Facing Addiction in the Hasidic Community

Rabbi Moishe Feiglin, founder of The Aliya Institute, which works with at-risk youths in the Lubavitch Crown Heights community, holds a naloxone kit. (Photo by William Engel via Kings County Politics)

“Addiction doesn’t discriminate,” says Rabbi Yaacov Behrman, program director at Operation Survival, a drug abuse prevention program created by the National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education.

William Engel of Kings County Politics spoke to Behrman and other community leaders in the Lubavitcher community of Crown Heights about the opioid epidemic and how they are responding to problems within their community. Zvi Gluck, director of Amudim, a nonprofit in Brooklyn, noted some of the special problems that crop up.

But while struggles with substance abuse aren’t unique to the Hasidic community per se, there are some factors that make it more difficult for substance abusers in Orthodox neighborhoods to come forward about their problems.

Gluck notes that the Hasidic families he’s worked with have frequently been reluctant to confront the truth that one of their own could become addicted. The inherent shame that comes with having a user in the family is exacerbated by the conservative nature of Hasidic culture, which is still largely based around matchmaking and arranged marriages.

“There’s always a fear that if someone in your family is an addict, nobody will want to marry into it,” says Gluck.

Then, too, large extended families in the Orthodox Jewish communities mean that several people can be affected by the substance abuse of a few.

The Hasidic family unit is both large and close-knit, due to their tendency to marry young and have multiple children.

“In Orthodox communities,” says [Rabbi Shea] Hecht, “you’re dealing with a smaller percentage of people who are addicted; but ultimately, it affects a lot more people. Brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents, and frequently great-grandparents who are still alive.”

Go to Kings County Politics to learn more about the growing awareness of addiction problems in the Orthodox community, and how leaders are training volunteers in the administration of naloxone kits to reverse opioid overdoses.


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