Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh – all Jews are responsible for one another. This is a principle we strive to ideally live by as Jews. We create communities, build shuls and yeshivas, celebrate Shabbas and Chagim together, focus on our connections to family and other community members. We identify as a nation – one people – emphasizing our relationships with each other, doing acts of chesed and caring for one another. Loving and protecting our most vulnerable community members, helping those who are sick or in pain, and offering support are arguably the ideal paradigms of this Talmudic imperative.
We would like to believe that substance use and addiction is not something we Jews are affected by, but that is simply not the case. In our work at CCSA, including our support group for families with loved ones struggling with these issues, we have come across Jews of all ages and stages of life battling this disease. We have also, sadly, seen first-hand the tragedy of the loss of loved ones to addiction. This is just the tip of the iceberg. The fact is, that many Jewish families in all types of communities across the country, are experiencing this illness and its tragic consequences. They may not speak openly about it, for fear of the attending shame and stigma that addiction unfortunately bears, but this only furthers the misconception that Jewish people do not suffer from this disease.
Addiction does not discriminate on the basis of age, race, religion, gender, or socio-economic status. We Jews are as adversely impacted by substance misuse and addiction as any other community or group. When you understand that addiction is a disease, not a moral failing or a character flaw, then you can move beyond the myth and falsehood that Jews are not affected by this illness. In so doing, you start to eliminate the shame and stigma that many who are struggling and their families experience. You allow them to come forward and get the help and support they desperately need. In many cases, earlier intervention and treatment means the difference between life and death.
As Jews, we have always valued community as the backbone to our existence. We must look at everyone in our community and klal Yisrael as our family and treat them accordingly. We may not be aware of who exactly is struggling – it could be a friend, a neighbor, someone you sit next to in shul, someone you work with, or simply wish a “good Shabbas” to as you pass them by – but these issues impact all of us, whether we know it or not.
We need to go out of our way to be vigilant to the hardships of those around us, and ensure no one feels that they are struggling alone. We must work harder to maintain and emphasize the need for community and be responsible for each other. One critical way to demonstrate this communal support is to increase our own awareness of these issues and talk about them openly and honestly. The more we can eliminate stigma, increase dialogue around these difficult topics, and allow people to come forward and share their struggles and ask for help, the more we literally save lives and fulfill the principle of Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh.
Lianne Forman, the proud mother of 5 (and grandmother of 2), is the Executive Director of Communities Confronting Substance Use & Addiction (CCSA), the organization she and her husband, Etiel, founded in 2018. Through their own family’s struggles, they founded CCSA to create greater community awareness and education about substance misuse and addiction in the Jewish community. CCSA’s mission is to eliminate stigma around addiction in Jewish communities through awareness events and facilitating evidence-based educational programming in schools for students and parents. Visit www.JewishCCSA.org for more information.