by Rabbi James Prosnit, February 2018/Shevat-Adar 5778
On Purim it is considered a mitzvah to get drunk! Drink until you don’t know the difference between “Blessed Mordecai” and “Cursed Haman.” The Hebrew word for carnival, adloyadah, comes from the phrase “until you cannot know.”
I would assume that since driving is permitted on Purim, even in the most traditional circles there is some leniency on the fulfillment of this mitzvah. A designated driver is certainly noble. One website suggests on Purim one should “get drunk with happiness!”
But permission for this annual binge may have helped lead to the misconception that, aside from Purim, “Jews don’t drink.” The Yiddish expression, “a shikker is a goy,” is an example of the type of denial that has long pervaded the Jewish community. The social stereotype of abstaining Jews may exist, but the reality is different. Today we know full well that Jews do drink and some have drinking problems. Jews take licit and illicit drugs and some are chronic drug abusers. Jews gamble and some are pathological gamblers. Addictions are no stranger to the Jewish community. In fact, percentages of Jews with addictions mirror the statistics in parallel communities of other faiths.
Sadly, surveys also seem to indicate that the last place a Jewish addict would turn for help would be to the synagogue or a rabbi. Secular authorities – social workers and psychologists seem to be doing a better job in opening doors as acceptable points of treatment. How unfortunate for us to have closed off communications because in truth, the spiritual dimension has proven so valuable for those in recovery.
So especially in this day and age when opioid addiction has become a national epidemic and crises – in Purimspeak it is time to “unmask” the problem.
To that end I hope you will join us the Friday before Purim, February 23, when we welcome Rabbi Richard Eisenberg to the congregation. Rick grew up in Bridgeport (was active at Rodeph Sholom) and went on to become a highly respected Conservative rabbi. In addition to congregational work, for the last ten years he has also worked as a rehabilitation counselor at the APT Foundation in New Haven, where he provides group and individual therapy for people diagnosed with substance-use disorders. His focus is to apply Jewish principles and values of spirituality to addictions treatment while conveying the message and power of recovery in Jewish communal life.
In his practice and in his writing on the subject, Rabbi Eisenberg tries to move us away from the moral model of addiction that sees it as a psychological weakness. He writes, “Jews who are affected by addiction will only be ready to “come out of the closet” and seek help when they perceive that they will encounter attitudes of understanding and empathy instead of moral condemnation and blame.” He encourages us to use the “disease model” as the best way to treat those who suffer from addictions.
Rabbi Eisenberg will be our 2018 Spector lecturer and will deliver a talk to the members of the area clergy on Friday afternoon and to the congregation on Friday evening following services and dinner. Join us –and join us too to celebrate Purim on February 28.
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