Elana Forman, 23, hit rock bottom near Palm Beach, Florida, where she stayed in motels for two weeks with someone she met in a recovery program.
“We left treatment to go shoot up heroin, pretty much,” she said. “And we were running in the streets down here. It was the worst, like, two weeks of my life. The two of us kind of went to a motel. It got really bad. We were held at gunpoint at one point.”
It ended, she said, with her “back in a detox center somewhere.”
Forman fought her way toward sobriety. Now more than a year and a half later, the Teaneck, New Jersey, native who goes by Ellie is a vocal member of a growing movement trying to save the lives of addicts in religiously conservative corners of Jewish America.
“The more Orthodox Jews that, you know, end up seeking help, it just raises awareness in general in the community,” she said.
It’s not easy, Forman said, for an Orthodox-raised woman to recall a dark and shameful chapter in her life. Particularly when her journey has seen her leave Orthodox Jewish life and observancy. Starting in her early teens, Forman was keenly aware that she didn’t quite fit in with her peers.
“The Orthodox Jewish traditions and such felt constricting to me. I felt no connection to it,” she said. “I was looking for whatever else there was in this life that would fill that hole that I felt.”
That “whatever else” ended up being alcohol, weed, painkillers, heroin, and “anything offered to me,” she said.
Breaking through the silence
Talking about substance abuse and addiction in the Orthodox Jewish world is a difficult endeavor that Rabbi Zvi Gluck is well acquainted with. He grew up in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Borough Park, Brooklyn and said that, “any insular community likes to remain in their bubble so that they deal with things themselves and not have to mix in the outside world into it.”
Gluck knew early on that helping others was his calling in life because, as he says, “at the end of the day, every time we lose somebody, no matter how old or young, you’re not just losing that person. If we can even just save one life, as the Talmud says, you’ve saved an entire world.”