Approximately 200 people turned out last Motzei Shabbat at the Riverdale Jewish Center for an evening of awareness and education hosted jointly by the synagogue and Amudim to address the growing substance abuse and addiction problem that has spared no segment of the population.
The event was a communal effort and included the support of Chabad Lubavitch of Riverdale, the Conservative Synagogue Adath Israel of Riverdale, Hatzalah of Riverdale, Kinneret Day School, Yeshivat Maharat, the Riverdale Temple, SAR Academy, SAR High School, The Bayit, The Kehilah, The Riverdale Mesivta, The Riverdale Minyan, The Riverdale Y, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and Young Israel Ohab Zedek of North Riverdale and Yonkers.
Rabbi Yitzi Genack welcomed everyone warmly, publicly expressing the Riverdale community’s commitment to breaking down the barriers that prevent those who are suffering from seeking the help that they need. Echoing that theme was Rabbi Menachem Penner, the Max and Marion Grill dean at Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary and the spiritual leader of the Young Israel of Holliswood, who observed that those struggling with addiction often abandon their religious roots because they feel like they no longer belong in their familial or communal structures. Quoting Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, who described the Jewish community, not as a nation or a religion, but as a family, Rabbi Penner urged listeners to reach out to those who are suffering to let them know that they are not alone, and stressed the importance of formulating protocols as a community that will yield solutions for those in pain.
Mental health therapist and addiction specialist Dr. Lewis Abrams spoke at length about many myths and misconceptions relating to addiction. Observing that the most common addiction is alcohol, Dr. Abrams explained that while social drinkers can easily forgo a drink, those with an addiction have a problematic relationship with alcohol. He also addressed the issue of minors having unsupervised access to alcohol at social events; the importance of having open, age-appropriate discussions with children about drinking; and setting good examples for children.
Hoping to provide insight and support to those facing personal challenges, Rabbi Dr. Moshe Drelich told of a family member who hit rock bottom 18 months ago after a lengthy struggle with substance abuse. A Jewish studies educator at SAR High School who spearheaded the event along with Riverdale Jewish Center vice president Allison Steinmetz, Rabbi Dr. Drelich advised listeners to understand the difference between enabling and supporting those who are struggling and stressed that addiction is a disease, much like cancer or diabetes, that does not discriminate based on age, gender or socioeconomic factors. Urging the community to continue the discussion on addiction and finding methods to address the crisis, Rabbi Dr. Drelich received a standing ovation.