Alcohol Free, Not Free Alcohol
By: David Mandel Â
Rav Dovid Weinberger, the shulÂ’s Morah DÂ’asrah, introduced the issue by explaining that the mitzvah of vÂ’shamarta es nafshosechem, to keep your body healthy and al taamod al daam reÂ’echa, donÂ’t stand by idly while your friends blood is being spilled, was the basis for inviting Dr. Wertzberger to speak about the problem of teenage drinking in the frum community.Â
Dr. Wertzberger, one of the Medical Coordinators of Hatzalah is all too familiar with the problem of teenage drinking. He shared three brief stories of excessive drinking, one leading to a boy vomiting blood, the second story of a child requiring resuscitation from a comatose state, and the third of a teenager who actually died. Dr. Wertzberger decried all three as preventable and urged his fellow mispallelim to take the issue of making alcohol available to youngsters much more seriously.
Shul Ban on Liquor
Rabbi Weinberger responded immediately. He announced that henceforth all liquor served in his shul would be supervised. Rabbi Weinberger wanted to ensure that no underage child could take a drink unsupervised at a Shabbos kiddush, a shalom zachor, on Purim, Simchat Torah or at any shul simcha.
Rabbi Hershel Billet of the Young Israel of Woodmere advocates a ban on all liquor except for wine at a shul kiddush or any simcha. As a practical matter it is understood that neither shul caterers, nor for that matter baalei batim are ready to accept such a drastic change.
Bar Mitzvah Initiation
Our recent conversations with teenagers in OHEL's Addiction Treatment Program are very revealing. It is all too common to hear from these sixteen-year-olds how they had their first serious drink at the age of twelve or thirteen at a friend's bar mitzvah.
They relate that booze was easily available, it was free and no one was watching; not their parents who usually werenâ€™t there since it was a classmates or friends bar mitzvah, not the hosts and not the bartender.
These boys speak of a quick, easy and inexpensive high. The booze was in plentiful supply every Shabbos at shul kiddushim. Access was relatively easy.
Chaim Brill, OHELâ€™s Addiction Coordinator, Phyllis Mayer, Director of Childrenâ€™s and Family Services and I were recently invited to attend an anniversary celebration of a sixteen-year-old who was alcohol free for one year. The setting was an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting. The event was striking for two reasons: we were truly happy to share in the success of this young man who appears to be doing extremely well and on his road to recovery. Secondly, it was painful to see that one fourth of the twenty-five members of the group at this AA meeting were frum people ranging in age from sixteen to forty-five.
Yet, the alcoholics at this AA meeting were at least at a point of recognizing and dealing with their addiction. They were attending AA
Alcohol free not free alcohol was the message given by Dr. Moshe Wertzberger in the Shabbos Parshas Zachor speech at Congregation Shaare Tefilah in Lawrence, New York.
Meetings. AA is almost an unheard of phrase in our frum community.
Though Dr. Wertzberger spoke at Shaare Tefilah the week of Purim, his remarks serve as a reminder that people with drinking problems donÂ’t confine their drinking to Purim or to Simchas Torah. Of course, those are popular dates on which to focus our attention on this issue.
But this is also a good time to speak about Pesach. This is a tricky time for a young man with a secret drinking problem. We are obligated to drink "rov cos". How convenient. We could imbibe to our hearts content and if we get sloppy who will say anything?
Dr. Wertzberger was also referring to the habitual weekend drinker, the man who consumes two shots at the shul kiddush club, two or three more shots at the regular shul kiddush, two shots at home making kiddush for his family and finally another one or two with the meal. These ten shots consumed every Shabbos between shul and home donâ€™t go unnoticed by this manâ€™s children. Children learn by example.
My Name Is, and I'm an Alcoholic
All who participate in AA meetings begin their sentence with "Hello my name isÂ… and Iâ€™m an alcoholic". This is true for Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Gamblers Anonymous (GA), Sex Anonymous (SA). It is true for any addiction. Often, at these meetings you will hear a person say they are addicted to more than one substance such as alcohol and drugs. It doesnâ€™t start out that way. It often ends up that way.
The first step to recovery is a willingness to recognize a problem. Rabbi Weinbergerâ€™s and Rabbi Billetâ€™s plans to control the flow of liquor in their shuls could certainly prevent a youngster from beginning to drink. But for the person who is already there, the road to their recovery begins with the words, "Hello I have a problem."Â