• Are we examples to our
friends? I remember my reaction
several years ago the first time I
heard Federal District Judge
Bernard A. Friedman tell a waitress,
"No, thank you. I'm driving so I'd
prefer some cola." His quiet
example was more powerful than all
the TV commercials I had heard for
Purim is an appropriate time for
us to consider our responsibilities to
ourselves, our families, our
institutions and our community as
they relate to alcohol and other
drugs. Although there is a clear
pattern in Judaism of approving use
of alcohol but disapproval of abuse,
Purim provides the one exception.
At Purim, we are told by the

Babylonian Rabbi Rava, a person
should get so drunk he cannot
distinguish between the phrases
"Blessed is Mordechai" and
"Cursed is Haman." This position in
favor of any excessive drinking
appears unique. Most later rabbinic
scholars try to explain that this is
not to be taken literally, although
drinking on Purim is certainly
Jewish sources make a
distinction between drinking
moderately and getting drunk. The
Bible is filled with positive
references to "wine, which cheers
God and man." Yet, we are warned
about intoxication: "strong drink is
riotous" and brings arguments,
poverty and problems.
For generations, we have taught
our children, "Hear thou, my child,
and be wise, and guide thy heart
in our traditional ways. Be not
among excessive drinkers." A
"rebellious" child is described,_ in
part, as a drunkard who will not
harken to the voice of his father nor
his mother. This strong negative
attitude toward drunkenness prevails
throughout Jewish literature. For
example, among the many talmudic
admonishments is the absolute
prohibition against alcohol for
judges engaged in trial.
Ignorance is not the Jewish
way; the first step is for us all to get
actively involved in our own
personal education. We cannot wait.
Decide right now to start that
educational process that is the
basis of informed action. Call

Purim is an appropriate
time for us to consider
our responsibilities to
ourselves, our families
and our community as
they relate to alcohol
and other drugs.

661-6170 for the times and locations
of the next "Are You Concerned?"
educational series and plan to
attend, by yourself or with your
family. (The next 4-week series will
be on Tuesday evenings starting
March 13 at 7:30.) Call your own
B'nai B'rith, Hadassah or ORT
organization or your synagogue
president and suggest an
educational program on drugs and
alcohol for adults. Call your religious
or Hebrew school and suggest such
a program for parents and kids
There is much to be done.

Stephen C. Cooper has served as a
46th District Judge since 1986 and
is a Southfield resident.

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